This paper argues that the viability of design & technology as a curriculum subject is dependent upon establishing (a) a sound knowledge base for the subject, (b) clarity about its role in the wider curriculum, and (c) an approach to quality teaching and learning, Ultimately, these three factors will only make a difference to the subject’s continuance in schools if the broad swathe of interest groups involved in developing, teaching and supporting design & technology work in concert to encourage its development in these directions.
A range of important stakeholders can be identified to include (in alphabetic order):
- Awarding and assessment organisations
- Government Departments
- Parents and pupils
- Professional Associations
- Professional Institutions
- Senior Leadership Teams (SLT) and governors
- Teacher Trainers and CPD providers
For each of these stakeholders it will be essential that they have a sound grasp on the following:
- What the subject is about, its nature and bodies of knowledge;
- Why it is important;
- How pupils learn;
- How pupils are assessed;
- The worth of any qualifications pupils might achieve
It is essential that the stakeholder knowledge of the subject is driven by an understanding of its clarity of purpose and sound epistemology, as established by those who lead the community of practice of design & technology education, as opposed to what the stakeholders might wish to be the purpose and nature of the subject.
Only limited research has investigated the beliefs of various stakeholders about design & technology (Hardy, 2016). Results showed that there is a wide variety of different views, most of which do not reflect sound epistemology and the clarity of purpose established earlier in this paper.
A challenge facing the design & technology community, therefore, is to engage in a significant dialogue with these stakeholders: a dialogue that respects different views but establishes a robust orthodoxy for the subject, its purpose and teaching methods.
Achieving informed stakeholder perception
SLT and governors, teachers, parents and pupils
Influencing these stakeholders will largely need to be undertaken by the subject leaders in individual schools. The Design & Technology Association has a leadership role here through the provision of advice and guidance on how this might be achieved. This is to some extent dealt within File 2 of the Design & Technology Association’s Subject Leaders File, but more detailed advice would be helpful. This might include some information written specifically for the stakeholder groups which could then be adapted to local circumstances.
It would also be useful if there were an easy-to-use feedback mechanism by which schools could inform the D&T Association of stakeholder response.
That the Design & Technology Association provide information materials, aimed at SLT, governors, teachers, parents and pupils that subject leaders can adapt and use.
That the Design & Technology Association provide a mechanism by which subject leaders can feed the responses of these stakeholders back to the Association.
Teacher trainers and CPD providers
The ITE landscape has changed dramatically in recent years. It is important, therefore, that the Design & Technology Association finds ways to understand that landscape in all its variety –SCITTs, School Direct, Teach First, Teaching School Alliances, Academy Chains and HEIs – and identifies points of contact that enable influence. It is particularly important that all ITE providers deliver a consistent message concerning epistemology and purpose.
We believe that the wide variety of ITE provision builds into a case for the Design & Technology Association to develop training materials that cover the key messages in this paper and that ITE and CPD providers of all stripes can be encouraged to use to inform their work in design & technology.
Noting that the funding implications of the recommendations that follow are considerable, we think that an invitation conference, bringing together as many design & technology ITE and CPD providers as possible, would provide an excellent opportunity to share and discuss the messages in this paper and explore ways of building them into professional development programmes at all levels. Awarding organisations (see below), as significant providers of CPD, should also be included.
That the Design & Technology Association work with key stakeholders in the d&t community to establish funding for the development of training materials for design & technology ITE and CPD providers covering the key messages in this paper.
That the Design & Technology Association work with key stakeholders from the design and engineering industries and academia to sponsor and organise an invitation conference for ITE and CPD providers to discuss and disseminate the materials.
Government departments and the awarding and assessment organisations
The Design & Technology Association has, we believe, established good contacts within the Government departments and the awarding organisations. However, we feel that the case for design & technology as part of general education for all is not as strongly acknowledged as we would wish. Also we think it is important that all the awarding organisations honour the spirit as well as the letter of the DfE subject content document. Without this there can be a lack of synergy between the efforts of these stakeholders and the work of the Design & Technology Association.
The challenge appears to be to develop the capacity to achieve a much more proactive stance that enables the Design & Technology Association to inform and contribute to policy at the earliest stages. The recent revision of the KS3 National Curriculum and the development of a new GCSE provide a model for how the D&T Association can wield its influence to great effect. To build on this it would be useful for the design & technology community and its supporters to develop suggestions for action or change that are consistent with the Design & Technology Association’s vision for the subject and which are likely to gain a positive reception from Government by, for example, indicating solutions to issues that the DfE is actively working on.
Given the significant influence that GCSE content and assessment has on subject practice, it appears critical to ensure that the Chief Examiners for design & technology in the various awarding bodies, along with their colleagues, are to be brought into this conversation about design & technology epistemology and purpose; the suggested invitation conference (see above) should include these people.
That key stakeholders from the design and engineering industries and academia work with the Design & Technology Association to encourage the design & technology community and its supporters to develop suggestions for action or change which are likely to gain a positive reception from Government.
Industry, employers and professional bodies
These are perhaps the most difficult of the stakeholder groups to influence, given that they inevitably have wide-ranging perspectives but also an instinctive view of the subject of design & technology: their arguments in support of it are almost always entirely economic.
We have made the case above that embracing the wider arguments for including design & technology in the curriculum (including the social, personal and cultural) should lead to more pupils engaging with the subject at GCSE. This wil, in turn, provide a larger population of young people with a good understanding of designing, making and technology from which future employees can be drawn. This is a case that needs to made robustly to industry and employers. (The corollary of this argument is that focussing exclusively on the economic argument is, perversely, leading to a decline in the subject and thus a shrinking of this informed population.)
We suggest that since there is a well identified group of those who have already indicated their positive attitudes towards design & technology in the various campaigns of the Design & Technology Association, it would be reasonably easy to persuade them, or a panel drawn from that group, that this broader vision for design & technology still aligns with their interests while making the subject much more robust for the longer term. A statement of rationale and support for both the epistemological underpinnings and the broad purposes of design & technology from this
That key partners from industry and the professions work with the Design & Technology Association as critical friends to develop a statement of support for design & technology that clearly defines both the epistemological underpinnings and the broad purposes of design & technology education.
That these key partners and the Design & Technology Association use this rationale as a platform to persuade others to be active in support of design & technology as a school subject.
A final thought: Wise men and women
We suggest that an advisory body composed of influential thinkers, including academics, consultants, industrialists, politicians, civil servants and head teachers be convened. This advisory body would be drawn from both inside and outside of the design & technology education community. Meeting once a year, their remit would be to explore and examine the issues affecting design & technology in schools and to report in the form of strategic advice to the Design & Technology Association and the wider design & technology education community. This advisory body would be focussed on achieving informed stakeholder insight and recommending actions aimed at improving the position of design & technology in schools.
That the Design & Technology Association convene an advisory body to explore and examine the issues affecting design & technology in schools from a wide perspective and to report annually in the form of strategic advice.
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