The D&T Association's response to Ofsted framework consultation

Published 9th April 2019

Design and Technology Association response to Ofsted consultation on proposed inspection framework to be implemented from September 2019

Who are we and what do we do?

The Design and Technology Association supports, develops and promotes high quality design and technology teaching and learning as an essential part of the rounded education of all young people. We link schools and students with the world of business, manufacturing and industry and lobby government and key decision makers to ensure that the subject’s value is recognised and supported.

Our vision is that the UK has future generations of brilliantly creative and innovative young people

National educational context (England)

In recent years, the education system in the UK has seen a greater focus on the delivery of a ‘knowledge-based’ curriculum and on measuring the performance of schools and students in core ‘academic’ subjects. At the same time, new curricula have been introduced with significantly more content, school budgets continue to be squeezed (when measured on a per pupil funding basis) and accountability measures when combined with budgetary concerns, have forced school leaders to make some very tough decisions around the breadth of their curriculum delivery. The combination of the above factors has led to a narrowing of the curriculum in many schools, a tendency to ‘teach to the test’ and a resistance to imaginative approaches to curriculum development.

The Impact on design & technology

The subject continues to suffer from what has been described as a ‘perfect storm’ of external challenges. These include:

  • at KS1, KS2, insufficient curriculum time being made available to teach the subject as a consequence of a perceived to need to focus on literacy and numeracy which are tested by SATS, again at the expense of creative, artistic and technical education
  • Insufficient time allocated to student teachers across the primary and secondary ITE sectors to allow for the development of deep-rooted subject knowledge alongside pedagogical knowledge
  • The continued influence of Ebacc and Progress 8 measures resulting in a restricted curriculum offer in many secondary schools
  • A retention and recruitment crisis, that, when coupled with an increasing number of teachers selecting to retire early from the age of 55 leaves us with the greatest teacher shortage of any curriculum subject
  • A further reduction in examination entries both at GCSE and A Level. This bringing the GCSE entry from 270,401 in 2010 to 117,605 last year, a reduction of 152,796 or over 43% over the last eight years
  • Continued school austerity and a year on year reduction in income per student resulting in schools having to make tough curriculum choices with D&T being perceived as being expensive, difficult to staff and ‘optional’ resulting in an increasing number of schools either reducing the curriculum staffing and offer or completely cutting it from the curriculum.
  • The new GCSE offer is undoubtedly challenging for students and staff alike and in the absence of a national training programme, teachers have not totally adopted this, resulting in an increase of D&T teachers seeking alternative accreditation
  • the modernisation of the subject and the updating of teachers’ knowledge and skills when compared to previous years, proving increasingly difficult to address due to tighter school budgets and an ongoing reluctance to release teachers to undertake continuing professional development


The government and other decision-making bodies have concentrated on funding STEM related activities in recent years. Definitions of what curriculum elements constitute a STEM curriculum vary considerably but recently the government has placed an increased emphasis on mathematics, science and computing with ‘technology and engineering’ becoming almost silent elements of this acronym. The government identifies the supply of skilled technicians, designers and engineers as being essential to the UK’s ambitious industrial strategy, but also acknowledges that the pipeline of pupils studying STEM related subjects narrows drastically as they progress through the education system, leading to severe shortages and a lack of diversity of pupils applying to STEM courses at university.

The development of Skills

The issue of skills is becoming increasingly important; the CBI, World Economic Forum (WEF) and other business organisations are increasingly calling for graduates and school leavers with a broader range of skills, particularly in problem solving, critical thinking, resilience and creativity. Ofsted has an important role to play in making sure that school leaders see the importance of this skill and attribute development and build opportunities for this into their school curriculum offer.

Careers guidance

The role of effective careers education, information and guidance must gain greater recognition within the new framework. Gender disparity, racial inequality and socioeconomic disadvantage are amplified where pupils are provided with outdated, poorly informed and stereotypical advice about their potential and their futures. At the moment we would argue that emphasis on this aspect of education varies too much dependent upon the importance given to it by school leaders.

The Extra-curricular offer

Many schools offer a wide range of opportunities for students outside of the normal school day, these often-providing pupils with the opportunity to shine in an area of particular talent (art, drama, PE, technology) and also provide pupils with the opportunity to deepen their knowledge and skill levels within a particular subject or study area. These extra-curricular opportunities enrich the lives of pupils, increase engagement and a love of learning and boost academic performance. With the pressure on school budgets, these activities are often provided with ever reduced resources and within shrinking budgets. These activities should gain greater acknowledgement within the new framework in order to encourage school leaders to adopt them and prevent their decline.

Response to Proposal 1

To what extent do you agree or disagree with the proposal to introduce a ‘quality of education’ judgement?

We welcome a ‘quality of education’ judgement as this should encourage a de-intensification of the focus on a limited field of performance data and gives greater encouragement and freedom to teachers to use professionalism and creativity in curriculum development.

This judgement encourages school leaders to re-examine the very core of their vision for their students and their school. As you state in your guidance documentation, it will focus on educational intent, how this intent is then implemented and the impact of this to students learning, outcomes and destinations.

