This paper has been written to inform all those who are concerned about the status and nature of design & technology in the secondary school curriculum. It has been developed in response to the serious and continuing decline in the uptake of GCSE design & technology since the subject was introduced into the National Curriculum in 1989. At that time, some 95% of young people studied the subject to the age of 16+. Since then this has fallen to about 28% (Mitchell, 2016) and, with the removal of food from design & technology specifications, it is predicted to fall much further.
Rather than identify the many and varied reasons why such a decline has taken place, we develop the substance of four features of the school subject design & technology which we believe are essential if the subject is to reverse its decline and start, once again, to make a significant contribution to the education of the majority of young people.
These features are:
Each of these discussions finishes with an exploration of how the feature can be achieved.
The task of rebuilding design & technology is one that will require the whole design & technology community to pull together in the same direction. The first purpose of this paper is to map out the right direction. The second purpose is to suggest ways in which the community might work together to move in that direction. Hence the paper makes a series of recommendations to key stakeholders in the hope that by responding to these recommendations the prospects for design & technology in the secondary school will improve considerably, both in the short and medium terms. Inevitably, many of our recommendations are to the D&T Association as a key and leading organisation within our community. We wouldn’t want to give the impression, however, that we think the task is theirs alone; rebuilding is a daunting task that will require all of us to work together alongside the Association. We are aware that taking some of these recommendations forward will require external funding, so where appropriate we have worded the recommendations with this in mind.
We want to be clear that we have deliberately focused on re-building and not a radical revision of the subject. This is because we believe the original vision for the subject, as laid down by the Parkes Report (Department of Education and Science /Welsh Office, 1988), is still compelling.
A point of definition that, requires immediate comment concerns the use of the dual term design and technology. Our understanding is that whereas most, but not all, design activities will generally include technology and most technology activities will include design, there is not always total correspondence. Our use of design and technology as a unitary concept, to be spoken in one breath as it were, does not therefore embody redundancy. It is intended to emphasise the intimate connection between the two activities as well as to imply a concept which is broader than either design or technology individually and the whole of which we believe is educationally important. (p. 47)
In our minds, the Report represents both the unique nature of the subject and the reasons for teaching it extremely well. The difficulty the subject has faced is, we think, that it has not always been able to meet these expectations, for reasons that we explore in this paper.
It is also worth noting that only recently has the whole curriculum from 5-18 been revised; we doubt there is appetite, either amongst teachers or the relevant national bodies, to carry out further significant reform at present. Rather we think that the revised expectations we have identified provide a strong foundation for the re-building we are arguing for. Hence, we believe that a radical revision, if attempted, is almost certain to fail and that re-building is by far the much better option. This does not mean that within this re-building young people should not be engaged with modern technologies for design and manufacture nor that they should not be engaged in designing and making technically sophisticated products; quite the reverse. Modernisation is essential and this can be achieved within a re-building strategy.
This is v2 of Re-Building Design & Technology. It has been informed by the responses we have had to the first version. We have taken many of these responses into account in rewriting the original eight sections and have introduced a completely new section, Re-building – necessary but not sufficient.
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