Enhancing Learning and Teaching with Technology: What the research says

David and I have contributed a chapter,  ‘The maker movement and schools’,  to the just published book Enhancing Learning and Teaching with Technology: What the research says

There is something inherently engaging in making as carried out in maker spaces and perhaps our focus in schools should be not so much on the content of what is being learned but how it is being learned and the influence this might have on the learners’ ways of learning and ways of doing.

(Page 172)

The book is available as a paperback (ISBN 978-1-78277-226-2), a Kindle book (ISBN 978-1-78277-229-3), a PDF (ISBN 978-1-78277-227-9) and an eBook (ISBN 978-1-78277-228-6). It should be available available through all bookshops, and online retailers, including the UK Amazon site.

The UK distributor is Central Books, Freephone number 84 5458 9911, orders@centralbooks.com and the North American distributor is Stylus Publishing www.styluspub.com; here’s a direct link to the book on their website.

If an organisation/group/network etc would like to buy copies of the book in multiples, they can contact Central Books (see above) who can offer competitive discounts for multiple books. 

Digital inspection copies are available for those who want to consider using the book on a course or to recommend it to their institutional library. Go to the book’s webpage, scroll down, press the ‘Request inspection copy’ and follow the on-screen instructions.

As ever, if you do buy the book we’d love to have comments.

The case for electric cars

This blog post started when I signed a Greenpeace petition aimed at Volkswagen to stop producing diesel cars https://secure.greenpeace.org.uk/page/s/volkswagen-ditch-diesel-now

I posted the following on Facebook: Well worth signing IMHO, transport emissions are the big problem with regard to global warming so it would be good for diesel to go followed in fairly short order by petroleum

Dave Hills Taylor replied : I have one of their TSI petrol engines that they are currently pushing – these give the performance people want from a VW but with smaller engines and at much lower revs and hence lower emissions. VW have made a mess of things with dieselgate but this is a step in the right direction. Obviously electric cars have to be the future long term.

Then my son Tom joined in: Problem with electric cars is that they don’t go anywhere near as far on a single charge as a liquid fuelled car does on one tank of petrol or diesel. The idea of stopping every two hours (at least) to put my car on charge for 30 minutes – complete nightmare. Once that’s changed maybe they’ll be a more attractive option.

I replied: I agree but battery technology is rapidly improving. I know they aren’t meant for cars but Elon Musk’s battery development in Oz is impressive,  so I think it’s only a  matter of time.471769860.0-1

Then Tom wrote: Will happily make the swap in the future once the technology is delivering at a reasonable cost. Electric cars are stupidly expensive compared to ‘old fashioned’ ones.

And I replied: Not if you added to the cost of old fashioned cars a tax that accounted for the environmental damage they do. And there is so much less to go wrong with an electric car lots less parts.

Then Tom wrote: The nearest I’d get to electric at the moment due to the size of car I’d need is a hybrid. And just looked at my lease pricing for appropriately sized car for our family needs and it’s more than 50% extra every month. Price needs to come down before the man on the street will adopt.

I replied: You’re right but with the right incentives the price will come down and we all need to think of the planet.

Tom wrote: It’s quite simple really, the manufactures need to take the lead, if they were thinking of the planet then they’d make the cars affordable then more people would buy them and we’d have greater adoption the electric car. But the problem of battery life means purely electric cars are only good for short around town journeys. Another couple years and I’m sure the picture will be different. Fingers crossed.

I replied: Dead right – manufacturers are key but government and the people can have an influence so I’m keen for a bit more support for environmental groups and their lobbying and pressure on manufacturers to become an election issue.

Tom wrote: If you really want to get into it you also need property developers to be building housing with car charging facilities from the outset. That’s another cost that will need to be considered at some point as and when we get one to add to our 116 year old property. (Not really into the idea of trailing a lead out the living room window). Also not quite sure how you deal with charging of cars where residents have to park on the roadside, i.e. don’t have garage or off road parking on their property. The ambulance chasers will have a field day with claims from people who’ve tripped over or injured themselves on electric cables lying over the paths to the road.

