Three cheers for Amanda Spielman!


It was with a heavy heart that I read the opening paragraph of the Summer 2017 Editorial of Designing

As design and technology specialists we all know that good quality design, engineering and technology education is an essential part of any government’s economic programme. We also know that design and technology is a place in the curriculum where young people can develop the skills, attitudes and values employers are looking for, that contribute to the economy and the making of a better society and that are in increasingly short supply.

We have been banging the economic utility of the subject drum for the past 25 years and it has done us precious little good. Of course some of the young people who study d&t will go on to work in design/technology based careers to their own benefit and that of the country. But as a percentage of the cohort that will always be low, no more than, say, 10% at the most and if we see d&t as a subject for all young people whatever their career intention it is important that we offer up and subscribe to other reasons e.g. A personal argument (learning useful skills) a social argument (being able to understand and contribute to the debates surrounding the deployment of design and technology) and a cultural argument (appreciating the contribution of design & technology to our society in the past, now and in the future). There is little economic rational for the teaching of history or geography yet teachers of these subjects have little difficulty in justifying their inclusion in the curriculum and they are held in high esteem. And whilst studying science is seen as a key school subject with regard to the nation’s economic success science teachers do not rely on this argument as the justification of science for all – quite the reverse.

s216_Amanda_Spielman__1_So thank heavens for Amanda Spielman who in her speech at the Festival of Education on 23 June 2017 refocused attention on the curriculum starting with a quote from Michael Young:

Schools enable young people to acquire the knowledge that, for most of them, cannot be acquired at home or in the community.

Michael has completely changed his position with regard to the place of knowledge in the curriculum and he now presents an alternative perspective to educational policies which see schools primarily as instruments of economic policy and challenges much social science which focuses exclusively on the role of schools in cultural and social reproduction. Amanda seizes on this with an enthusiasm which should be a joy to all d&t teachers who have a broad justification for their teaching as I think the following quotes from her speech reveal.

One of the areas that I think we sometimes lose sight of is the real substance of education. Not the exam grades or the progress scores, important though they are, but instead the real meat of what is taught in our schools and colleges: the curriculum.

To understand the substance of education we have to understand the objectives. Yes, education does have to prepare young people to succeed in life and make their contribution in the labour market. But to reduce education down to this kind of functionalist level is rather wretched.

a tendency to mistake badges and stickers for learning itself. And it is putting the interests of schools ahead of the interests of the children in them. We should be ashamed that we have let such behaviour persist for so long.

At a time of scarce pupil funding and high workloads, all managers are responsible for making sure teachers’ time is spent on what matters most. This means concentrating on the curriculum and the substance of education, not preparing your pupils to jump through a series of accountability hoops.

Amanda makes a strong case for defending values and it is here that d&t is particularly strong in that can develop in young people both technological capability and technological perspective. Decisions in these arenas are always a matter of judgment and such judgments are informed by values.

It is an indication of her commitment to the curriculum as equally important as teaching, learning and assessment that Amanda has started a review of the curriculum. This project is looking at curriculum practice in hundreds of schools across the country to see what is actually going on. It is being advised by a group of experts, including the likes of the assessment specialist Tim Oates and Professor Sam Twiselton. Once the first wave of evidence has been collected, itwill look at whether routine inspection needs rebalancing in favour of the curriculum. If it does, Ofsted will be able to reflect this in the new inspection framework being developed for 2019.

There’s an implicit invitation here. What do we, the d&t teaching community, want to know about the state of the d&t curriculum in schools across the country? Time allocated, range of specialists in d&t teaching teams, funding, what is being taught, how it is being taught, which methods are successful, the nature of option structures that inhibit or enhance uptake at KS4. There is a lot that we want to know more about so that our practice can develop and be informed by such research.

And to return to the question that underpinned Amanda’s speech, ‘What are schools for?’ No one answers this better than Neil Postman.

neilpostmanat its best, schooling can be about how to make a life, which is quite different from making a living. Such an enterprise is not easy to pursue, since politicians rarely speak of it, our technology is indifferent to it, and our commerce despises it. Nevertheless, it is the weightiest and most important thing to write about.


As always comments welcome.

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