Weapons of Ministerial Disruption (WMD*s)

Bryan Williams always makes me think. Just as I was getting enthusiastic about a five year course for the new D&T single title GCSE, starting in Year 7 underpinned by the teaching of BIG ideas that illustrates clearly the subject’s strong epistemology Bryan brings me down to earth with a bump! This is the conversation we had on Facebook Product Design Surgery.

Bryan wrote I wholeheartedly support the idea of five year (and more) approaches to GCSE. Just one thought, given the expected lifetime of any qualification is five year. It’s more important to ensure full coverage of content and approach, than worry about an individual exam board’s interpretation

I wrote The problem as I see it is that at the end of the road the candidates have to deal with the AO’s interpretation so it’s important to keep one’s eye on that ball from the start without letting it dominate and skew the learning.

Then Bryan wrote Probably more Ofqual’s interpretation these days David, look how difficult it has been for all of the Exam Boards to gain acreditation across a whole range of subjects. My point was that very few cohorts will benefit from five years based on the emerging specifications as they will change fairly soon, perhaps 2023? So Year 7 starting in 2019 might be the last group taking these GCSEs.

I thought Oh shit!

Then I wrote The question your comment raises is “Who is driving Ofqual to make changes?” The DfE, ministerial whim? I would like to think that it could be the views of the profession, which seeing the need for improvement lobbies Ofqual/DfE/the Minister with suggestions in mind. This teacher voice would in my view raise respect for the subject.

Bryan responded Sadly David it is the former, with sucessive Secretaries of State wanting to make a mark. Dangerous animals! Remember Gove and the completely unofficial introduction of the Ebacc? Now being put into legislation by Gibb, who has already dismissed any possible extention, thus providing a National Curriculum for KS4. Sadly I suspect Lord Baker’s Edge foundation recommendations will be ignored for the same reasons.

So I wondered Well what to do if Mr Gibb proves intractable? I’m not sure that his boss Justine Greening will put much pressure on him to change his view whatever Kenneth Baker might say – she has other fish to fry which will keep her occupied but the plan must be to come up with a range of WMDs – weapons of ministerial disruption. If we can develop enough from different but respected sources all targeting the inadequacy of the de facto KS4 National Curriculum then we might be in with a chance. It certainly won’t happen by accident so as of now I’m recruiting for WMDs.

What should the D&T community do as it works to rebuild the subject? I think there are three targets for our WMDs.

The first is success in the new GCSE. This will not be easy, as it will require a significant change in the KS3 curriculum that leads to the new KS4 curriculum necessitated by the new GCSE. So a five year course which will be decidedly different to pupils’ previous experience will be the order of the day. Staff will have to work much more as a team than before. KS3 will NOT be an internal competition for focus area numbers at KS4 and block timetabling will be needed to create staffing flexibility across the team. But there is everything to play for here. A coherent, highly regarded course which has appeal across the ability range. This leads to the second target – maintaining and increasing uptake. GCSE numbers for D&T have been falling steadily since 2004. This trend shows no signs of abating and we have to contend with the very real possibility that a ‘change of diet’ in Year 9 at KS3 might well lead to those pupils who would have opted for the subject deciding otherwise. This has been reported on Product Design Surgery Facebook. The difficulty with increasing numbers is often the structure of the option choices. In many cases all the ‘creative subjects’ find themselves in a single option column in competition with each other accompanied by difficulties for those studying three sciences to take D&T. To counteract these difficulties and start to build numbers will require a significant marketing campaign demonstrating to both parents and pupils the value of the subject, arguing quite explicitly for its worth as an academic subject in preference to those against which it is competing in the option column. This will not make your department popular but it is an essential strategy. D&T finds itself in a Darwinian situation – prosper or decline. The third, contrary as it sounds, is to take a hard look at the GCSE we are promoting and identify areas for improvement. I hear the response – Oh FFS as if we don’t have enough to do! But it’s only by identifying possible deficiencies and their remedies that we can be proactive in dealing with the DfE and Ofqual.

