Response to Ofqual consultation on D&T GCSE assessment (part 1)


Following four posts detailing our draft response to the DfE consultation on the proposed content of the new GCSE in D&T, in this post and the next we’re going to share our draft response to the Ofqual consultation on assessment in the new GCSE.

As we have said, 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 – and we’re pleased to say that our posts on the DfE consultation have already prompted emails suggesting ways in which our response can be improved.

Our aim is to publish here our proposed final responses at the end of this week giving us and others plenty of time to submit responses by the deadline of next Wednesday 26th August.

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.

In this first part of our response to Ofqual we cover questions 1-4 in the Ofqual consultation.


Question 1: To what extent do you agree or disagree that for GCSEs in design and technology, based on the proposed subject content, 50 per cent of the available marks should be allocated to exams, and 50 per cent to non-exam assessment?


We think that this distribution provides a reasonable balance between the need to probe technical knowledge and understanding in more robust ways than current GCSEs in D&T manage and the equally important need to validly assess designing and making capability.

We say more on how the relationship between these two aspects of D&T assessment relate later.


Question 2: To what extent do you agree or disagree that GCSEs in design and technology should not be tiered?


We consider that the lack of tiering is definitely to be welcomed. We know from other subjects, such as Science, that tiering is proving a real problem when it comes to question setting.


Question 3: To what extent do you agree or disagree that the proposed assessment objectives are appropriate for GCSEs in design and technology?


We have strong reservations about the proposed assessment objectives as explained below

3.1 The importance of assessing a clearly stated knowledge base

The Expert Panel set up by the then Minister for Education, Michael Gove, made a substantial criticism of the school subject Design & Technology (D&T). They claimed it had ‘weak epistemological roots’ i.e. there was uncertainty and ambiguity about the underpinning knowledge base. The development of a new National Curriculum Programme of Study for the subject addressed this issue and it is important that the proposed GCSE continues in the same vein. 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 candidates are likely to use only part of that base and will almost certainly have to extend those parts that they do use. To be seen as a rigorous subject D&T needs an unambiguous knowledge base that describes what a young person needs to know and understand if he/she is to be seen as educated in that subject. Hence we think it is important to separate out the assessment of the knowledge base from the assessment of using the knowledge base. This has severe implications for the proposed assessment objectives.

3.2 Do not confuse knowledge and understanding with procedural competence

The DfE Consultation document defines two content areas: Designing and making principles and Technical Knowledge and Understanding It is necessary to clarify the educational intention of each within the overall subject to avoid confusing the assessment of knowledge and understanding with assessing procedural competence. We argue that the Designing and making principles are included in the content because they encapsulate the idea of design & technological ‘capability’. This was defined well by David Layton in the Interim Report;

To intervene effectively and creatively in the made world. The goal is competence in the indeterminate zone of practice.

Department for Education and Science and Welsh Office(1988) National Curriculum Design and Technology Working Group Interim Report. London: Department for Education and Science and Welsh Office, page 3.

Donald Schön articulated the significance the “indeterminate zone of practice” as follows:

… uncertainty, uniqueness, and value conflict – escape the canons of technical rationality. . . . [I]t is just these indeterminate zones of practice, however, that practitioners and critical observers of the professionals have come to see with increasingly clarity over the past two decades as central to professional practice.

Schön D A (1983) The Reflective Practitioner: how professionals think in action London: Temple Smith, p. 6

Intervention requires knowledge and the Technical knowledge and understanding section of the consultation document identifies that knowledge but this needs interpreting from two perspectives. The first perspective is the knowledge base underpinning the subject. The second perspective is that some of this knowledge base will provide what the young person needs to begin to tackle the Contextual Challenge. But it must be acknowledge that this is unlikely to be a sufficient knowledge base. As the candidate responds to the Contextual Challenge there will be significant amounts of ‘new’ knowledge that needs to be acquired and deployed. This knowledge can be divided into two parts. Firstly, is knowledge of the problem. This will be dependent on the nature of the Contextual Challenge. It can only be acquired by exploring the context. Secondly is knowledge for the solution. This will to some extent be based on what the young person has already learned as the knowledge base of the subject design & technology. However this is likely to be insufficient and the young person will need to extend this knowledge in order to have at his/her disposal the knowledge that needs to be deployed in order to meet the Contextual Challenge. However it will be dependent on the nature of the Contextual Challenge and differ from candidate to candidate according to both the nature of the Contextual Challenge and which particular aspects he/she decides to respond to. Hence it would be inappropriate to assess the knowledge used in responding to the Conceptual Challenge through a written paper. However it would be appropriate to assess the knowledge base underpinning the subject through a written paper providing such a knowledge base can be defined.

