Response to DfE consultation on D&T GCSE content (part 1)


In an earlier post we noted that new consultations on the content and assessment of a revised GCSE in D&T are now open. As we did in the previous round of consultations on this GCSE reform (in the Autumn of 2014), we’re going to share our proposed response to these consultations in a series of posts here. Our aim is to promote discussion – which might influence our response – and also to provide colleagues who may have less time to craft a response with text that they can use to base their own responses on.

As ever, it’s critically important for members of the D&T community, and their friends, to respond as this reform will likely set the tone for GCSE D&T for many years – so please do circulate this as widely as you can.

Part 1 of this series of posts focuses on the general questions at the beginning of the consultation document and then on the content of the Technical Knowledge and Understanding section of the content.


  1. Is the revised GCSE content in design and technology appropriate? Please consider:
  • Whether there is a suitable level of challenge

The level of challenge is suitable but it is important to be clear about two aspects of this challenge so that both are appropriately identified and assessed. The first aspect is that which embraces what might be termed ‘what a young person needs to know and understand’ if he/she is to be seen as informed with regard to the knowledge base of the subject design & technology (D&T). This appears in the content under the heading ‘Technical Knowledge and Understanding’. Defining this knowledge base for a subject is important and the lack of such a knowledge base was the grounds for the Expert Panel appointed by Michael Gove to take the view that D&T had weak epistemological roots. The second aspect is the content of the ‘Designing and making principles’ and how these are utilized in the way a young person responds to the contextual challenges. The challenges are demanding but suitable. The problem for D&T is that assessment needs to assess both candidates’ grasp of the underpinning knowledge base AND their ability to use it. This is further complicated by the fact that in using the knowledge base in their response to a contextual challenge candidates are likely to use only part of that base and will almost certainly have to extend those parts that they do use. We have discussed these issues extensively in our response to Ofqual.

In the following parts of our response we suggest ways that the clarity of both the ‘Technical Knowledge and Understanding’ and the ‘Designing and Making Principles’ aspects of the proposals can improved.


  • Whether the content reflects what students need to know in order to progress to further academic and vocational education

The content will make a sound base from which to move to the proposed GCEs in Design & Technology (Product Design), Design & Technology (Fashion Design and Development) and Design & Technology (Engineering) only if the level of challenge embraces both aspects of the subject in terms of content and assessment, as identified above.


  • Whether the amount of content in the qualification is appropriate and, if not, whether you have any suggestions for removing or adding content

The content of the Technical Knowledge and Understanding section is appropriate in most cases. Later we suggest some rephrasing. The content would benefit from being organized in a more coherent way. We first suggest a categorisation using three overarching themes to organise the content in a conceptually logical manner: materials and structure, achieving function and critique. Note also that the content should be numbered as opposed to using indistinguishable bullet points. This categorisation should enable the Assessment Objectives to be written with more detail and precision. 

SUGGESTED CATEGORISATION:

In order to make effective design choices in relation to which materials, components and systems to utilise, students will need a breadth of technical knowledge and understanding that includes:

1 Materials and structure

1.1 Categorisation of the types and properties of a range of materials, including: papers and boards; natural and manufactured timber; ferrous and non-ferrous metals; thermoforming and thermosetting polymers; natural, synthetic, blended and mixed fibres; woven, non-woven and knitted fabrics; composite materials; modern and smart materials, including e-textiles and technical textiles

1.2 The way in which the selection of materials is influenced by functional, aesthetic, availability, cost and ethical factors

1.3 How to calculate and determine the quantity of materials required including a knowledge of stock forms, types and sizes

1.4 The impact of forces and stresses on materials and objects and the ways in which materials can be reinforced and stiffened

2 Achieving function

2.1 How mechanical and electrical power is stored in order to choose and use appropriate sources of power to make products and systems work

2.2 The functions of mechanical devices, to produce different sorts of movement, changing the magnitude and direction of forces

2.3 How electronic systems provide functionality to products, including: switches and sensors to respond to a variety of input signals; process/control devices to switch, time and amplify; and devices to produce a range of outputs including light, sound and motion