So if the profession can be successful in launching our WMDs (success in the new GCSE, increase in uptake, and possibilities for improvement), and give them wings by endorsements from influential and informed stakeholders from industry, academia, MPs and the wider profession then it will be difficult, if not impossible for the minister to ignore the progress made and reassess his (or by then may be her) opinion of the subject. Who will take the profession forward in developing, launching and endorsing the WMDs? Surely it has to be the D&T Association and this must be a major task for the soon to be appointed new CEO.

As always comments welcome.

*The title of this article has been inspired by the quite brilliant book  Weapons of Math Destruction by Cathy O’Neil

Preparing for the new D&T GCSE presentation at the Harris Federation October Conference


I had an interesting session at the Excel Centre for the Harris Federation October Conference on Friday presenting to 40+ teachers about Preparing for the new D&T GCSE. My key message was that it was essential to see the GCSE as a five year course. There was a lot to cover in the time available so it was a bit rushed at the end hence the PowerPoint slides are available here. Two interesting points emerged in the brief discussion. The first was that most of the schools felt that their SLT did not fully understand the nature of design & technology or the reasons for teaching it to as many your people as possible. This is worrying as the subject is entering into a new phase with the introduction of the new single title GCSE and its success rests very must on the support of key stakeholders which include SLT. So I hope the PowerPoint slides will help those who need to convince the SLT of the worth of the subject. The second point was made by a teacher who was concerned that the less able pupils should get something from the BIG ideas that underpin the subject. He felt that these should not be seen as for the more able only. I couldn’t agree more. He pointed to the disassembly of furniture as something his less able pupils enjoyed and learned from and I was struck how this could be linked to a critique of the way we use materials, particularly with regard to stewardship. Just imagine a small settee that was disassembled in front of a class as a demonstration with various pupils taking part. By the end of the disassembly all the different parts would be revealed – the timber frame, the fabric covering, various padding, any fixings, how these parts were held together would be apparent. And then some questions; about manufacture: how was this or that part made, what material has been used for this or that part, how do we get this that material, where does it come from, is it renewable, is it finite? What other materials might be used? How else might the parts be made? How easy are the materials to recycle? One could go on and on and it’s probably sensible not to ask too many questions. But there is no doubt to richness of the knowledge and understanding that can be revealed by disassembly plus questions, knowledge and understanding that can be focused onto considering the consequences of the way we do things with particular reference to stewardship – a key lens for critique. And of course this knowledge and understanding is the right of every young person we teach, independent of their so-called ability.

Humble Bundle deal on Make: titles

humble-bundle-10-16Humble Bundle is currently offering a wide range of books from the Make: catalogue. At the moment over $300 worth of books is on offer.

The offer expires in 7 days.

The deal is you pay what you want, over a very low limit, some of the money goes to charity, some to Make: and some to Humble Bundle; you can choose these ratios.

What you get is DRM-free e-versions of the books in pdf, epub (Apple iBook) and mobi (Amazon Kindle) versions.

There is a number of (IMHO…) highly recommendable books in the offer. What more can I say?

Courses: Embedded Intelligence in KS3 D&T

rta-ei-courseI’m running a couple of courses on Embedded Intelligence in mid-November, specifically:

  • London, Monday 14th November
  • Manchester, Thursday 17 November

Full details and booking information are on the RTA website, but in summary, the course is based around PICAXE hardware and Blockly for programming.

During the day we’ll explore how to bring embedded intelligence into your curriculum across a range of material areas and make sure you know the basics of PICAXE programming.

The course fee includes PICAXE hardware (and the software is free) so that you can continue to explore embedded intelligence afterwards. I will also be providing post-course support.

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.

The bad news continues – what are we going to do about it?

