The DfE D&T subject content consultation

Design and technolog GSCE subject content

This is the second of a series of posts on the GCSE D&T Curriculum Reform Consultations that David and Torben have written together. It builds on the first post which introduced some of the thinking of the Design & Technology Association working group in justifying a single GCSE title D&T. This post looks in more detail at the subject consultation that the DfE is running.

Concerning the introduction

In the introduction Point 2 is weak in saying:

encouraging (as opposed to requiring) students to understand and apply the iterative design process that can be summarised as explore, create and evaluate.

Similarly the use of creativity and imagination is ‘encouraged’ as opposed to required although the requirement to:

solve real and relevant problems, considering their own and others’ needs, wants and values

is to be welcomed.

Point 3 seems to have been extracted from the National Curriculum Programme of Study. What is particularly disappointing is the omission of the justification of educational worth of the subject. This was in the submission to the DfE but for whatever reason it has been removed. We think this is an important statement as it justified teaching D&T on the grounds of cultural significance as follows:

Imagining what might exist in the future and using tools and materials to create and critically explore that future is a unique human ability, which has led to the development of successive civilizations across history. Such activity embodies some of the best of what it means to be human. Learners study design and technology because it introduces them to this field of human endeavour and empowers them to become people who see the world as a place of opportunity where they and others can, through their own thoughts and actions, improve the world in which they live. At the heart of this activity is an iterative process that can be summarised as explore, create, evaluate.

Such a justification firmly sets D&T as a subject for the general education of all young people whatever career path they might choose.

Consultation Action

If you agree that the above justification for teaching D&T should be included in the then do say so explicitly in your response and encourage your contacts to do the same.

The Introduction defines outcomes as either products or prototypes. We think this is an important distinction and one that enables a wider range of pupil responses than might be the case if the outcome was restricted to fully functioning product. Imagine a pupil dealing with Interiors and furnishings and producing a wide range of scale models, digital mock ups and samples presented in as a handling collection with instructions for interaction. This is a good example of a pupil producing prototypes.

Imagine a pupil dealing with Consumer electronics and producing a drone with the particular purpose of taking overhead pictures of traffic in a locality to provide data that could be used to devise ways of reducing accidents and congestion. This is a good example a product.

The point we make is that the interpretation of product or prototype should support pupil creativity in the spirit of modernization

Consultation Action

If you agree that thinking about outcomes in terms of being either products or prototypes is helpful, then do say so explicitly in your response and encourage your contacts to do the same.

Concerning Subject aims and learning outcomes

There is little with which to disagree here. It’s an almost “Do you like sunny days?” list but of course the devil will be in the detail of the subject content to meet these aims and outcomes and the way these are interpreted by the Awarding Organisations in the specifications they develop. But it’s a promising start.

Concerning Subject content

The introductory points (5-9) are welcome in that they focus on knowledge, understanding and skill dependent designing and making and state clearly that there are no focus area based qualifications as in the past. All qualification certificates will be entitled ‘GCSE Design & Technology’. Any specification will require pupils to complete an iterative design and make task although the knowledge, understanding and skills used here may range more widely than those that they have studied as an area of interest (see below). The subject content is then discussed in terms of Designing and making principles, Technical principles and Areas of interest. We’ll look at the first two of these in this post and examine the Areas of interest in our third post

Consultation Action

If you agree that it’s right to have a single D&T GCSE that provides the opportunity for pupils to work with a wider range of materials than previous specifications have allowed, then please say so clearly in your response.

Designing and making principles

To some extent these are the usual suspects and there is little here to alarm those competent in supporting students’ designing and making. There is however a lack of appropriate emphasis on context linked to an over emphasis on design brief. It is our view that at Key Stage 4 briefs, as such should rarely be given, but derived from contexts. The D&T Association working group put more emphasis on context as follows:

  1. understanding that all design and technological practice takes place in contexts which will inform outcomes

  2. exploring a variety of challenging contexts that have historical, social, cultural, ecological and economic relevance

  3. using insights informed by exploration of different cultures, values, ethics, whole system thinking

  4. being aware of current developments in design and technology, including new and emerging technologies, their impact on individuals, business, society and the environment, and the responsibilities of designers, engineers and technologists

  5. analysing the work of past and present professionals in this area

Some of this is picked up in the Technical principles section, but separating these from the essential prior consideration of context reduces the significance that should be given to exploring contexts before any designing as such takes place.

Consultation Action

If you agree that it’s important that pupils following a GCSE in D&T should be expected to develop briefs from contexts, then please suggest the inclusion of text similar to the above quote, that lifts the importance of context in informing briefs.

