Big Ideas for D&T

When we published the Re-Building Design & Technology Working Paper, one of the core things we suggested was that the D&T community could agree on some Big Ideas that should underpin learning within D&T.

We didn’t think these Big Ideas were particularly radical; they already mostly appear in one form or another in the current KS3 Orders for D&T as well as in the new D&T GCSEs.

We outlined some of the responses to the Re-Building paper in an earlier post, and, as we said there, some correspondents disagreed with the idea of Big Ideas and others felt they’d like to hear more detail on how these Big Ideas had been developed, so that they could understand our argument better.

We agree that this would be helpful and we hope that our second Working paper,  Big Ideas for Design & Technology, serves the purpose of explaining where the Bg Ideas we are advocating have come from.

As ever, we hope this paper will stimulate discussion and we look forward to your comments.

Re-Building D&T

re-buildingOur subject is in the doldrums. The KS3 Programme of Study introduced in 2013, coupled with the new GCSE, offers the possibility of modernisation but the challenges to the subject are much more deep-rooted.

We have identified four core challenges:

  • A lack of agreed epistemology
  • Confusion about purpose
  • Uncertainty about the nature of good practice
  • Erroneous stakeholder perceptions

These have contributed over several decades to a situation where less than 30% of young people now study the subject to 16+.

What can be done to restore design & technology to the grand intentions of the 1989 Parkes Report that heralded its introduction into the National Curriculum?

That’s what this post is all about. David and Torben, working with Nick Givens, have written a paper, Re-building Design & Technology, that explores these four challenges and how they might be tackled.

dsp-collageThe paper contains 12 recommendations for the Design & Technology Association to consider, that we believe build on its existing aims and activities.

The emphasis in these recommendations is on the leadership role of the Association; we are not suggesting in any way that the Association can undertake the role of re-building design & technology alone.

All members of the community of practice along with those who support the subject of design & technology and those in positions of influence over the subject need to understand the key roles of Epistemology, Clarity of purpose, Good practice and Informed stakeholder perception in re-building design & technology as a key part of the school curriculum. All need to work with and in support of the Association in this endeavour.

As always we hope this post will stimulate discussion and we look forward to your comments.

Various versions of the paper, including a print-friendly one (with the large blocks of colour removed) and a version as web pages can be found through our Re-Building D&T page.

D&T for the Next Generation

coverThe book Design & Technology for the next generation was published in 2007 through funding from the Technology Enhancement Project with the intention that a copy should be given free of charge to every qualifying design & technology teacher for the following three years. For various reasons this intention was not met. The result was a very limited print run and despite the fact that the book was well received and found its way on many Initial Teacher Training and Masters Courses reading lists it became difficult to obtain and is now virtually unobtainable. To our mind this is a shame as the authors contributing to the book were, and still are, at the forefront of scholarship concerning the purpose, teaching and learning of design & technology education. Hence we are making available free to download PDFs of all the chapters in the book as we believe that they will provide useful reading for all design & technology teachers at a time when the subject is being challenged to modernise particularly in response the introduction of a new single subject GCSE being first taught in September 2017.
The chapters in the book are as follows:
At a time when all creative subjects are being marginalised in the structure of GCSE option choices, it is particularly important that design & technology teachers are able to argue convincingly for the place of their subject in the education for ALL young people up to the age of 16+. Not in terms of a narrow vocational argument centred on the economic necessity of skills required by industry, which will inevitably only apply to a minority of young people, but in terms of an induction to a culturally significant area of human activity that has shaped successive civilisations across history.

MIT has developed some Chooser Charts!

Christopher Polhem

Christopher Polhem

Chooser Charts were a key tool developed by the Nuffield D&T project that David led. Nuffield cannot claim that it was their idea. David Layton pointed out that Christopher Polhem had this idea in Sweden in the 17th Century. He developed a Mechanical Alphabet which was used in teaching at the Laboratorium mechanicum – Sweden´s first school of technology – and later also at the Institute of Technology, the predecessor of the Royal Institute of Technology of Sweden.