I replied: All these technical problems can be solved if there is political will. I remember when it was economically expedient to stop baking coal to produce coal gas and use North Sea gas instead. Every gas cooker in the country had to be modified and cooker manufacturers started producing cookers that worked on natural as opposed to coal gas. If we could do that then we ought to be able to do something similar with regard to charging electric cars.

Tom wrote: And just another thing, well two things, 1) if we did have an electric car and came to visit you in an electric car where could we charge up once we’d got to yours. And 2) Louise has just informed me that different makes of car have different style plugs (FFS that’s as bad as these electric / gas smart meters not being a standard so you can’t switch suppliers and stay SMART) and there’s a number 3. So 3) you actually have to subscribe to different charging point suppliers. Change is always different and something businesses are always facing so doing that with a population is a massive challenge.

I replied: Definitely a massive challenge but what else would one expect when the fate of the planet is at stake. Oh and by the way, this is a great conversation.

All this led me to think about the way we might teach young people about the problems facing the planet and the role of electric cars in the solutions. It’s easy to say we should go electric but as Tom pointed out it’s much easier said than done. We certainly won’t be able to go electric without auto manufacturers stepping up to the plate and playing a major role. Government will have a major role in providing incentives both to the manufacturer and the motorist. And in democracies the general populace will have a role in voting in such a way that government has a mandate to provide these incentives. As with all technology it’s a complex combination of the technical, the political, the economic and the social. This is by no means an ‘easy teach’ but if we are to produce an informed general public that plays its part in lobbying government then its something D&T teachers should prioritise.

And then by chance just before I began to write this post I came across an article in January 29 edition of Time entitled China takes pole position in the electric car race. Some key quotes:

  • China (not a democracy) has offered subsidies to buyers to the tune of $15,000 per vehicle,
  • Threatened to block automakers that don’t make electric vehicles from selling traditional cars,
  • Funded electric vehicle infrastructure like charging stations across the country’s highway network.
  • China is expected to spend $60 billion in electric-vehicle subsidies in the half decade preceding 2020.
  • Chinese automakers are expected to produce more than 4.5 million electric vehicles annually in 2020 compared with 1 million from Tesla.

To come full circle, elsewhere in this issue of Time a piece about the future of transport commented on the cooperation between Google and Volkwagen to build a quantum computer which will enable research to focus on three areas: traffic optimization, materials simulation for vehicle construction and battery research, and the development of new learning processes and AI processes needed for self driving cars. The CIO of Volkswagen, Martin Hofmann, is quoted as saying, “Quantum computers give us a completely new dimension. In 10 years, they will be orchestrating mobility in metropolitan areas, routing autonomous vehicles, predicting traffic flows and optimizing urban mobility.

I’ll finish with a quote Alfonso Albaisa, SVP for Global Design Nissan Motor Company, “It is a thrilling time to be a designer. We are being asked to dream.” How often do we enable the young people we teach to dream designerly dreams?

As always comments welcome


As a courtesy I ran the post by Tom and he commented, “As a teacher I personally would probably make more of a point of medium term change. For example, it currently takes me 10 minutes (max) to refuel my car (and pay for the fuel) enabling it to travel a distance of up to 500 miles. Lots of vehicles can use a petrol station in a single day. That isn’t currently possible with an electric car due to the amount of time required to fully charge an electric car or the distance it can travel on a single charge. We aren’t going to get an electric equivalent over night therefore we need to think about changes that move us in the right direction and enable people to adopt electric cars and this isn’t just getting government backing but also I think local authority. One way of recognising this in a class room environment would be to ask the students where they (or their parents) would charge an electric car if they owned one. Or what changes would need to be made to enable them to have an electric car. And that would come back to my point about charging cables out of windows and over pavements.

Now here’s a thought, a class of year 11 or 12 students using what their parents have said about charging electric cars as the basis for interviewing a local councillor about transport policy. All part of their ‘considering the consequences of technology’ D&T lessons focusing on important local issues.


Non-Examined Assessment; should we be worried?

