Preparing for the new D&T GCSE presentation at the Harris Federation October Conference

I had an interesting session at the Excel Centre for the Harris Federation October Conference on Friday presenting to 40+ teachers about Preparing for the new D&T GCSE. My key message was that it was essential to see the GCSE as a five year course. There was a lot to cover in the time available so it was a bit rushed at the end hence the PowerPoint slides are available here. Two interesting points emerged in the brief discussion. The first was that most of the schools felt that their SLT did not fully understand the nature of design & technology or the reasons for teaching it to as many your people as possible. This is worrying as the subject is entering into a new phase with the introduction of the new single title GCSE and its success rests very must on the support of key stakeholders which include SLT. So I hope the PowerPoint slides will help those who need to convince the SLT of the worth of the subject. The second point was made by a teacher who was concerned that the less able pupils should get something from the BIG ideas that underpin the subject. He felt that these should not be seen as for the more able only. I couldn’t agree more. He pointed to the disassembly of furniture as something his less able pupils enjoyed and learned from and I was struck how this could be linked to a critique of the way we use materials, particularly with regard to stewardship. Just imagine a small settee that was disassembled in front of a class as a demonstration with various pupils taking part. By the end of the disassembly all the different parts would be revealed – the timber frame, the fabric covering, various padding, any fixings, how these parts were held together would be apparent. And then some questions; about manufacture: how was this or that part made, what material has been used for this or that part, how do we get this that material, where does it come from, is it renewable, is it finite? What other materials might be used? How else might the parts be made? How easy are the materials to recycle? One could go on and on and it’s probably sensible not to ask too many questions. But there is no doubt to richness of the knowledge and understanding that can be revealed by disassembly plus questions, knowledge and understanding that can be focused onto considering the consequences of the way we do things with particular reference to stewardship – a key lens for critique. And of course this knowledge and understanding is the right of every young person we teach, independent of their so-called ability.


2 thoughts on “Preparing for the new D&T GCSE presentation at the Harris Federation October Conference

  1. Glad to hear the session went well David and I’m sure it will have been well received. Having run a couple one day events recently with similar size groups of teachers, I too unearthed a lot about the challenges faced in school, much of which I already knew but it is always good to hear it directly from teachers. For sure, one of the factors emerging as you found, was that of misunderstanding on the part of SLT. Your slides are helpful and some of them (taken from the D&T Association new GCSE resources you authored) already feature in the day the D&T Association is running around the country. So thanks for that.

    Referring specifically to your example with respect to knock down furniture, I might also make reference to this in the section I run on working from contexts. There are as you will know, a number of schools that are making good use of digital designing and manufacturing equipment to develop IKEA type flat pack prototypes. And successfully so. Often I suspect they are starting with a brief set to students- nothing wrong with that at all. But the richness brought to the project by embedding that brief in a context: working back from the task to explore and hence develop a much better understanding of the potential needs, wants and opportunities the context offers, then refocussing on the brief set effects much deeper learning. Your example does this well. It is not dissimilar to another example I refer to myself during that section.

    At both of the events, I was heartened by the reaction and responses of teachers toward the single title GCSE. The situation they are in is very challenging and as I point out, they have to think strategically as to how they develop their KS4 provision, that will provide both short and long term security and gains. This is really exercising departments and I think it is incumbent on us to provide all the support we can to them in doing so. The various debates in forums recently serve in a minor way to do this, drawing attention to both long and short term consequences. But of course they cannot replicate what one can do in a one day course.

    What worried me is how on reading specificaitons, many teachers and quite obviously their SLT are not seeing the obvious freedoms, opportunities and benefits that the single title GCSE offers but perhaps we should not immediately be surprised about that. A classic example of this is the misconception about the value of making. Teachers and schools are under intense pressure as we know to get ‘results’ and therefore less importance is being attributed to the education value, worth and importance of the education that is gained as a result of working towards achieving the grade. Therefore, it is perhaps only human nature that one would be attracted to the route which one thinks is most likely to achieve the ‘best’ results. If that involves to some extent putting aside one’s own educational principles so be it. Now I might be over emphasising this, but I also see this in other aspects of primary and secondary education. Not enough emphasis is being placed on what we know as expert practitioners and educational specialists to be good practice, with the concentration being put almost entirely on meeting targets which translate into the maintaining of league table positions.

    IIn addition ot the Big Ideas, clearly what we need to do is convey a number of messages to schools about the new GCSE and pitch that at SLTs who are the gate keepers. The subject leaders and D&T teachers in most cases I’m sure, remain wedded to the underlying principles, purpose and value of a design and technology education as opposed to alternative vocational offerings that are intended to complement rather than replace GCSE.

    So I have it in mind to develop a short list of facts and common misconceptions about the new single title D&T GCSE that we might circulate to schools SLTs using a variety of means. I’d value you and Torben’s contribution.


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