The aim of the Nuffield Chooser Charts was to provide young people studying design & technology with easy to use sources of information to help them make design decisions across all the focus areas. The Nuffield materials are now collected together on this website under Resources and contain a wide range of chooser charts for both KS3 and KS4 – in the latter case grouped by material area [electronics products, food technologygraphics, product design, and textiles], reflecting the way GCSE D&T was organised when they were produced. These materials can be freely used and adapted for classroom use but permission needs to be sought for any other purposes.

And we’ve just noticed that MIT’s D-Lab has made available, as high-resolution PDFs, three ‘Learn-IT Boards’ that are, in essence, Chooser Charts of a high graphic quality; one each on Fasteners, Adhesives and Material Selection.

Measuring 2 feet tall by 3 feet wide, Learn-It boards are designed to be hung on a workshop wall.  There, the Learn-Its act as self-serve references for workshop users making prototyping decisions.

Learn-It: Fasteners

Note that, though free, these materials are provided under the Attribution-Non-Commercial 3.0 Creative Commons License, which essentially means that if you use them you need to attribute MIT, include the same licence and not use them for commercial purposes.

We think it’s especially interesting that these are designed to be hung on the workshop wall to enable good design decisions to be made on the hoof!

The Learn-Its are more detailed than the Chooser Charts. They are self-guiding resources that provide an integrated introduction to basic mechanical design elements; they bridge the gap between superficial how-tos and super-detailed technical guides. They give people the right vocabulary to ask targeted questions in the workshop and online, while outlining detailed tips and explanations of physical phenomena driving how different mechanisms, tools, materials, and fasteners work. People are provided with enough information to critically select the right material, adhesive, or tool for their project.

ChooserIn comparison, the Chooser Charts are really designed to support design decision conversations between pupils and teachers, as opposed to providing all the information necessary to make and enact a design decision. So we see the pupils in schools having their own copies of chooser charts which they can annotate as they discuss possibilities with their teachers. We believe this would be very helpful in evidencing the design decisions the pupils make in the new GCSE contextual challenge. You might consider blowing up the Nuffield Chooser charts to A3  size and laminating them so that the teacher and pupil could annotate together using a white board marker. Of course the pupil would need to photograph the result for evidence of designerly thinking.

Stuff we like: A catch up

It’s always been our intention to use the Stuff we like… pages to share things we’ve been reading, watching and listening to. So this is the first in what I hope will become a rather more frequent series of ‘catch up’ posts – bringing the site up to date with some of the things I’ve been reading over the past few months. These are listed in about the order I read them – but I’ve also linked them (‘Filed under’) to the sections of the website where the permanent references are.

The Second Machine Age iconThe Second Machine Age – Work, Progress, and Prosperity in a Time of Brilliant Technologies by Erik Brynjolfsson and Andrew Mcafee, published in 2015 by Norton. This provides a really good overview of the range of (largely digital) technologies that are starting to impact all areas of life. The authors discuss both the opportunities that these technological revolutions offer and also the risks to people from the scale of the changes they predict. They also provide recommendations for individuals and policy that they think will help ensure the smoothest possible transition to the technological age they predict. Interestingly they put quite a high priority on the importance of education to prepare both individuals and society for the second machine age and note the need to reform education for such a purpose. Although their brief overview of the (US) educational landscape does no more than skim the surface, I do think they are right that education needs to change in the face of the immense social challenges that digital technologies are bringing. This book won’t tell you much about how education should change – but it lays a foundation for understanding what such changes need to achieve. Filed under …about Technology

Learning Reimagined iconLearning Reimagined by Graham Brown-Martin, published in 2014 by Bloomsbury  is a beautifully produced book – full of gorgeous photos – through which the author explores radical approaches to education from around the world that have been facilitated by digital technologies. Organised by country, the book contains interviews with leading thinkers along with case studies of schools and learning communities. These are interspersed with ‘Thought Pieces’ from the author in which he reflects on some of the wider and overarching educational issues that his visits and conversations prompt. True to its focus on new technologies the book makes good use of augmented reality, in particular linking from the written interviews to videos of those being interviewed. If The Second Machine Age outlines why education needs to change, the wealth of examples in this book will inspire thinking about how it might change. Filed under …about Education