I imagine most readers know at least the outline of the recent changes to the place of non-examined assessment (NEA) in Computer Science (CS). In short, Ofqual gave notice to schools in November 2017 that they were initiating a consultation on the place of NEA in CS following reports that ‘answers’ to the NEA were widely available on the web. Schools were advised that the core of the consultation was that the NEA would no longer count towards the final grade. At the time of the announcement many y11s following the course had already finished work on the NEA, many others were in the midst of doing it and the rest were soon to start; I think it’s fair to say that the announcement was met with, to say the least, frustration by both teachers and students.

In January the results of the consultation were announced with Ofqual saying

The responses have not persuaded us there is a better model to that we proposed in the consultation.

That model being, in short, that students taking their GCSE computer science exams in 2018 and 2019 should continue to complete one of the tasks set by their exam board for the qualification, but that the task would not contribute to the final exam grade.

I think this development is worth digging into as it’s not hard to imagine possible knock-on effects for D&T.

In particular, two aspects seem to be worth exploring: the first, and obvious one, is whether NEA more generally is under threat, the second is the implied expansion of the role of the awarding organisations from describing what students will be assessed on in a particular specification to detailing how they should be taught.

Should awarding organisations tell teachers how to teach?

Taking the second of these first, it seems to me to be an unwelcome development that a teacher should be placed in the position of being required to include a (non-assessed) task set by an awarding organisation in their scheme of work. This is what is set out:

Schools must give their students an opportunity to undertake the non-exam assessment tasks set by their exam boards and set 20 hours aside in the timetable to allow them to undertake the task. Exam boards must receive from each school a statement confirming they made such provision. This would make sure that all students have had an opportunity to develop the skills and apply their knowledge and understanding of the subject and go some way to making sure all students have a similar experience, regardless of whether they had yet to start, were part way through, or had completed the task when the changed arrangements were introduced.

Not only that, but, prompted by responses to the consultation suggesting “that if schools were required to confirm they had given all of their students the opportunity to complete the task some would, effectively, fabricate any such a statement“, Ofqual is now requiring awarding organisations

to divert the resources they would otherwise have put into moderating teachers’ marking to ensuring all students (are) given the required opportunities to compete (sic) the task. […] a school or college that was found to have made a false statement about the opportunities would be investigated by the relevant exam board under its malpractice procedures.

This seems extraordinary to me. Do we really want the awarding organisations deciding for teachers how they should organise elements of their teaching? With a malpractice threat if they fail to do so?

It looks very much like the thin end of a potentially very thick wedge. And if you think that’s paranoid then note that the Ofqual document points out

There are other GCSE subjects for which schools are required to make a statement confirming students have been given an opportunity to undertake an essential element of the qualification, such as in GCSE geography.

So, it’s actually a wedge with a thin end in Geography that’s now being hammered further into the curriculum.

Responses from teachers of CS seem to have ranged from ‘makes no difference to me because of course I would include a task like this – in fact I include lots of such tasks as a core part of my teaching’, to ‘my kids hated the task and found it very demotivating; I have other ways to teach the material that work better in my setting’. And that, of course, is the point; teachers should be free to use their professional judgement to decide how best to prepare their particular students, in their particular setting, for a GCSE.

Is there a general threat to NEA?

Turning to the possible threat to coursework, it’s worth making clear that this change of rules was, ostensibly, prompted by growing evidence of malpractice

During autumn 2017, we saw evidence that the rules for the GCSE (9 to 1) computer science non-exam assessment tasks were being broken. The tasks had been released by the exam boards on 1 September 2017, for completion by students taking their exams in summer 2018. The tasks should not have been discussed outside of the controlled conditions under which they were completed. However, the tasks, which students had to complete by March 2018, quickly appeared, in full or part, on-line and were widely discussed, advice offered and solutions developed. The speed with which the tasks appeared on-line and the number of times the discussions and solutions were viewed threatened the integrity of this aspect of the qualification.

One can understand Ofqual’s concern. However, two other factors appear to have been in play and these have not been as widely discussed. The first of these is that, because CS counts as a science in the government’s accountability measures

Our decision, taken in 2014, to allow non- exam assessment in the qualification was finely balanced.

A cynic might wonder if they were looking for an excuse to remove the NEA.