The downward trend in GCSE numbers for D&T continues. In 2004 95% of young people studied GCSE D&T, now 12 years later its 28%. This can’t be blamed on the EBacc although this certainly hasn’t made it easier to reverse the trend. I’ve been in correspondence with Justine Greening about Michelle Donelan’s letter/petition to have D&T declared an EBacc subject. The initial reply from the civil servant Rachel Nelson (Ministerial and Public Communications Division) seemed to miss the point so this is what I’ve since submitted.

How might the minister increase the number of pupils studying GCSE design & technology? Reference number 2016-0037703

Dear Rachel

Thank you very much for your reply to my letter to Justine Greening. In your reply you give a thorough and correct description of design & technology, its educational benefits and its place in Progress 8 and Attainment 8. The good news for design & technology is that it counts as a high value academic qualification. The bad news for design & technology is that the way this plays out in the choices that schools offer pupils aged 14 is that the subject often finds itself in a single option column competing with subjects such as art, art and design, music, and drama. This minimizes if not rules out the possibility for those pupils studying three sciences of studying design & technology as well. I realize that the structure of option choices for pupils aged 14 is well below the level of detail usually considered by ministers but in this case we have a classic example of a good idea (the English Baccalaureate as a means of achieving social justice) having unintended consequences. That is why I would urge Justine Greening to consider the proposal from Michelle Donelan MP to have design & technology included in the suite of English Baccalaureate subjects. Those pupils taking three sciences would benefit considerably from studying design & technology in that this would enable them to consider the intellectual and practical applications of their science learning.

The news today is that currently only 28% of young people study GCSE design and technology. In 2004 it was 95%. So this is a situation that needs addressing.

I will post this question on my blog so that others know the question has been asked.

I look forward to hearing from you.

Given the positive quotes from James Dyson, Paul McCombie and Prof. Kel Fidler (University of Bath), and Steve Rutherford (Nottingham Trent University) concerning the benefits of the subject cited on the D&T Association website one has to wonder why schools aren’t overwhelmed with young people wanting to study it. So the minister’s response may well be that design & technology should up its game so that it becomes much more attractive and overcomes the obstacles of the options structure. What would we say to her then? As always comments welcome.



Alison Hardy got me thinking

Interesting Blog Post by Alison Hardy at http://hardyalison.blogspot.co.uk/2016/07/all-publicity-is-good-right.html in which Alison questions whether being part of the EBacc will be good for D&T and in fact a betrayal of its true nature.

The letter from Michelle Donelan and 87 MPs to Theresa May and Justine Greening adopts an unashamedly utilitarian tone – D&T essential to bridge the STEM skills gap, see http://schoolsweek.co.uk/design-and-technology-87-mps-demand-inclusion-of-subject-in-ebacc/ . Alison believes that this may marginalise D&T from inclusion in a general education for ALL students. But that I think is the point of the English Baccalaureate (EBacc). It is not a qualification in its own right. It has been established to provide information to parents, and others, about the achievements of pupils in a core set of academic subjects which are shown to enhance the chances of progressing on to further study. Currently to meet EBacc criteria, a pupil must have obtained a grade A* to C in English, maths, two sciences, history or geography (referred to as humanities), and an ancient or modern foreign language. I’d argue that the addition of an academically rigorous creative practical subject, which would include D&T, would make the EBacc a more rounded and appropriate ‘core set of academic subjects’. As to the purpose of D&T I think there are two key elements as follows.

The unique contribution of design and technology education to the education of young people is to develop both technological capability and technological perspective.

Technological capability can be defined as designer maker capability, capturing the essence of technological activity which is intervention in the made and natural worlds.

Technological perspectiv ecan be defined as insight into ‘how technology works’ which informs a constructively critical view of technology, avoids alienation from our technologically based society and enables consideration of how technology might be used to provide products and systems that help create the sort of society in which pupils wish to live.

I think the above statement makes a good case for D&T being an essential element in the education of ALL pupils to the age of 16.

As always comments welcome.