Girl genius 3 iconGirl Genius – Agatha H and the Voice of the Castle by Phil and Kaja Foglio, published in 2014 by Titan. This is the third novelisation of the wonderful series of Girl Genius steampunk comics. These comics are first published online (for free) in three instalments a week, then bound up and sold as comic books. Every now and then a series of the comics is published in novel form. All the incarnations are excellent; a strong and intelligent female lead, lots of good technology humour and great story lines. What’s not to like…..? Filed under …that is Just Cool

I Think You'll Find It's a Bit More Complicated Than That iconI Think You’ll Find It’s a Bit More Complicated Than That by Ben Goldacre, published in 2014 by Fourth Estate. This is a collection of articles by Goldacre previously published elsewhere – many of them in The Guardian’s bad science column and on the Bad Science website. The merit of the collection is that the articles are grouped into themes and thus allow a line of thought to develop. Goldacre has a laser-like focus on identifying the bad use of science and, in particular, on how data is used and misused. He’s an entertaining writer and this is an accessible and well-grounded introduction to a lot of ideas in statistics and data handling. The book includes a section on education; Goldacre has made something of a name for himself in advocating for education the use of these kinds of large scale randomised control trials that have transformed medicine. Not all education researchers are convinced that these ideas will transfer to education as well as Goldacre claims, but this book is a good place to read Goldacre’s argument. Filed under Big Data

Hot to Cold iconHot to Cold: An Odyssey of Architectural Adaptation by Bjarke Ingels Group (BIG) published by Taschen in 2015. I’m a huge fan of  Bjarke Ingels’ architecture – the fact that he’s Danish is, of course, immaterial…. This book (produced for an exhibition of the same name at the National Building Museum in Washington DC earlier this year) provides an overview of around 60 of BIG’s projects, some built, others in progress and some speculative, ordered by the temperature of the climate where the work is set. What I like about this is that it provides really clear descriptions of the design thinking that led the group to some really very radical building designs.  I think these could be used as design case studies with pupils as a well as the book being a great D&T design reference. For those who prefer their information in comic book forms, an earlier work by BIG, Yes is More: An Archicomic on Architectural Evolution, covers some of the same territory. Filed under …about Design

The Language of Things iconThe Language of Things by Deyan Sudjic published in 2009 by Penguin. SuDjic is the Director of the design Museum in London, and in this book provides a great popular introduction to a number of ideas in design, looking not only at the language of design (as indicated by the title) but also design archetypes and the relationship of design with luxury, fashion and art. He’s a clear and often witty writer and I think this is nice overview of some interesting idea in design that D&T teachers would find valuable. Filed under …about Design

Operating Manual for Spaceship Earth iconOperating Manual for Spaceship Earth by R. Buckminster Fuller, published 2008 by Lars Muller. This book was originally published in 1968; one the one hand this shows very clearly in the style of writing – which was probably very relaxed for its time but can come across as a bit stilted in places by today’s standards. On the other hand, many of the ideas it in seem almost prophetic when read with hindsight. Buckminster Fuller is probably best known for the design of geodesic domes, but this book clearly shows him as a polymath with very wide interests and a knack for binging together seemingly unrelated ideas. His writing is motivated by a strong belief that social inequity is unacceptable and that design and technology should be a tool for equalisation, he is concerned about the consequences of rapid population growth, about the implications of automation and about   our unsustainable use of ‘Spaceship Earth’s’ resources. All of which continue to be live issues. However he is an optimist; he believes that humans can work together to produce a fair and sustainable world. He argues that humanity needs to bring range of tools to bear on the planet’s problems, including systems thinking and synergistic thinking, and that by doing so we have the capacity to ensure  a good future for all of Spaceship Earth’s passengers. Filed under …about Technology