The second is that Ofqual

heard from stakeholders that some teachers were finding the non-exam assessments difficult to manage (they were not permitted to discuss the tasks with colleagues outside of their own centre, for example).

In fact, the consultation quotes the Royal Society report After the reboot: computing education in UK schools in saying

Finally, many teachers in England, Wales and Northern Ireland raised the new Non Examined Assessment arrangements for GCSE computer science qualifications as a cause for concern. These teachers felt that the new rules on GCSE Non-Examined Assessment (NEA) are onerous, and consume a disproportionate amount of teacher time and teaching opportunities in the computer science GCSE

I think one has to take these teachers’ views at face value. If the NEA had been kept one might have had sympathy while arguing that the specification is what it is, and teachers have little choice but to work with it – perhaps while lobbying for considered change in the future. But it seems extraordinary to use this as argument to support eliminating the NEA while keeping exactly the same (‘onerous’ but non-assessed) task in place!

More broadly, we know that when the GCSEs were revised the initial position of the government was that coursework was to be removed from all qualifications. It seemed that in an argument between validity and reliability in assessment the reliability of exams was being set against the validity, for many aspects of many subjects, of coursework. One suspects that a strong driver for this is that GCSEs are now as much about measuring schools’ performance as that of pupils; the quote above from Ofqual about the place of CS as a ‘science’ subject supports this view.

So, it was seen as a victory when some subjects fought for and regained NEA. Though one senior examiner pointed out to me that the fact that Art and Design had gained 100% coursework could simply be seen as a measure of the (low) value placed on the subject by ministers at the time. By extension, D&T’s 50% NEA might also be seen as a measure of the subjects slightly higher low worth.

(Just to be clear, I am definitely not arguing that the way to raise the profile of D&T in ministers’ eyes is to relinquish coursework. We’ve made the case for Re-building D&T that developing both technological capability and technological perspective are at the heart of the subject – and you can’t measure all the dimensions of capability through a written exam.)

HMCI Amanda Spielman made some comments about science practical work in a speech to the ASE in January that may be relevant.

Where we still have a live and worthwhile debate is on the role of practical science in the curriculum. This point is demonstrated in John Holman’s Gatsby report on ‘Good practical science’, which I believe is being discussed a great deal at this conference. His report identifies 5 purposes of practical science: to teach the principles of scientific enquiry, improve understanding of theory, to teach practical skills, to motivate and engage students and to develop teamwork skills. His preliminary survey finds that teachers rate the use of practical science for teaching scientific enquiry and practical skills as the least important of those 5. They rate motivation as the most important.

But we should be uncomfortable with the idea of practical science being mainly about motivation. Yes, children should find experiments fun and motivating, but making sure children finish practical tasks having learned something or having consolidated what they have just been taught, is most important. And we know that there are limits to the extent to which skills such as teamwork and enquiry can be developed in isolation.

More generally I think we are still learning what can and can’t be achieved through practical science work, and how this varies at different ages. I am watching this space with great interest. But we do know that scientific understanding is cumulative, and so children need knowledge and understanding before they can create and test hypotheses. Good schools understand this.

It’s hard not to read in between the lines that there is some suspicion at high levels in the education system of the educational value of practical work. Especially as the speech gives no weight to the other, more knowledge-focussed, purposes for practical work. If so, it’s not hard to see how this might reveal itself in suspicion of the value of assessing aspects of practical work in NEAs.

As one would expect, Holman’s report is far subtler than the above suggests and the quoted finding was based on the views of expert witnesses (not teachers) outside England. So, the report certainly doesn’t claim that science teachers in England do in fact value the motivational purpose of practical science more highly than other purposes.

Implications for D&T NEA

It is absolutely clear that keeping an NEA element of assessment in D&T is fundamental to reflecting the nature of the subject (developing technological capability and perspective); if an aim of our subject is developing designer-maker capability then that needs to be assessed and the only valid way to assess it is through some form of NEA. In my view, the current approach of using a Contextual Challenge offers real strengths here. Although the challenge is set by the awarding organisations the context has to be explored by candidates to identify an issue/problem that they consider significant and worthy of responding to via designing and making. This is a far cry from responding to a design brief set by an awarding organisation. It gives both choice of the activity and ownership of the activity to the candidate and this should enable young people to develop a sense of designerly responsibility in the way they respond, as previously explored by David.

