Today the Design Council Published Designing a Future Economy,
…investigating the skills used in design, the link between these skills and productivity and innovation, and how they align with future demand for skills across the wider UK economy.
It’s an interesting report (well, executive summary; the full report will be released in January) and well worth downloading and reading. It focuses on three areas:
- the design skills required across a range of design-related jobs,
- the value of design skills in the UK economy,
- how design skills are acquired and developed.
It’s the third of these that I want to focus on here.
The report notes the plummeting rate of GCSE D&T entries (see above) and recommends that:
Education providers and regulators embed design in the curriculum:
The traditional pathways into design careers – such as GCSE Design and Technology – are being eroded. The Department for Education, schools and academies should re-introduce GCSE Design and Technology as a priority subject in post-14 education to secure these skills in the short-term.
Anyone working in D&T education should be pleased that a body with some clout is both highlighting the worrying decline in D&T GCSE entries and banging the drum for D&T to have a higher priority post-14.
But…. I do worry about the constant emphasis on the economic reasons for including D&T in the curriculum. For example, just a few weeks ago, David wrote about a new report from the Institution Of Mechanical Engineers, “We think it is important but we don’t quite know what it is” The culture of engineering in schools; which argued, for economic reasons, that engineering should have a higher profile in schools.
It’s not hard to understand why these organisations focus on the economic justification; that’s where their institutional focus is. But it’s a case that has been being made for D&T for many, many years – years which have seen the subject decline. And I think the argument can be made that this dogged emphasis on the economic purpose of the subject has contributed to this decline.
Why? Well, because it positions D&T, in the minds of many stakeholders, as a vocational subject. This may well not be the intent, but it is the result and it has significant consequences.
In particular, schools, parents and government officials and ministers (etc.) mentally position the subject as ‘not academic’. As a result, in many schools it’s seen as a subject for weaker pupils (you know, it’s practical…). Even where the powers that be are more enlightened, the fact that it’s not in the EBacc core (because it’s ‘not academic’) makes it very hard to create an options systems that encourages large numbers of pupils to select it. In any case pupils are likely to reason that, unless they have a vocational interest in design, the subject is not for them and many parents ambitions for their children will mean that they view the subject as of less worth, unless they are particularly well-informed.
When David, Nick and I wrote Re-building Design & Technology, we argued that the purpose of the subject needs clarifying and suggested four arguments for the place of D&T in the curriculum:
An economic argument
A steady supply of people who have studied design & technology is essential to maintain and develop the kind of society we value. Design & technology is central to the innovation on which our future economic success as a nation depends. For those young people who achieve a design & technology qualification at school the experience may well predispose some of them to consider a technical career. This is important as our country faces a “STEM skills” gap.
A personal argument
The learning achieved through studying design & technology at school is useful in everyday situations, as it enables young people to deploy design skills and technical problem solving to address and solve practical problems at both the personal and community levels.
A social argument
In their communities, their workplaces, and through the media, people encounter questions and disputes that have matters of design and/or technology at their core. Often these matters are contentious. Significant understanding of design and of technology is needed to reach an informed view on such matters and engage in discussion and debate.
A cultural argument
Technologies and the design thinking behind them are major achievements of our culture. Everyone should be helped to appreciate these, in much the same way that we teach pupils to appreciate literature, art and music.
If the fortunes of D&T are to be restored, then we need to adopt and advance this much wider set of arguments for the subject; they provide a strong foundation for what the Design Council wants; to “re-introduce GCSE Design and Technology as a priority subject in post-14 education” (which, of course, implies it is well-supported pre-14).
As a postscript I should also note what some readers will be screaming at the screen as they peruse this; which is that a supply of quality teachers is the other thing that is required to turn around the fortunes of D&T in schools. These matters are intertwined; its hard to attract good teachers when the subject looks so battered, but it’s hard to make significant change without those good teachers. I wonder if the Design Council and its partners could explore ways to improve the supply of teachers both immediately and in the long-term.
As ever, comments and discussion are welcomed.