Weapons of Ministerial Disruption (WMD*s)

Bryan Williams always makes me think. Just as I was getting enthusiastic about a five year course for the new D&T single title GCSE, starting in Year 7 underpinned by the teaching of BIG ideas that illustrates clearly the subject’s strong epistemology Bryan brings me down to earth with a bump! This is the conversation we had on Facebook Product Design Surgery.

Bryan wrote I wholeheartedly support the idea of five year (and more) approaches to GCSE. Just one thought, given the expected lifetime of any qualification is five year. It’s more important to ensure full coverage of content and approach, than worry about an individual exam board’s interpretation

I wrote The problem as I see it is that at the end of the road the candidates have to deal with the AO’s interpretation so it’s important to keep one’s eye on that ball from the start without letting it dominate and skew the learning.

Then Bryan wrote Probably more Ofqual’s interpretation these days David, look how difficult it has been for all of the Exam Boards to gain acreditation across a whole range of subjects. My point was that very few cohorts will benefit from five years based on the emerging specifications as they will change fairly soon, perhaps 2023? So Year 7 starting in 2019 might be the last group taking these GCSEs.

I thought Oh shit!

Then I wrote The question your comment raises is “Who is driving Ofqual to make changes?” The DfE, ministerial whim? I would like to think that it could be the views of the profession, which seeing the need for improvement lobbies Ofqual/DfE/the Minister with suggestions in mind. This teacher voice would in my view raise respect for the subject.

Bryan responded Sadly David it is the former, with sucessive Secretaries of State wanting to make a mark. Dangerous animals! Remember Gove and the completely unofficial introduction of the Ebacc? Now being put into legislation by Gibb, who has already dismissed any possible extention, thus providing a National Curriculum for KS4. Sadly I suspect Lord Baker’s Edge foundation recommendations will be ignored for the same reasons.

So I wondered Well what to do if Mr Gibb proves intractable? I’m not sure that his boss Justine Greening will put much pressure on him to change his view whatever Kenneth Baker might say – she has other fish to fry which will keep her occupied but the plan must be to come up with a range of WMDs – weapons of ministerial disruption. If we can develop enough from different but respected sources all targeting the inadequacy of the de facto KS4 National Curriculum then we might be in with a chance. It certainly won’t happen by accident so as of now I’m recruiting for WMDs.

What should the D&T community do as it works to rebuild the subject? I think there are three targets for our WMDs.

The first is success in the new GCSE. This will not be easy, as it will require a significant change in the KS3 curriculum that leads to the new KS4 curriculum necessitated by the new GCSE. So a five year course which will be decidedly different to pupils’ previous experience will be the order of the day. Staff will have to work much more as a team than before. KS3 will NOT be an internal competition for focus area numbers at KS4 and block timetabling will be needed to create staffing flexibility across the team. But there is everything to play for here. A coherent, highly regarded course which has appeal across the ability range. This leads to the second target – maintaining and increasing uptake. GCSE numbers for D&T have been falling steadily since 2004. This trend shows no signs of abating and we have to contend with the very real possibility that a ‘change of diet’ in Year 9 at KS3 might well lead to those pupils who would have opted for the subject deciding otherwise. This has been reported on Product Design Surgery Facebook. The difficulty with increasing numbers is often the structure of the option choices. In many cases all the ‘creative subjects’ find themselves in a single option column in competition with each other accompanied by difficulties for those studying three sciences to take D&T. To counteract these difficulties and start to build numbers will require a significant marketing campaign demonstrating to both parents and pupils the value of the subject, arguing quite explicitly for its worth as an academic subject in preference to those against which it is competing in the option column. This will not make your department popular but it is an essential strategy. D&T finds itself in a Darwinian situation – prosper or decline. The third, contrary as it sounds, is to take a hard look at the GCSE we are promoting and identify areas for improvement. I hear the response – Oh FFS as if we don’t have enough to do! But it’s only by identifying possible deficiencies and their remedies that we can be proactive in dealing with the DfE and Ofqual.

So if the profession can be successful in launching our WMDs (success in the new GCSE, increase in uptake, and possibilities for improvement), and give them wings by endorsements from influential and informed stakeholders from industry, academia, MPs and the wider profession then it will be difficult, if not impossible for the minister to ignore the progress made and reassess his (or by then may be her) opinion of the subject. Who will take the profession forward in developing, launching and endorsing the WMDs? Surely it has to be the D&T Association and this must be a major task for the soon to be appointed new CEO.

As always comments welcome.

*The title of this article has been inspired by the quite brilliant book  Weapons of Math Destruction by Cathy O’Neil


2 thoughts on “Weapons of Ministerial Disruption (WMD*s)

  1. As always, food for thought at a time when we need it. However, I fear that hot all teachers are listening. Case in point, I went to an AQA GCSE for Design and Technology launch event on Monday afternoon. Even now, with the specification having gone through draft and consultation, D&TA, yours and others work in crafting the spec (and I have to say, the contexts have been to my mind sanitised from your suggestions) there were colleagues in the room who were asking the most basic and worrying questions that revealed their deeply entrenched ways within subject specialist areas. Blinkered was the word that came to mind. Teachers are still asking questions of the new spec based on their own subject areas. I understand this is a result of being trained as a specialist teacher, as I was myself, however, D&T as a subject is lost due to institutionalisation and the needs of the exam board.
    We do indeed need to lobby, but we do also need to shake up the teachers in school who are looking for a ‘safe’ or cosy curriculum to teach, which requires not much change on their part in order to raise the bar in terms of how the subject is perceived. It still floors me when a parent, who is younger than me, asks “is this wood tech?”! I know there are leadership teams that think the same way, and with D&T being an expensive subject to run, and ‘less important’ (shoved in the open bucket for progress 8) than EBacc subjects, the perception is key to survival.
    Now more than ever we need to promote ourselves, make our successes public, within and around the school community and step out of the shadows to showcase what we enable students to do within the subject, which I think is much more visible than an English essay, maths paper or science experiment. What we produce can last a lifetime, as a physical product, or a philosophy.


    • I feel slightly, only slightly, responsible for drawing David’s attention to the mechanics of curriculum change. Clearly we must give the new GCSE a chance to succeed, but many people are of the opinion that the sudden change from seven GCSEs to one single qualification trying to achieve the same, and more was a step too far. Time will tell.
      D&T has suffered more than most from a troubled ride. The lack of percieved status eminated from a hangover of our antiquated class system, where manual work is regarded less highly than academic achievement. Clearly both are required and although we need to upskill the workforce that could be acheived by several methods. There isn’t space here to discuss that in any detail and I’m sure we all have our own ideas anyway. D&T needs to decide what it is. We have floundered for too many generations with the rest of society looking, trying to understand and eventually dismissing us as being perpherial to what they see as mainstream education.
      It’s no good blaming the exam boards they work at the behest of government policy in a tightly regulated sector. Until the DfE realises that we need a co-ordinated approach that includes vocational as well as academic, I doubt we will make any significant progress. I wish the new CEO of DATA all the best, they will have a difficult job to do.Perhaps the first thing might be to actually identify a concenus within the profession. It looks pretty divided at present, with far too much bickering going on to be productive. With cooperative spirit and some intelligent thought we might get there. Here’s hoping!


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