If the NEA was removed it would be inevitable that what is taught would evolve to match the demands of the written exam (however good the intentions of teachers, in the end accountability is king), and that would mean, at the very least, a diminished focus on practical capability. It would rapidly become a different subject, even if the name stuck.

The cynic in me is genuinely concerned that there is pressure ‘from above’ to minimise NEA. If so, we can assume that any evidence of malpractice will be seized on enthusiastically as an excuse to eliminate NEA – as we have just seen happen to CS; it’s not clear to me that, in the case of CS, any real effort was put into looking for ways to reduce malpractice, which would have been the case if the NEA was highly valued.

I do think that a Contextual Challenge will be much harder to game than the CS NEA was; while it’s not hard to envisage that many students’ solutions to a programming challenge in CS could look very similar (in fact it might be hard for them not to look similar), it’s very hard to imagine a similar situation emerging in response to a contextual challenge.

So, to avoid the possibility of losing our NEA, with its particular framing as a Contextual Challenge, as a community of practice we need:

  • To be on the ball about identifying attempts to game the Contextual Challenges.
  • To ensure that, if (or when – our young people are marvellously inventive when they need to be…) we do find evidence of cheating of this kind, we are very open about it and proactive in identifying solutions before an unwanted solution is imposed.
  • To make it the normal expectation that the artefacts that emerge in response to a Contextual Challenge will vary widely as pupils answer in their own ways the design questions that arise. Assuming that children in KS3 are also presented with open design challenges as a part of their learning journey towards GCSE, then we should have a similar expectation of diversity in outcomes.
  • To make sure that all D&T teachers are properly prepared to help pupils work in this newly open approach; this would be a very useful focus of support from the awarding bodies.

As ever comments are welcome.


Teaching about new and emerging technologies in design and technology

A guest post by Harry Gowlett

With the changes that have been made to design and technology at GCSE level and the introduction of the single GCSE Design and Technology qualification, it has now become a priority to modernise the secondary D&T curriculum at school level. Whilst GCSE D&T most probably will remain a priority to many departments, it is also important to modernise and update the way in which we teach D&T at key stage three. This is especially important in order to engage learners in wanting to continue to study the subject for GCSE and to revitalise the subject, leading to an increase in uptake.

I am a newly qualified teacher having completed my training at Nottingham Trent University on the BSc Secondary Design and Technology Course with QTS. I now realise just how well this course prepared me for my career as a secondary D&T teacher within the education sector. The main focus of the course was to prepare me to deliver a modernised D&T curriculum, alongside learning the practical skills needed to teach the subject. Since leaving university I have now started a job at Sewell Park Academy (@SewellPark), which is a small city academy in Norwich. Due to the size of department I have been lucky enough to work alongside my head of department to introduce a range of new projects at key stage three taking into account my pedagogical knowledge learnt at university. These projects all fit into four main areas of D&T: mainly making, mainly designing, designing and making and D&T in society.

One of the projects that I have introduced to key stage three is about new and emerging technologies. The National Curriculum for D&T at key stage three states that learners should investigate new and emerging technologies. This fitted into my long-term planning for key stage three as a D&T in society project, and as a smaller three-week project. This project also helped to make the learners realise that not every D&T project leads to producing a physical 3D product, something that I feel learners now tend to assume and expect in our subject.

During week one of the project learners are introduced to the project and the practicalities of it are outlined. At my current school learners in key stage three receive two hour-long lessons of D&T a week. Lesson one involved learners watching a range of video clips and participating in small group and whole class discussions about various new and emerging technologies. Whilst taking part in these discussions the learners would also develop their note making skills, helping to develop literacy skills. Lesson two would involve learners deciding on their favourite new/emerging technology and then being organised into teams to investigate their technology in more detail.

