Teacherhead and thoughts on D&T at KS3


Tom Sherrington is an author whose books include two that for me have been influential and highly recommendable; The Learning Rainforest: Great Teaching in Real Classrooms and Rosenshine’s Principles in Action. He runs the teacherhead blog and is a teacher trainer and consultant in much demand. Though I have never met him I, like many others, hold him in high regard, based on what he has written.

I say all this as preface to this post in which David and I respond to some thoughts that Tom has posted on his site under the title Curriculum Review at KS3: Some common issues. In that post, as the tile suggests, he reflects on his work with a wide range of schools and

…share(s) some of the common themes that emerge from discussions with subject leaders across the KS3 curriculum.

I have to say that my initial response on reading this was delight that D&T had been included – so often when one reads about the KS3 curriculum at the moment D&T isn’t even mentioned. However, we did feel that that there were aspects of the themes that he was reporting that we wanted to either take issue with or expand upon – and since he asked for comments, we thought we should provide some.

What follows has already been added to his original post as comments, but we felt it would be helpful to also copy them here where we know many D&T practitioners will see them. The comments are in two parts, the first relates to D&T and the second to the relationship between D&T and ‘The Arts’.

Concerning D&T

In relation to D&T, Tom made the comments shown in the table below, our responses follow this:

DT
  • What are the areas we can cover: Food, Resistant materials, textiles, electronics, graphics?  Is there time/resource/expertise? What gets priority?
  • Is CADCAM integrated into the curriculum – or even taught discretely?
  • Do our projects offer experience with good range of materials, reference good range of designers, blend rigour of skill development with room for real creativity at the right point?
  • Do we assess knowledge of terminology, concepts in design process, the work of designers?

Point 1

We feel it is important to get the name of the subject correct – Design & Technology (D&T), this is not a trivial point as the Parkes Report spent some time establishing this as follows

1.5. . . . Our understanding is that whereas most, but not all, design activities will generally include technology and most technology activities will include design, there is not always total correspondence.
1.6 Our use of design and technology as a unitary concept, to be spoken in one breath as it were, does not therefore embody redundancy. It is intended to emphasise the intimate connection between the two activities as well as to imply a concept which is broader than either design or technology individually and the whole of which we believe is educationally important. (Page 2 DfE&WO 1988)

Point 2

What are the areas we can cover: Food, Resistant materials, textiles, electronics, graphics? Is there time/resource/expertise? What gets priority?

This question isn’t helpful as it undermines the integrity of the subject; both the KS3 NC and the new GCSE have dropped materials as a key way of thinking about the subject. A more useful approach is to frame the curriculum as repeated access to the Big Ideas of the subject (Barlex et al 2017a): e.g. materials, making, functionality, design and critique, with each getting appropriate time and being supported through a wide range of material experiences including ones that combine materials.
The issue of expertise is an important one; certainly at KS3, there is nothing in the content that a competent D&T teacher couldn’t manage, though there is a need for appropriate CPD to support this.
Prioritising against time and resource; we know that both allocated curriculum time and availability of D&T teachers are issues for some schools. We strongly (if naively?) believe that SMTs shouldn’t use availability of D&T teachers (or lack thereof) as an excuse to shrug shoulders and reduce curriculum time; the subject is no less important than any other and it deserves the same effort to support it as any other – including through retraining internally if necessary.
However, prioritisation will be a fact of life; and should be viewed through the lens of big ideas noted above.

Point 3

Is CADCAM integrated into the curriculum – or even taught discretely?

CADCAM is an approach to both designing and making and should be seen as part of teaching both of these, in which both digital and non-digital ‘tools’ are used. That is, not taught as a separate ‘unit’, though there may well be the need for focussed teaching as appropriate.
It is worth noting that some designers have been reported as saying it is important to leave using CAD to as late as possible in any designing activity as it limits creativity – (See The Glass Cage by Nicholas Carr).

Point 4

Do our projects offer experience with good range of materials, reference good range of designers, blend rigour of skill development with room for real creativity at the right point?

It is important not to see the curriculum as a series of projects (things to be made) but as a learning journey involving different sorts of learning experience (things to be learned).
We would suggest such a journey should involve the following sorts of experience: designing without making; making without designing; designing and making; and considering the consequences of technology (See Re-Building D&T, Barlex et al 2017b).
Each of these activities can be devised to enable the learning of important Big Ideas so that across a sequence of activities there is significant progression in learning.
Any activity involving designing should enable pupils to be creative, but this will only occur if they are given the opportunity and support to develop their own ideas. This means providing increasingly ‘open’ design contexts – something that, in any case, preparation for the GCSE Contextual Challenge will require.

Point 5

Do we assess knowledge of terminology, concepts in design process, the work of designers?

It is important to assess pupils’ learning against the teaching intentions, and these should be linked to the Big Ideas.
Hence, in each of the devised learning activities the teaching intentions should be clear and pupils should be assessed against the extent to which they have met these intentions. This requires that the learning experiences be devised according to what is to be learned as opposed to what the pupils will do/make.

References

Barlex D., Givens N., Steeg T (2017a) Big Ideas for D&T; A working paper David and Torben for D&T. Available at https://dandtfordandt.wordpress.com/working-papers/big-ideas-for-dt/
Steeg T., Barlex D., Givens N. (2017b) Re-Building D&T; A working paper David and Torben for D&T. Available at https://dandtfordandt.wordpress.com/resources/re-building-dt/
Carr, N. (2015) The Glass Cage, who needs humans anyway? Vintage, London
Department for Education and Science and Welsh Office (DfE&WO). (1988). National curriculum design and technology working group interim report. London: HMSO. Available at https://www.stem.org.uk/resources/elibrary/resource/27697/national-curriculum-design-and-technology-working-group-interim

Concerning Arts/D&T general issues

D&T appears a second time in Tom’s post as shown in the table below, again our responses follow this:

Arts/DT

General Issues

  • In general, do students have enough time in each area? Do we have the right balance of breadth of experience across art/DT areas versus depth in each?
  • Is there a carousel? If so what does this do to continuity year to year?
  • Is there a period per week? If so, does this allow time to sustain development of skills across a range of projects?
  • Is there the possibility of a Year 9 option structure where, before GCSE options, students choose and art/DT subject or two to specialise in?
  • What does excellence look like?  Are we pitching high in terms of student outcomes compared to other schools at KS3 (given absence of official moderation process?)

