This is the third in 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 and the second post that looked in more detail at aspects of the subject consultation that the DfE is running.
This post focuses on the idea of ‘Areas of Interest’ in that subject consultation.
Areas of interest
In the second post in this series post we discussed the significance of context in motivating high quality designing and making. In this part of the subject content the proposals do to some extent offer support for the importance of context by requiring that specifications provide the opportunity for study in one of six Areas of Interest:
- Interiors and furnishings
- Advertising and promotion
- Consumer electronics
- Mechanical systems
It would be easy to see these areas of interest as simply the previous focus areas in disguise. This would not be in the spirit of modernization envisaged by the working group. However, some attempt has been made to avoid this possibility by providing brief descriptions of the range of products that might be designed and made when working in a particular area of interest and the use of the phrase ‘Examples may include, but are not restricted to …’ indicate the possibility of a products outside the range suggested. So much depends on the way teachers enable their pupils to learn within areas of interest and then respond effectively in response to open starting points (which we will discuss in a fourth post on the Ofqual assessment consultation) and we see this as an area in which many D&T teachers would benefit from appropriate CPD.
If you agree that the areas of interest provide, in principle, a useful device to help pupils contextualize their designing and making, then do say so explicitly in your response.
If you think that D&T teachers will also need CPD to help them work in a more integrated way across the traditional material areas, please also make this point when you respond.
We turn next to number of concerns we have about the Areas of Interest as proposed in the consultation. These are, firstly, that the nature of the six proposed Areas are not the same and, secondly, that the examples provided are not always suitably challenging for GCSE.
Fashion, Interiors and furnishing, Advertising and promotion and Leisure are not the same kinds of thing as Consumer electronics and Mechanical systems. The former are ‘areas of life’ (or, possibly, fields of work) that allow for a wide range of product types to emerge from the area of interest, including, importantly, those utilizing mechanical and electronic control. Consumer electronics and Mechanical systems, on the other hand, are technical disciplines that require a particular mode of functioning. We think that it would be better to identify alternative areas of interest (e.g. Exploration, Disaster relief, Waste Management, Protection, Safety….) that lend themselves to electronic and mechanical solutions but do not necessarily require them.
Of course, we very much do want more pupils to engage with the ‘technical’ aspects of D&T, especially programmable electronics. But it is not clear that trying to force this by contorting the Areas of Interest will be successful; much better to ensure that the technical content that all GCSE D&T students will have to cover is robust enough to provide a basis for them to feel confident that they can apply, say, programmable systems in any Area of Interest
If you agree that it would be better if all of the Areas of Interest were areas of life (such as Exploration, Disaster relief, Waste Management, Protection, Safety etc.), rather than technical disciplines, please make this point when you respond.
It is our understanding that there will be questions on the written paper concerning all aspects of the technical principles including:
the functions of mechanical fittings and devices, power sources and discrete and programmable components and how they can be applied to products
Hence we think this should be given higher profile in the examples for all of the Areas of Interest. So, in Fashion the current text say:
Examples may include, but are not restricted to, clothing, jewellery, accessories and footwear
This might be extended to read:
Examples may include, but are not restricted to, clothing, jewellery, accessories and footwear and candidates are encouraged to consider how electronic and mechanical functions can be used to enhance such items
This would support our previous point, allowing Consumer electronics and Mechanical systems to become redundant and be replaced by Exploration etc.
If you agree that it would be better if the examples in all of the Areas of Interest included reference to the use of electronic and mechanical systems, please make this point when you respond.
Clearly, from what we have said above, we would like to see Consumer electronics replaced. However, if it were to stay, we have to say that some of the examples given –
products that fulfil a practical need such as torches or light sensors
are particularly weak compared to those in the other Areas of Interest. Torches can, clearly, be very sophisticated, but the above could easily be read to suggest that a simple torch (often a KS2 project) might be a suitable GCSE project.
The reference to ‘light sensors’ is even more puzzling since it is a peculiarly specific reference to a component or sub-system in an electronic circuit rather than something that (by itself) is a product “that fulfils a practical need”.
If you agree that the specific reference to “torches or light sensors” as suitable examples for a GCSE ‘Consumer electronics’ product are weak, then please say so when you respond.
Finally, it seems to us there is an information gap in the proposal to introduce Areas of Interest. There is a clear statement of intent about the broad subject content that all pupils following a GCSE in D&T will be required to know (we have discussed these in our second post in this series). But there is no clear indication of the content that might underlie each Area of Interest.
The way we interpret this is that the proposal recognises that there is a whole heap of knowledge, understanding and skills to be taught to all pupils on the grounds that these are likely to be useful whatever Area of Interest a student ultimately follows. This is the Subject Content in the proposal and it should provide an appropriate depth of study for the subject as a whole and it is this content that will be examined in the written paper. Hence teaching about materials, manufacture, functionality, critique and design in the context of the nature of the subject will be important.
This teaching should take up the bulk of Year 10, be both practical and intellectual and should involve, making, designing, designing and making and exploring technology and society.
We can then assume that pupils will commit to an Area of Interest towards the end of year 10 and that the first part of the work in this area of interest will involve exploration to identify a range of needs and wants that might be addressed through designing and making.
Then, depending on the brief that emerges from this exploration the student can audit what s/he has learned to identify what s/he already knows that is pertinent and what else s/he needs to learn in order to respond to the brief.
Students will need support in identifying what else needs to be found out about and what they need to learn and resources such as the Nuffield Design Guides would be useful.
We do think that there is insufficient consideration of the additional knowledge, understanding and skills that will be required by students when they tackle the NEA in their chosen Area of Interest. It would be very useful if the final consultation document could indicate this clearly. We suggest that it should list the strategic skills needed to identify, acquire and use additional knowledge, understanding and skills that the student needs to respond effectively to his/her brief. The NEA will then be able to assess pupils’ ability to deploy these strategic skills effectively. These skills can be the same for each Area of Interest, so that the statements under each Area of Interest can simply, as they do now, outline the scope of each Area of Interest. (We will discuss the assessment issues implied by all of this in our next post.)
Incidentally, one result of such a model is that it would help us develop the ‘T’-shaped skills profile that, it has been argued, good designers should have.
However, we are keenly aware that this is our understanding of the proposals but we’re sure that there will be many other interpretations sitting in the minds of D&T teachers reading these proposals. For example, might it be the intention that the Awarding Organisations should develop a whole pile of content to be examined for each Area of interest? We think this would be a huge mistake, but the proposals lack clarity.
If you agree that the final consultation document should indicate clearly the additional knowledge, understanding and skills that will be required for the Areas of Interest, please say so in your response.
Having discussed the move to a single GCSE for D&T in the first post and considered the proposed D&T content in some detail in the second post, and the Areas of Interest in this post, the fourth post in this series will examine the proposed assessment arrangements.