The new National Curriculum Review

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The UK government recently published a new National Curriculum Review which has many Design & Technology (D&T) supporters and teachers up in arms. Tanya Weaver has a look at what all the fuss is about

When I was at school back in the late 80s/early 90s there was no such subject as Design and Technology (D&T). Nothing even close.

We had craft, where the girls would go off and knit, cook and sew, whilst the boys did woodwork and generally bashed things about in an old workshop.

I’m assuming that most of you experienced much the same. But those spring chickens amongst you may have been taught the mandatory subject of D&T, which has only been in schools in the UK for the past 20 years.

The subject is often taught in a studio or workshop where students take part in both theory and practical exercises in areas such as electronics, food, materials technology and computer control.

But now a rather large spanner has been thrown into the works in the form of a new National Curriculum review, which was published by the Department for Education on 7 February 2013 and due to be introduced into schools in September 2014.

The D&T curriculum is one thing, but getting really passionate and inspiring educators to teach a subject that is relevant and exciting, is another

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While D&T will remain on the curriculum to Key Stage Three (pupils aged between 11 and 14), it is somewhat unrecognisable as what went before. Specifically, it focuses on basic craft and maintenance skills, which include the teaching of cookery and horticulture.

Of course the D&T Association, the only professional body for D&T teachers in the UK, is up in arms claiming that the draft curriculum is backward looking and not fit for the 21st Century.

On its website it states, ”It lacks academic or technical rigour, challenge or modernity and will fail to engage or inspire students”, because at the end of the day, the hope is that school children will feel inspired by the skills and knowledge they gain from these classes to want to pursue a career in design, manufacturing and engineering.

What is a bit of a kick in the teeth for the D&T Association is that it had sent recommendations for a modernised D&T curriculum to the Education Secretary, Michael Gove, not too long ago. By its own admission, the subject needed a shake up to ensure that it’s relevant to young people and appropriate to the needs of industry today.

However, none of these recommendations were taken into account in the new draft. So, with his hackles up, the D&T Association’s chief executive Richard Green marched to Westminster where he gave a damning presentation at the Westminster Education Forum event just six days later on 13 February 2013.

He attacked the draft curriculum as being unrecognisable as good D&T education claiming that it is unambitious, incoherent and completely inappropriate for a technically advanced nation. “What we’ve ended up with is a 1950s ‘make do and mend’ utility curriculum,” he proclaimed.

He went on to say that, as many schools have now invested in new technologies such as CAD, CAM and 3D printing, why go back to ‘common tools and techniques’, as it states in the draft? And although he feels horticulture and cooking are important, they are not D&T subjects.

Naturally, D&T educators and supporters are up in arms too with many feeling infuriated, frustrated and even embarrassed by the new proposals. One such supporter is the product design consultancy SeymourPowell, which is passionate about the need for quality D&T teaching in schools and is involved in various education initiatives.

Dick Powell, SeymourPowell co-founder, says: “The impact of D&T education in the UK – at every level – has been immense. In order to maintain this key influence, and help maintain Britain’s position as an international innovation leader at this critical time, it’s imperative D&T in schools continues to strive for excellence, embracing 21st Century practice, methodology and connectivity to business and enterprise.”

There is no surprise that another supporter is James Dyson who is known for lamenting the lack of engineering graduates in this country. He is quite vocal in his belief that D&T is the best way of inspiring young people to pursue a career in engineering.

In an article he wrote for the Times newspaper recently he said: “This new curriculum will not inspire the invention and engineers Britain so desperately needs… To inspire the next generations they need to be excited by development in technology and allowed to explore it rather than being handed a hammer and a piece of wood.”

But I’d like to put another thought out there. For those of you whose school days pre-date 20 years ago when there was no D&T, what inspired you to pursue a career in design or engineering?

I’ve often asked designers and engineers, especially in our ‘60 second interview’ in the magazine, what made them pursue their chosen career and honestly most will say that as young children they had a curiosity about how things worked and enjoyed taking stuff apart. They were problem solvers from a young age, looking for solutions and being inquisitive.

So, is it inherent in us? Different strokes for different folks and all that. I can quite honestly say that I’ve never had the urge to take the vacuum cleaner apart and see whether I can put it back together again just for the hell of it. And I wonder whether an exciting and inspiring subject like D&T would have made me think about doing something different with my career.

I do, however, think that sometimes it’s more to do with the teachers than the subject itself. I had fantastic English teachers who really instilled a love for reading and literature in me. I went on to study English at university.

So, maybe the D&T curriculum is one thing, but getting really passionate and inspiring educators to teach a subject that should be relevant and exciting, is another.

But in the meantime, the draft curriculum is open for consultation until 16 April 2013. So, if you feel strongly about how D&T is taught in schools respond by contacting your local MP and join the debate on the D&T Association’s forum at believeindandt.org.uk

A manifesto for design and technology disaster?
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