Week two is the fully learner-centred set of lessons, where each team would research their technology. This can be achieved in a number of ways, if computers are available internet research is always a popular choice. To aid differentiation, I produced a set of resource packs for each technology using real life articles and suitable pieces of information. For lower ability learners, I would highlight key points, and the higher ability members of the class would be able to synthesise the information themselves. The class would be guided during the second lesson of the week to focus their research on a given criterion (ready to prepare a presentation).

In the third and final week of the project the learners firstly focus on producing a team presentation to share with the rest of the class. This should hopefully be achievable during an hour-long lesson as the research completed during week two has been narrowed down and homework opportunities have been utilised. Communication skills are also introduced to help encourage learners to develop cross-curricular and personal skills. During the second lesson of the week is an opportunity for the teams to share their presentations with the rest of the class. Learners would be asked to think individually of questions to ask the other teams whilst they are presenting. This raised some interesting thoughts and really showed learner engagement/understanding.

My planned assessment points of this project are investigating and analysis/evaluation, which comes from learners being able to select their favourite new and emerging technology, research this and then evaluate the impact that it has on society. If more than three weeks (six lessons) are available then there is a possible chance to explore the concept of design fiction, which is something that I am hoping to do later on in the year. There is also the good opportunity to use films to help introduce this extra element of the project, such as Big Hero 6 and the idea of ‘microbots’, linking to programmable matter! This also provides me with the opportunity of something else to share later in the year.

To access the scheme of work I have produced for this project or if you would like more information, feel free to contact me via twitter @HGowlett_DT or add your comments to this post.


Designing a Future Economy; there’s a bigger picture

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:

  1. the design skills required across a range of design-related jobs,
  2. the value of design skills in the UK economy,
  3. 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.

Assessment that helps pupils get better!

We know that making assessment both manageable and effective is hard, and we also hear many stories of teachers who have been pushed into carrying out ineffective forms of assessment driven by accountability pressures more than the needs of students and their teachers.

While we believe that abandoning National Curriculum levels was broadly a Good Thing, we also understand that devising replacements hasn’t always been easy and that, in some schools, approaches based on one-size-fits-all-subjects haven’t, in fact, fitted the particular needs of assessment in design & technology especially well.

So we were intrigued to see that the Schools, Students and Teachers network (SSAT), the Association of School and College Leaders (ASCL) and the National Foundation for Educational Research (NFER) have produced of a series of Refocusing Assessment documents concerning English, geography, history, mathematics, modern foreign languages and science. The documents considered four key questions:

  • What does it mean to be successful in a particular subject?
  • What is the purpose of assessment in that subject?
  • What does progress look like in that subject?
  • How can progress be assessed most effectively in that subject?

We (David, Nick and Torben) were impressed with these documents and thought it would be useful to have one focused on the needs of design & technology; so, we have produced Refocusing Assessment – Design & Technology in which we explore the answers to these questions for our subject.
We are delighted that ASCL, SSAT, and NfER will be putting a link to these materials on their websites.

Writing the Refocusing document got us thinking in some detail about the process of assessment in design & technology, particularly assessment for learning in which feedback to students is of paramount importance. This led us to write the working paper Assessment in D&T, in which we consider three aspects of assessment:

  • ‘in the moment’ feedback which takes place during learning,
  • approaches to feedback at the end of design & technology tasks and
  • how teachers might be able to know the impact of their teaching.

With the demise of levels, it is more important than ever that teachers are clear about what they want their pupils to learn, how to help pupils to achieve this learning and what success in that learning looks like. We hope that the approaches to assessment we have written about will help with these endeavours.

As a postscript we note that a just published report from Pearson, Testing the Water; How assessment can underpin, not undermine, great teaching, confirms the importance of teachers being able to understand and use assessment in ways that aren’t onerous or stressful for themselves or their pupils. We hope that the work we present here will go some way to supporting D&T teachers in such use of assessment.

If you think our proposals are realistic and are able to try them out in your school, we’d really like to know about your experience.

If you think what we are advocating can be improved on, and have suggestions for this, we’d like to know about that too.

You can give us your views and tell us about your work by contacting us or commenting on this post.

Will this report make a difference?