Saturn's Children iconSaturn’s Children by Charles Stross published in 2009 by Orbit. Stross is among my favourite SF authors and this book has his trademark dark humour. Set in a future where humans have engineered advanced robots to look after them – and then become so lazy that they slip into extinction, the story follows the adventures of one of these robots. This is a great exploration of what happens when ‘our’ machines try to sustain a human society that is bereft of humans. Filed under …about Science Fiction

The Art of Critical Making iconThe Art of Critical Making: Rhode Island School of Design on Creative Practice by John Maeda, Rosanne Somerson and Mara Hermano, published in 2013 by John Wiley. This collection of essays by and interviews with members of the staff teaching at the highly regarded Rhode Island School of Design (RSID) ranges widely across material contexts and approaches to teaching design and making. But running through the book is the idea that making should be a critical activity and that design education should encourage deep thoughtfulness and a questioning attitude to such things as the materials being used, the purposes of this use, the needs of people impacted by the designing and making and social and environmental impacts. It shouldn’t be a surprise that these are seen as important in design education, but the value of this book lies in the descriptions of the learning experiences enjoyed by students at RSID, many of which, it seems to me could be applied to school-level education as well. Also of interest is the broad emphasis on the importance of the embodied learning that arise from physical interaction with materials; computers certainly don’t seem to be banned at RSID, but neither is their use privileged.Filed under …about Design

The Scientist As Rebel icon

The Scientist As Rebel by Freeman Dyson published in 2008 by New York Review Books. Dyson is one of the world’s leading theoretical physicists but applies his considerable intellect well beyond the confines of physics. This collection of essays is arranged in four groups; Contemporary Issues in Science, War and Peace, History of Science and Scientists and Personal and Philosophical Essays. It is compassionate, human and very readable. The first section contains the material most directly relevant to D&T education and includes an exploration of the implications of the mass adoption of novel technologies such as neurotechnology and synthetic biology, speculating, for example, that:

Instead of CAD-CAM we may have CAS-CAR, computer-aided selection and computer-aided reproduction.

But the essays are of interest beyond this; he provides unfashionable views on climate science, thoughtful observations of the relationship between religion and science, and insights into a range of contemporary issues such as environmental protection and genetic engineering. Filed under …about Technology

Teaching- Notes from the Front Line iconTeaching: Notes from the Front Line by Dr Debra Kidd, published in 2014 by Independent Thinking Press. A thoughtful and bang-up-to-the-minute exploration of the some of the significant contemporary issues facing teaching and teachers. Kidd writes as both a teacher and a senior leader in schools, she is passionate about high quality education and, equally,  clear that much of the political and administrative activity around schools undermines quality education. This will not be a surprise to most working in schools. What marks this book out as more than just another teacher’s whine about how hard teaching is, is that this a handbook of ‘pedagogical activism’. The cover of the book claims that “We are … in need of a revolution in education” and most chapters end with a series of  bulleted action points of things ‘you can do now’. Kidd  does not think there is time to wait around and hope things improve, she want teachers to “take control of the direction of education and policy”. You may not agree with all her views or prescriptions, but I think most teachers will find inspiration in her proactive attitude. Filed under …about Education

Design as Art iconDesign as Art by Bruno Munari, this edition published 2008 by Penguin (original published in 1966). Munari was an influential Italian designer of the 20th century and in this series of short pieces he explores not only the relationship of Design to Art but also the place of design in society under the broad areas of Stylists, Visual Design, Graphic Design, Industrial Design and Research Design. He is a thoughtful and humourous writer and a number of his chapters (along with the copious drawings that accompany them) could form the basis for activities that will get pupils in D&T thinking more deeply about design. Filed under …about Design

An All Party Manifesto for DESIGN!

The All Party Parliamentary Design & Innovation Group has just published a Manifesto for Design, available here. A key point from the conclusion is: Design thinking to be an integral part of the design discipline as taught in primary, secondary, further and higher education.

Good news for design & technology especially now as from September 2017 it will be a single, coherent and demanding GCSE subject. One of the headlines and comments in the Education section of the Manifesto provides a stark warning: The Government should act to reverse the decline in participation in design The DfE should address the unintended consequences of Ebacc and Progress 8 by making clear statements about the value of D&T 
and the importance the Government attaches to schools ensuring all pupils have an entitlement to D&T.

