A lesson in curriculum politics for design & technology

In December 2011 the expert panel appointed by the government to advise on a review of the National Curriculum challenged the status of design & technology in the school curriculum. The panel cited weak epistemological roots and a lack of disciplinary coherence as reasons to downgrade the subject design & technology and remove it from the National Curriculum. The Design and Technology Association mounted a robust campaign to defend the position of the subject as worthy of inclusion in the National Curriculum and the government rejected the advice of the expert panel and included the subject in the National Curriculum. The Design & Technology Association constituted a small committee of advisers to work in complete confidence with the Department of Education to produce a draft programme of study as guidance to the minister of education. After several months of close confidential consultation, the Association provided the Minister with an advisory document in November 2012. Imagine the Association’s disappointment and annoyance when the programme of study announced by the minister for consultation bore no relationship to the advice provided and was such a hotchpotch of miscellaneous and unconnected content that it seriously lacked disciplinary coherence and compounded the Expert Panel view of weak epistemology. The community of practice was incensed. Some of the anger was directed at the Association for keeping the advice given to the minister confidential to the point of secrecy. It was pointed out that the transparent approach taken by those responsible for computing science had led to a programme of study much more in line with their views. Of course there was immediately extensive lobbying for the suggested programme of study to be completely scrapped. Dick Olver, chairman of BAE Systems, one of the UKs biggest companies, has been particularly critical. Olver, who is also chair of E4E, an organisation of 36 engineering institutions, said the draft proposals for design and technology did “not meet the needs of a technologically literate society. Instead of introducing children to new design techniques , such as biomimicry (how we can emulate nature to solve human problems), we now have a focus on cookery. Instead of developing skills in computer-aided design, we have the introduction of horticulture. Instead of electronics and control, we have an emphasis on basic mechanical maintenance tasks,” he told a conference of educators in March 2013. “In short, something has gone very wrong.” The result of such outspoken and authoritative criticism was that Elizabeth Truss (Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State at the Department for Education) invited the Royal Academy of Engineering and the Design & Technology Association to develop more advice and guidance. Time was very short and there was less than one week in which to prepare this advice. The process that took place was transparent and collegial. Some 50 members of the design & technology community were invited to a one day seminar at the Academy to develop further a working draft prepared in advance by a small working party. This group was constrained by the view of the Association that the Minister’s insistence that cooking should be included in the programme of study for design & technology should not be challenged. The presence of cooking is to a large extent the result of lobbying by the chef Henry Dimbleby and in an effort to find a place where the teaching of cooking is compulsory the minister has decided on design & technology although there is little if any logic in this position. By the end of the day the group had developed a six page document detailing a programme of study for design & technology for KS1, KS2 and KS3 along with a purpose of study statement and a set of aims. There was still significant discontent with regard to the inclusion of cooking but considerable agreement and satisfaction with the remainder of the document that concerned design & technology. The document was further developed by a smaller group from the Royal Academy of Engineering and the Design & Technology Association and then circulated to all those who had attended the seminar to gain approval that this revised document be submitted to the minister. There was still significant dissatisfaction with the inclusion of cooking but the remainder of the document was such an improvement on the programme of study suggested by the minister in February that the majority supported its submission to the minister. There are indications that the minister is taking some note of the submission in her answers given to questions in the House of Commons on Tuesday 23 April although she is still intransigent on the place of cooking. The submission is a work in progress and there are many in the design & technology community of practice who will press the minister to change her mind. Time will tell whether this pressure will be successful but the process is no longer secret and this in itself must add to the pressure.

Design and technology revised draft PoS 18-1.04.13 the working draft prepared in advance by a small working party

Design and technology revised draft PoS 19-1.04.13 the six page document detailing a programme of study for design & technology developed at the seminar

D&T Assoc and E4E Draft D&T PoS April 22 the submission to the minister