It is generally acknowledged that the proportion of the future workforce with engineering and other STEM skills will significantly determine the UK’s future economic success. Yet the low visibility of engineering in our schools means that the nation is heavily reliant on a narrow cadre of young people, often from families with engineering heritage, to become the nation’s industrialists, manufacturers, innovators and designers. The Fourth Industrial Revolution will require a technically-skilled workforce from more diverse backgrounds and with a wider range of interests and talents.

There have been a plethora of reports extolling the virtues of education for engineering in secondary schools in recent years. The sad fact is that they have made very little difference to the status of subjects that support education for engineering and the numbers of young people studying named engineering courses at schools has remained low. One can but hope that the 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  will not suffer the same fate.

The report is the culmination of two research studies that explored perceptions and experience of engineering in secondary school education. The first study sought to understand how 11-14 year old pupils, their parents, teachers, school governors and school leaders, frame engineering. The second presented a deeper engagement with engineering through the experience of post-16 students, participating in bespoke engineering debating competitions run jointly by the Institution of Mechanical Engineers and the Institute of Ideas. This report calls on Government, education practitioners and the engineering community to act together to ensure that more young people discover what engineering is, both as a creative intellectual process and a rich source of future career opportunity.

The report makes four recommendations

  1. As part of its industrial strategy, Government should situate engineering at the heart of schools education by:
  • Setting up a working group of leading educationalists and other stakeholders to review and report on innovative ways to integrate engineering into young people’s education
  • Appointing a nationally respected Schools Engineering Champion to provide a channel of communication between schools, Government and industry, and to advocate the wider cultural value of greater technological literacy alongside the economic rationale for investing in skills to prepare for the Fourth Industrial Revolution
  1. National Education Departments should begin this process by ensuring that engineering is integral to classroom learning by:
  • Advocating curricula that better reflect the importance of the made world to modern society, and make explicit reference to the engineering applications of science, mathematics, and design and technology
  • Promoting approaches to teaching that emphasise and value engineering ‘thinking skills’ and problem-based learning
  1. Individual schools should adopt an engineering vision and strategy, with support from local employers and national governors’ associations, which would include:
  • Appointing a member of the school senior leadership team as an Engineering & Industry Leader to establish and communicate a vision for the school and to drive change
  • Appointing a dedicated Industry School Governor to work alongside and advise the Engineering & Industry Leader, and to embed employer relationships in school governance
  • Implementing a robust careers strategy such as the benchmarks set out in The Gatsby Foundation’s Good Career Guidance report, with special emphasis on embedding careers awareness in the curriculum
  1. The engineering community should present a unified narrative around engineering that will be attractive and relevant to a wider range of students by:
  • Stressing the creative problem-solving nature of engineering, its social benefits and relevance to individuals
  • Providing opportunities for students to take part in activities that explore the political, societal and ethical aspects of technology.

For those of us who support education for engineering these recommendations will seem eminently sensible and that the various bodies charged with taking them forward should do just that. But will this be the case? Who will act as agent provocateur with those agencies and organisations called upon to take action to ensure that this report, like so many before it, does not sink into oblivion? So I’m asking that Peter Finegold, the Head of Education and Skills at the IMechE uses his influence and that of the engineering community to galvanise action with regard to Recommendations 1 and 2. Clearly all the professional engineering institutions, the Royal Academy of Engineering and employers have their parts to play with regard to Recommendation 4 although I think it will be necessary to identify a focus for this support if it is to be effective. As to Recommendation 3 I think design & technology departments in individual schools can and should support an engineering vision and strategy. Readers will have noted that I have used the term ‘education for engineering’ not ‘engineering education’. I firmly believe that teaching young people design & technology at school is much more likely to open their eyes to worthwhile technical careers in general as well as engineering in particular than named engineering courses. Such teaching will not only predispose some young people to consider a career in engineering but will give all young people studying the subject a positive attitude towards and appreciation of the contribution designers, technologists and engineers make to our society.

The report argues that ‘the made world’ should have a much higher profile in the school curriculum. In response, my message is simple – if we want more young people to understand the made world and engage in STEM careers then we need to “BIG UP” design & technology and make sure the new GCSE is a huge success.

As always comments welcome and I’ll be happy to forward these to Peter at theIMechE.