It remains to be seen whether the DfE does anything in response but if you know that an All Party Parliamentary Group has indicated its concern you can use this in discussions with SLT about the worth of D&T and having an appropriate place in GCSE option choices.

The manifesto also argues for “strategic support of makerspaces, hackspaces and Maklabs as a means of integrating design and technology education at all levels with that of local industry and business”. Involving your D&T department with the local maker movement would seem an obvious way to engage with the manifesto. Many visitors to the site will know that Torben is an ardent advocate of the maker movement. So he’ll be following up this post with one of his own. And it should be remembered that Torben was prescient in his recognition of the importance of the maker movement for D&T presenting a paper at the Design and Technology Association Education and International Research Conference in 2008. If you have any comments on the Manifesto do let me know. And if you use it with your SLT please send in the details of their response.

D&T GCSE Consultations closing soon; why this matters

As the deadlines for the D&T GCSE Consultations are this week, it seems a good time to remind people to respond and also to explain a bit more some of the thinking behind the responses that David and I have published and submitted.

But first, it is really important that anyone and everyone with an interest in D&T as a school subject does respond. I have heard it suggested that, as the D&T Association will be submitting a response on behalf of its members, individuals needn’t bother. I think this notion is rather dangerous. The D&T community has a good track record of producing high numbers of response to government consultations (especially in comparison to the responses from other subjects) and we have been told that this is noticed and increases the impact of these responses. We need the DfE and Ofqual to understand that a lot of people care about D&T.

We have made our responses to the consultations public precisely because we understand that constructing these things takes time that a lot of colleagues don’t have; so we encourage others to either use our responses to inform their own or, if very pressed for time, to simply to adopt our responses. The following explains how you can find our responses:

The Ofqual Consultation

This consultation focuses on how the new GCSE in D&T will be assessed.

The deadline for responses is this Wednesday, 19th November.

Full details on how to respond are in our post Formal Response to the Ofqual GCSE D&T Consultation along with the response we have submitted.

Note that, since that post, Ofqual appear to have removed the web-based consultation information, but the information is still available as a PDF accessible from the root consultation webpage.

The DfE Consultation

This focuses on the content of the proposed new GCSE in D&T.

The deadline for responses is 1700 this Thursday, 20th November.

Full details on how to respond are in our post Formal Response to the DfE GCSE D&T Consultation along with the response we have submitted.

So, why have we responded the way we have? To answer this I want to first summarise the recent history of the subject at the hands of curriculum reformers; if this stuff is familiar to you, feel free to skip this part. Secondly I want to explore why we think D&T deserves a place in the curriculum – because the recent history suggests that there is substantial and possibly widespread lack of clarity about this. Then I’ll see if I can tie this back to our response to the consultations.

D&T takes a battering

[David’s A lesson in curriculum politics for design & technology provided a fuller account of the events I summarise below.]

D&T is in a precarious position as a school subject and we are, frankly, very lucky to have entered this school year with a coherent subject at KS1-3. We are also indebted to the, quite small, group of individuals who worked hard behind the scenes to avert two near-disasters.

Near Disaster Number One was the Report of the Expert Panel set up by the new Coalition Government in 2010 to review the framework for the National Curriculum. In many ways this is good and thoughtful document but when it came to D&T they said:

…we are not entirely persuaded of claims that design and technology, information and communication technology and citizenship have sufficient disciplinary coherence[58] to be stated as discrete and separate National Curriculum ‘subjects’. [p24]

Footnote 58 expanded on the reasons for their lack of persuasion:

Implicit in this judgement is a view of disciplinary knowledge as a distinct way of investigating, knowing and making sense with particular foci, procedures and theories, reflecting both cumulative understanding and powerful ways of engaging with the future. In this sense, disciplinary knowledge offers core foundations for education, from which the subjects of the curriculum are derived. Some very worthwhile areas of learning apply such knowledge in particular ways or foreground particular areas of skill or competence – but have weaker epistemological roots.