3.3 Defining the knowledge base to be assessed

We believe that the nature of the subject D&T enables an underpinning knowledge base to be defined. D&T is concerned with intervening in the made world. This immediately identifies an understanding of materials and the structures made up of materials as an essential facet of the knowledge base. The outcomes of intervention will need to work well and to achieve this there must be an understanding of the ways such things might be powered and controlled. Hence an understanding of function emerges as another essential facet. And finally any intervention inevitably involves the prospect of impacts beyond intended benefits and the way to engage with this is through critique. So here we have a third essential facet. We have shown in our response to the DfE consultation on content that the Technical knowledge and understanding content can be organised according to the three categories: materials and structure, function and critique. Hence we argue strongly here that this content can be used as the basis of the knowledge base to be assessed in the written paper.

3.4 Assessing the knowledge base

Having argued that the Technical knowledge and understanding content organised into three components can stand as a suitable knowledge base for the subject we now argue that these should be used as the basis for the Assessment Objectives for the written paper in the subject. They are presented in the table below.

Assessment Objectives for the Knowledge Base of Design & Technology
AO1 Concerning materials and structure Recall, select and apply their knowledge of materials and structures in solving design and technology problems
AO2 Concerning achieving function Recall, select and apply their knowledge of achieving function in solving design and technology problems
AO3 Concerning critique Recall, select and apply their knowledge of critique in considering issues in design & technology

3.5 Defining the procedural competence to be assessed

It is generally agreed that the processes followed to ‘intervene in the made world’ can to a large extent be encapsulated as aspects of designing. The Designing and making principles content in the DfE consultation document cover this area fully. We have suggested that the statements would benefit from being organised in a more coherent way according to the following four categories Generating design ideas, Developing and communicating design ideas, Making design ideas and Appraising the final prototype or product. We argue strongly for these categories to be used as the basis for the Assessment Objectives to assess candidates’ procedural competence through their performance in the NEA.

3.6 Assessing the procedural competence

Having argued that the Designing and making principles content organized into four components can stand as a sound description of the procedural competence required for the subject we now argue that these should be used as the basis for the Assessment Objectives for the NEA in the subject. They are presented in the table below.

Assessment Objectives for Procedural Competence in Design & Technology
AO1 Concerning Generating design ideas Generate design possibilities to meet identified needs and solve problems
AO2 Concerning Developing and communicating design ideas Develop and communicate design possibilities to become makeable products/prototypes
AO3 Concerning Making design ideas Make products / prototypes that meet and solve the identified needs and problems
AO4 Concerning Appraising the final prototype or product Analyse and evaluate products / prototypes they have made themselves

Question 4: To what extent do you agree or disagree that the proposed weightings of the assessment objectives are appropriate for GCSEs in design and technology?


We think that both the proposed Assessment Objectives and their weightings are completely inappropriate. We have identified Assessment objectives we think more appropriate above and here we provide appropriate Assessment Objectives weightings

4.1 Maintaining the 50/50 split between the written paper and the NEA

Given the significance of knowledge and understanding in defining a subject we argue that the 50/50 split between the written paper and the NEA should be maintained in the reconfigured Assessment Objectives we are suggesting. To give the knowledge and understanding a greater than 50% weighting would devalue procedural competence. To give procedural competence greater than 50% would devalue knowledge and understanding. Both should be valued equally.

4.2 Weightings for the written paper

Assessment Objectives for the Knowledge Base of Design & Technology
To be used for the written paper and comprising 50% of the marks available for assessment
Weighting
AO1 Concerning materials and structure Recall, select and apply their knowledge of materials and structures in solving design and technology problems 18
AO2 Concerning achieving function Recall, select and apply their knowledge of achieving function in solving design and technology problems 18
AO3 Concerning critique Recall, select and apply their knowledge of critique in considering issues in design & technology 14
Total 50%

Note that for each AO above it would be possible to write questions parts of which require the application of mathematics and science.

4.3 Weightings for the NEA

Assessment Objectives for Procedural Competence in Design & Technology
To be used for the NEA and comprising 50% of the marks available for assessment
Weighting
AO1 Concerning Generating design ideas Generate design possibilities to meet identified needs and solve problems 10
AO2 Concerning Developing and communicating design ideas Develop and communicate design possibilities to become makeable products/prototypes 15
AO3 Concerning Making design ideas Make products / prototypes that meet and solve the identified needs and problems 15
AO4 Concerning Appraising the final prototype or product Analyse and evaluate products / prototypes they have made themselves 10
Total 50%

Note that for each AO above it would be possible to write assessment criteria that reward the application of mathematics and science.

Part 2 of this pair of posts details our response to question 5, an ‘open’ question, where we discuss both the non-examined and the examined aspects of D&T assessment at GCSE.

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