2.4 The use of programmable components, including microcontrollers and coding, to embed functionality into products in order to enhance and customise their operation

2.5 The key elements of open and closed systems, including subsystems, and systems thinking

3 Critique

3.1 The impact on industry, enterprise, sustainability, people, culture, society and the environment of new and emerging technologies, production techniques and systems

3.2 How the critical evaluation of new and emerging technologies, in contemporary and potential future scenarios, from different perspectives, such as ethics and the environment, informs design decisions

3.3 That alternative processes can be used to manufacture products to different scales of production and require critical evaluation

SUGGESTED RE-PHRASINGS TO SUBJECT CONTENT

To Point 5

GCSE specifications in design and technologymust require students to demonstrate the necessary knowledge, understanding and skills required to undertake iterative design processes of exploring, creating4 and evaluating. Specifications must require students to demonstrate the mathematical and scientific knowledge, understanding and skills set out in Appendix 1.

Should be rephrased as:

GCSE specifications in design and technology3 must require students to demonstrate the necessary knowledge, understanding and skills required to undertake iterative design processes of exploring, creating4 and evaluating. Specifications must require students to demonstrate, where relevant and in the context of the design and technology Subject Content set out in Sections 6 to 9, the mathematical and scientific knowledge, understanding and skills set out in Appendix 1.

[Notes 3 and 4 unchanged]

Because the mathematical and scientific knowledge is important within D&T not for its own sake but because it aids in designing, in making and in technological understanding.

To Technical Knowledge and Understanding, Point 8

The stem:

In order to make effective design choices in relation to which materials, components and systems to utilise, students will need a breadth of technical knowledge and understanding that includes:

Should be rephrased as:

In order to have a body of knowledge that underpins the subject design & technology and be able to use this to make effective design decisions students will need a breadth of technical knowledge and understanding that includes:

Because the body of knowledge is important in its own right with regard to being informed about the subject as well as being used to make design decisions.

Within Technical Knowledge and understanding, Point 8

1.1 Categorisation of the types and properties of a range of materials, including: papers and boards; natural and manufactured timber; ferrous and non-ferrous metals; thermoforming and thermosetting polymers; natural, synthetic, blended and mixed fibres; woven, non-woven and knitted fabrics; composite materials; modern and smart materials, including e-textiles and technical textiles

Should be rephrased as

1.1 Categorisation of a range of materials including: paper and card, fabrics, metals, timbers and timber products, polymers, composites, modern and smart materials, and the knowledge that different materials have different properties including mechanical, thermal, electrical, magnetic, optical, chemical, and sensory.

In order to avoid an overlong listing of materials, provide a more useful categorisation of materials and provide clarity concerning properties

1.3 How to calculate and determine the quantity of materials required including a knowledge of stock forms, types and sizes

Should be rephrased as

1.3 Use their knowledge of stock forms, types and sizes to calculate and determine the quantity of materials required.

In order to put the focus on the D&T knowledge

2.3 How electronic systems provide functionality to products, including: switches and sensors to respond to a variety of input signals; process/control devices to switch, time and amplify; and devices to produce a range of outputs including light, sound and motion

Should be rephrased as

2.3 How electronic systems provide functionality to products, including: switches and sensors to respond to a variety of input signals and devices to produce a range of outputs including light, sound and motion

Because the phrase ‘process/control devices to switch, time and amplify’ is redundant being covered entirely by the content of 2.4 (referring to the use of programmable microcontroller systems). Leaving this phrase in suggests that candidates should know about other process control devices in addition to microcontrollers. This would add unnecessary content and complexity to specifications.

2.4 The use of programmable components, including microcontrollers and coding, to embed functionality into products in order to enhance and customise their operation

Should be rephrased as

2.4 The use of microcontrollers and coding to embed functionality into products in order to enhance and customise their operation

Because otherwise it is implied that candidates should know about other programmable components in addition to microcontrollers. This would add unnecessary content and complexity to specifications.

Part 2 of this series of posts has now also been published examining the Designing and making principles section of the content.

Part 3 examines the proposed links to mathematics and science.

Part 4 looks at the proposed contextual challenges.

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