As a result their recommendation was that D&T should be moved out of the National Curriculum (with nationally defined content) into the ‘Basic Curriculum’ (with locally defined content – thus sitting alongside PSHE, careers information etc.).

That the well-regarded individuals who made up the Expert Panel (I won’t name and shame here – they are credited for their work in their Report) could conclude that D&T has no clear knowledge-base of its own and simply applies knowledge from other subjects while foregrounding skills/competences was shocking for those of us working in D&T. But, we have to ask, whose fault was it that they were so ill-informed?

That report was published in December 2011. A bunch of rearguard activity from the D&T education community and its supporters led to D&T being retained in the National Curriculum along with work to define what the updated content should look like (recall that one of the key aims of the reform process was to substantially reduce the content specified in the National Curriculum).

Near Disaster Number Two occurred, just over a year after the Expert Panel’s report was published, in February 2013, with the publication of the DfE’s Framework document for consultation on the National Curriculum. This, to the astonishment of pretty much everyone working in D&T Education, reframed D&T as a mixture of craft and DIY with a focus on maintenance and repair. (If you missed this fun at the time, see p156 onward of the Framework document).

It became pretty clear at the time that Elizabeth Truss, then Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State at the Department for Education, had drafted this document, ignoring the proposals drafted by folk like the D&T Association and RAEng. Again, it is shocking that a junior minister could imagine that it was within her capability to do such a thing. Her credentials for taking on this work? A PPE from Oxford, work for Shell as a commercial manager, for Cable & Wireless as economics director, then work as a qualified management accountant [source].

Another rearguard operation by the D&T community successfully saw this threat off as well and we ended up with the current National Curriculum, which builds in an evolutionary way from its predecessors. Though if all the information you had was from the Daily Telegraph, uncritically passing on what the DfE press office had to say, you might think the new Orders were something very new:

A senior Whitehall source said: “The new curriculum will give pupils the skills to design, make, and test their own products.

“Pupils will learn computer-aided design and electronics. 3D printers will become standard in our schools – a technology that is transforming manufacturing and the economy.

“Combined with the introduction of programming, it is a big step forward from Labour’s dumbed down curriculum.”

A big step forward? Really?!

Let’s revisit my earlier question:

Whose fault has it been it that so many key people are so ill-informed about the subject?

I’m afraid the only answer I can give is that ‘we’ are; and by that I mean the whole D&T education community. That’s folk like David and me who provide in-service support for teachers, those (also David and me, a bit) who provide the initial education for teachers (be it in HEIs or schools), Heads of D&T Department in schools, teachers of D&T, the D&T Association even.

Before you start to shout at me….. I’m not suggesting that you, personally, dear reader, are doing your job, whatever it may be, badly or that you, personally, have a deficient view of D&T. But, it seems pretty clear to me that we have, collectively, failed to provide and proselytise a clear rationale for our subject either in word or deed. How else can it be that so many, from respected Education Academics, to government ministers, to journalists have come to be so ill-informed about the subject. I’m pretty sure I can add to that list of the ill-informed; many parents of school-age children, many colleagues in schools teaching other subjects, many senior leadership teams, many governors of schools, many HEI admissions tutors, many working in industries that might be thought to be related to D&T…..

We really need To Do Something about this state of affairs; we’ve been really lucky this time round to finesse a good outcome for the D&T National Curriculum (and I believe we can win a strong GCSE in D&T from the current proposals). But I think that, if we do not up our game significantly, we may not be nearly so fortunate next time. And there will be a next time; there always is….

So, why do we teach D&T?

Various reasons might be suggested:

  • The pervasiveness of the designed world; citizens should understand how it came to be, how to intervene in it and be prepared to engage in debate about related policy questions (are robots going to take over the world…?)
  • There needs to be somewhere to park the naughty boys
  • The intrinsic interest of the subject
  • It provides life skills
  • The opportunity for modes of learning not available elsewhere in the curriculum
  • It’s nice for kids to do something a bit less demanding in amongst all their academic work…
  • The opportunity for pupils to experience a domain which opens up particular career possibilities
  • The need of ‘UK plc’ for technically orientated workers
  • It’s fundamental to our humanity

I don’t claim to believe all of these (!), but I’ll leave you to debate amongst yourselves which of the above might be relevant – and to add other grounds of your own.