Point 1

As noted in our comments on the D&T specific section, it is Important to get to get the name of D&T correct; not DT.

Point 2

In general, do students have enough time in each area? Do we have the right balance of breadth of experience across art/DT areas versus depth in each?

We do not think it is helpful to anyone (especially students) to bracket ‘the Arts’ with D&T. Arts develop outcomes that are primarily concerned with expressing and/or evoking some sort of personal, emotional or political response. D&T outcomes are primarily concerned with developing interventions into the made and natural worlds usually with the intention of making improvements to a particular situation. Given these different intentions, comparing these two curriculum areas in particular does not seem that logical. We can see that creativity is required to develop outcomes in both areas (other subjects will also make a claim on creativity) but the different intentions means that although there will be some overlap with regard to the use of, for example, particular making techniques or technical ways of working, Arts and D&T will call on different bodies of knowledge. Also the arts are to some extent indifferent to the nature of response they generate in that the responses will be subjective and the creative artist does not necessarily want a positive response. However in D&T the aim of the activity is usually predicated on identifying user needs and wants and trying to meet these. So it is probably better to consider them as independent subjects with their own unique purposes as opposed to linking them on the grounds that they are both ‘creative’. As independent subjects they would each require equal time in the curriculum. If planned carefully it is possible to capitalise on areas in which there are overlaps.

Point 3

Is there a carousel? If so what does this do to continuity year to year?

We understand that for various reasons some schools combine aspects of the Arts and D&T in a KS3 carousel, but even here there needs to be clarity about what the elements of such a carousel ‘represent’.
More broadly we think the notion of a carousel arrangement should be challenged. We understand that the idea of a carousel arrangement is attractive in that it assigns teachers with particular expertise to groups of learners on a rotational basis and hence puts the learner with those who have expert knowledge. The downside is that the time spent with such teachers is limited and the teacher does not get to know the learners as well as if they were teaching them for a whole year. it also often leads to a poor overview of subject knowledge development over a whole year. To overcome the difficulty of subject expertise, teachers need to work in teams, ideally co-teaching but if this is not possible then co-planning with on-going progress reviews. Whichever system is used it is important that progression is built into to sequence of lessons.

Point 4

Is there a period per week? If so, does this allow time to sustain development of skills across a range of projects?

With regard to time available, the simple rule of thumb that appears to work is that to prepare learners for a single subject GCSE course at Key Stage 4 requires one double lesson per week each week across Key Stage 3. It is essential that the sequence of lessons, however organised into topics or projects, is underpinned by the teaching of knowledge, understanding and values as well as skills in a way that builds into a coherent whole over the time of the course. Again, these will be different for the Arts and for D&T.

Point 5

Is there the possibility of a Year 9 option structure where, before GCSE options, students choose an art/DT subject or two to specialise in?

We believe that students should experience as broad a curriculum as possible right through KS3. (For this reason, we are not fans of two-year KS3 arrangements as these generally force students to make subject choices after less than 18 months of secondary experience of subjects.)
Also, as we note in our specific comments about D&T, neither the KS3 National Curriculum nor the new single-subject GCSE D&T view the subject as a series of separate material areas. An attempt to use materials as a basis for organising the KS3 D&T curriculum is not going to be helpful to student progress in the subject.
We realise that the EBacc is something that many schools feel they can’t ignore (and we note reports that recent Ofsted inspections have criticised schools’ low EBacc entries).
However, not all schools feel beholden to the Ebacc, for example some schools support both Art and D&T at Key Stage 3 with the opportunity to take both to GSCE level at KS4. We know of one student who is taking triple science, D&T, Computer Studies and Art at KS4 with the result that he has dropped humanities and modern foreign languages. That school organises its KS4 timetable based on the subjects the pupils wish to take so their choice drives timetable structure rather than them having to fit into a ready given structure.

Point 6

What does excellence look like? Are we pitching high in terms of student outcomes compared to other schools at KS3 (given absence of official moderation process?)

Aspiring to excellence appears laudable but needs to be unpacked. Do we want excellent outcomes? No one is going to answer ‘no’. It seems to us that the curriculum in the Arts and D&T should be designed such that excellent outcomes are definitely possible but it is unrealistic to expect that all learners’ outcomes will be excellent. And perhaps excellence should be viewed as a function of the individual as much as a measurement against external standard. This approach towards creativity was advocated in the Robinson Report. Possible features of excellence should include things beyond the final artefact (which might be a prototype), so the ability to engage with an open context, to really get under the skin of users’ needs, to consider sustainability and wider values including possible impacts on climate change and those who might use or produce such artefacts in the wider world.
In planning a particular course of study it will be essential to teach knowledge, understanding, skills and values that can be used in executing outcomes. In this way every learner has the opportunity to deploy their learning to the best of their ability. There will be a range of performance across a class with some outcomes significantly better than others but such a rank order snapshot does not tell the whole story, in that the outcomes have to be put in the context of individual students’ learning journeys and improvement may well have taken place for those learners whose achievements are modest. A useful mantra is ‘progress not perfection’.

Comments and thoughts, as ever, welcome.

 

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