But it is as hard as physics!

The recent post from John Newbigin bemoans the fate of so called ‘creative subjects’ within the government’s view of what constitutes the ‘hard subjects’ young people need for a ‘good start’. John has little time for this position arguing that it is what the creative subjects offer that industry really needs. I have some sympathy with this but I think it is a mistake to see the creative subjects, particularly design & technology, as not ‘hard’ or as I prefer to say ‘academically demanding’ To make this point Torben and I wrote a briefing paper for Nick Gibb with the title D&T GCSE Briefing for Minister. In this we make the case that although different from physics it is certainly as hard in its own way and in no sense intellectually inferior. So whilst I support John’s position on the importance of the creative subjects I think it is very important that in doing so we don’t inadvertently ‘dumb them down’.

5 thoughts on “But it is as hard as physics!

  1. Pingback: Where does D&T fit into Nick Gibb’s Social Justice Case for an Academic Curriculum? | David and Torben for D&T

  2. In a sense asking whether one subject is as hard as another is a ridiculous question. When I talked to Torben he said that he’d always found learning physics easy whereas learning French was particularly difficult for him. For others it would be the other way around. But when a minister is reputed to have asked about d&t “Is it as hard as physics?’ then we become trapped in such a ‘false’ comparison if we are to justify our subject in terms the minister will understand. First I think it is important to show respect for other subjects. Physics can be mind numbingly difficult as so many of the ideas are counter intuitive and it takes perseverance, resilience and serious mental gymnastics to really understand the subject. The heroic figure here is Richard Feynman – very much the human face of physics who realised that nanotechnology was a possibility with his wonderful phrase “there’s plenty of room at the bottom”. Second I think Tim has a good point with regard to the quality of project work. The introduction of narrow ‘controlled tasks’ coupled with a ‘fear of failure’ did nothing but limit the aspirations of pupils and teachers in what was originally a defining and rather wonderful feature of our subject – the authentic design challenge presented by the coursework assessment. I am hopeful that the new GCSE with its emphasis on contextual challenges such as extending human capacity (which might lead to project work involving devising remotely controlled devices to visit, record data and/or take samples from a range of hostile/distant environments; or to enable human beings to perform beyond their current capacity both physically and cognitively) will redress this balance. The new GCSE will become available for first teaching in September 2017 with specifications first available September 2016. Such final projects will be started in 2018 so there is time a plenty to prepare for this opportunity to restore the subject to a practice that reflects and exceeds its former glories.


  3. Pingback: Decline in D&T – time, space and resources | timbdesign

  4. I am cautious about claiming our subject is just as demanding as science. David and Geraint seem to be describing how good D&T could be but, with some notable exceptions, the quality, range and rigour of D&T projects I see in schools has definitely declined significantly over the last 20+ years. I believe this is the main reason that successive governments have marginalised D&T since it was at the core of the early national curriculum.

    There are many reasons for the decline, all related to lack of investment in the subject from initial teacher training through national and local governments and in school budgets,


  5. We might argue that the range of knowledge and skills, the sophisticated observations and fine judgments required of our pupils as they negotiate the demands of a design and make task are more demanding than Physics at the same educational level. The chalenge in our present debate is that we sometimes don’t grasp how far removed our politicians are from any real understanding of what our subject entails.


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