I want to focus on the last point, as I believe it provides a primary reason for including D&T in the curriculum and establishes a foundational rationale for many of the possible justifications listed above (and, perhaps, provides a sieve to help us sort the better educational reasons from the weaker ones…).Ascent of man

David is often heard to reference Jacob Bronowski’s seminal TV series and book The Ascent of Man and, in particular, the phrase from it that:

The hand is the cutting edge of the mind




To illustrate this he often uses an image of a hand holding an Acheulean handaxe.Acheulean handaxe

This extraordinary tool was introduced to me through the wonderful design podcast that is 99% Invisible, in the episode Genesis Product. These handaxes are the earliest known designed tools (as opposed to the use of unmodified rocks and branches etc. as tools). The oldest examples are from about 1.5million years ago and were displaced by more refined tools about a million years later (which puts your need to update your phone every two years into some perspective). The extraordinary thing about this is that modern humans are dated from about 200,000 years ago – so the design of tools predates the emergence of modern humans by about 1,300,00 years. And this means that design predates many other capabilities that are considered fundamentally human – like language, art or mathematics.

Artifical apeTimothy Taylor is Professor of the Prehistory of Humanity at the University of Vienna and author of The Artificial Ape: How Technology Changed the Course of Human Evolution ( a cracking read…). Here he builds on the knowledge we have about the prehistory of technology to emphasise the key role that designing and making things had in our species’ evolution:

Instead of our becoming intelligent enough to invent things, the things actually allowed us to evolve into intelligent human beings.

Technology is at least as critical to our identity as our soft tissues.

Mark Miodownik is a Professor of Materials and Society at UCL and Director of the Institute of Making. In a recent article in the Observer, Why the story of materials is really the story of civilisation, (the introduction to a series of articles in the paper’s Tech Monthly magazine) Miodownik draws out why it so important that we understand about materials and how they can be used (in designing and making stuff):

The ages of civilisation are named after materials precisely because they transformed and shaped society. By distancing ourselves from the act of making, by buying and consuming stuff but never having any experience of their manufacture, the developed world finds itself not to be the illiterate society that education ministers fear, but an unmakerly society. In my view this practical ignorance is every bit as dangerous to a modern democracy as a lack of literacy. By swapping a material and industrial understanding of the world for one based on facts and information, we find ourselves uncivilised in a different way.

Making is not just an economic activity, it is the equal of literature, performance or mathematics as a form of human expression. By eschewing material knowledge we cease to understand the world around us.

This, I believe, is the core of the case for having D&T in the curriculum. Many of the other reasons listed above can be derived from this core, but without the core they lack robustness.

It is these ideas that we need to develop for the various audiences to whom we have to make the case for D&T in the curriculum.

David and I are hoping, over the next few months, to suggest a series of possible documents that schools can build on to make this case to their various audiences; parents, pupils, SLTs, governors, business links…

Perhaps there should also be a briefing paper for ministers, academics and journalists?

Back to the consultations

If you accept the argument above, then it is clear that what we teach needs to reflect the core place of designing and making in human lives – and this means accepting that the way we have approached GCSE teaching needs to change. David and I have tried to construct our responses to the consultations so that they will help build a GCSE that has a better chance of capturing the idea that “Making (…) is the equal of literature, performance or mathematics as a form of human expression”. There may well be better design solutions to this problem, but we do think that this particular solution is one that can be made to work successfully in schools.

Change is always difficult, especially in the current educational climate, and it brings with it risks. But I think the risk of carrying on as normal is ultimately higher. However, there are ways we can minimise the risks through the provision of well-constructed support for teachers and their pupils and this will be the next big challenge for our community. And that needs to be the focus of a different post.