Within the designing and making principles there is an indication of support for pupil collaboration. But this appears as the statement “identify and understand client and user needs through the collection of primary (including consideration of collaborative discourse) and secondary data” and we think that this doesn’t do sufficient justice to the possibilities of pupil collaboration and that the role of collaboration needs much more emphasis.

We understand that for assessment purposes it will be essential to prevent collaboration obscuring individual performance but we believe that the role of collaboration in enhancing individual performance should be acknowledged and promoted. And it is worth noting that in many design & technology fields working as part of a team or a group as opposed to an individual is the norm.

Consultation Action

If you agree that it’s important that pupils following a GCSE in D&T should have the opportunity to collaborate then please say so clearly in your response.

A further area that we think is underplayed in the consultation document is that of expecting pupils to have a clear view of the values that underpin their designing and making – and this includes thinking about the environmental implications.

These ideas are picked up well in suggestions from the D&TA’s working party quoted above (especially in sections 2, 3 and 4).

Consultation Action

If you agree that it’s important that pupils following a GCSE in D&T should be required to consider values issues, including environmental impact, when designing and making, then please say so clearly in your response.

Finally, in this section, we have heard concerns expressed from teaching colleagues about the apparently reduced amount of making in the proposals.

We think it’s important to note that that we believe there is clear support for making in the proposals and we welcome the fact that making is explicitly linked to designing, for example in both the Introduction and the Aims and outcomes. Making also features in the Designing and making principles, in the context of pupils using “specialist tools, techniques, processes, equipment and machinery “ to make products and prototypes they have designed, noting that pupils should “select and work with appropriate materials and components in order to manufacture functioning solutions” In the Technical principles (of which more below) this is revisited strongly indicating the need for calculation and tolerances.

However, it does seem likely that those pupils who enjoy ‘just making’ and who are often less excited by the design aspects of the subject will be challenged by the proposals. To some extent this is a pedagogical problem; how can we best support this kind of pupil in engaging meaningfully with design? We think that working from contexts rather than given briefs may help, as this will mean pupils are working on design and make problems of their own choosing. Also for such pupils (and others…) we need to be clear that much design thinking may well best be done through active exploration with materials.

Reformed GCSE and A level subject content consultationHowever, the DfE is clear in the general consultation document that:

At the level of a pass (currently indicated by a grade C) there must be an increase in demand, to reflect that of high-performing jurisdictions.

If the description of a pupil as ‘enjoying just making’ is a meant as a kind way of saying ‘lower ability’ (rather than an expression of a preferred way of working) then, yes, these pupils will be challenged more by all of the new GCSEs, including D&T.

We have never wanted D&T to be seen by schools as a kind of ‘safety valve for naughty boys’; it’s an academic discipline that should stand shoulder to shoulder with all the other GCSE subjects. Nevertheless, the DfE’s strategy of attempting to raise standards by raising pass levels does seem very problematic – but we’ll leave discussion of that to another time.

Consultation Action

If you agree that the way making has been linked to designing is a positive development, then please say so clearly in your response.

Technical principles

It is in this section that most has been lost from the thinking of D&T Association working group, which spent some time exploring a wider definition of function than that which has emerged in the Technical principles. The working group identified three aspects of function that should be considered when designing:

social/cultural function

  1. identifying, understanding and meeting the needs of different stakeholders
  2. identifying the purpose of the product being designed and what it needs to do to achieve this
  3. considering how such a product might affect users, those in contact with the user and the wider society to discern whether it will enhance or detract from the quality of human life, well-being and relationships

aesthetic function

  1. ensuring that the products that they design appeal to the senses, evoke an emotional response and arouse intrigue

technical function

  1. identifying, understanding and meeting structural, power and control requirements
  2. ensuring that the form of a product is such that it maintains its integrity and meets structural performance requirements
  3. ensuring that the power source used to drive a product is appropriate and used efficiently
  4. devising mechanical, electrical and programmable systems that control output behaviour in response to a variety of inputs

Considering all three aspects of function as appropriate to the design challenge being tackled would go some way to ensuring that pupils would design products and prototypes worth realizing.

Consultation Action

If you agree that the three aspects of function described above would provide a better foundation to help pupils design products of worth than the ‘Technical principles’ in the consultation document, then please say so in your response.

Having discussed the move to a single GCSE for D&T in the first post and considered most of the proposed D&T content in some detail in this post, the third post in this series  explores the third area of proposed content; the Areas of Interest.

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