We welcome the opportunity and encouragement for teachers to explore new, relevant and innovative ways to deliver the curriculum and are encouraged by the statement “Schools taking radically different approaches to the curriculum will be judged fairly”. We understand that by being this ‘open’ with the judgment processes, Ofsted are encouraging schools to think differently and this can only be advantageous to design and technology specifically and to the development of cross-curricula approaches to learning. Bold and imaginary curriculums, which allow pupils to experience problem solving and interdisciplinary learning will allow pupils to make connections between subjects in a way that they will undoubtedly be required to do in a post-school context.

The new framework, based on a “holistic approach to considering the quality of education” also presents an opportunity to ensure that pupils are experiencing a broader curriculum which includes critical skills for future employment, as well as the underpinning fundamental knowledge that they will need.

We applaud Ofsted’s statement on the perceived opposition between knowledge and skills (P9 Third Para). We agree that in reality, knowledge and skills are closely interconnected and we consider one of the great strengths of our subject (design & technology) is that it utilises knowledge gained both from within the subject and from elsewhere on the curriculum, contextualises this and puts this knowledge into an active setting. We do not believe that the acquisition of knowledge should always be sequenced before skill acquisition. The importance of exploration, practical learning and making mistakes are crucial creative behaviours and are to be encouraged within the school curriculum.

The school curriculum should not be arbitrary and not defined by Ofsted, instead it should be defined by the needs of the pupils it serves and the needs of the economy and society that will one day be productively served by those pupils.

Proposal 2

To what extent do you agree or disagree with the proposed separation of inspection judgements about learners’ personal development and learners’ behaviour and attitudes?

We welcome the move to de-couple the judgement of personal development from behaviour and attitudes. Ofsted appears to be recognising that pupil’s personal development is often determined by their background and upbringing and is rarely linear. Character development is something that good schools do well, providing pupils with opportunities to fail and learn in a safe environment and as a result of this environment they develop a range of traits that will serve them well in further education, employment and in life.

Proposal 3

Our only comment on the proposals made in this section is that we welcome an increased focus on equity of curriculum for SEND students in early years.

Proposal 4

To what extent do you agree or disagree with the proposed focus of section 8 inspections of good schools and non-exempt outstanding schools and the proposal to increase the length of these inspections from the current one day to two days?

We welcome the extension of a section 8 inspection from one to two days. It is logical to believe that a judgement made on what is evidenced and based upon a more holistic “quality of education” measure will need to be more in-depth with greater Ofsted curriculum coverage and it will therefore take more time. It is important that a school that retains its good or outstanding grade does so because it continues to provide a broad curriculum offer that delivers a balanced mixture of knowledge and skills.

We welcome Ofsted’s intention to mention any narrowing of the curriculum since its last Ofsted inspection in inspection reports.

Outstanding schools are currently subject to a section 8 inspection if it is triggered by either:

  • a significant fall in GCSE results
  • a significant restructuring of its organisation
  • concerns over safeguarding and the safety of its students (as defined by Ofsted’s risk assessment)

If schools are to be judged based on a holistic approach “quality of education” measure that includes knowledge and skills, then the measures that it uses to trigger a section 8 inspection should align with the new judgement criteria. (E.g. Would a significant narrowing of curriculum offer be grounds to trigger a section 8 inspection under the new criteria)?

Proposal 5

To what extent do you agree or disagree with the proposed introduction of on-site preparation for all section 5 inspections, and for section 8 inspections of good schools, on the afternoon prior to the inspection?

As an ex-school leader, I personally welcome this. On-site preparation will allow Ofsted and school leaders to conduct more open-dialogue and to ‘set the inspection up’ in a relatively unrushed setting. It will also allow more time for dialogue around context, vision and how the curriculum selected suits the needs of the pupils and their community.

 Proposal 6

To what extent do you agree or disagree with our proposal not to look at non-statutory internal progress and attainment data and the reasons why

We agree with the proposal not to look at non-statutory progress or attainment data. The previous focus on internal data and the collection of this data, has often placed teachers under extreme pressure. The frequency of this data collection has often led to it being meaningless and is a major cause of poor staff well-being in some schools.

A move away from looking at ‘the latest data’ and towards a quality of education judgement is more likely to encourage school leaders and teachers to dedicate more time to thinking about the quality of their curriculum and the development of long-lasting knowledge acquisition, skills and attributes rather than to ‘teaching to the test’.

Proposal 7

To what extent do you agree or disagree with the proposal that inspectors should normally use the non-specialist curriculum as their primary source of evidence in assessing the extent to which the school meets the quality of education criteria

We welcome this proposal as it will encourage school leaders to provide a broad, rich curriculum alongside any specialist element. However, where schools do offer a specialist curriculum offer, this should be in-line with the requirements of their students and the local community that it serves.

Proposal 8

The Association has decided not to comment on this proposal as it is not in an area of expertise.

Proposal 9

To what extent do you agree or disagree that the proposal to reduce the types of provision we grade and specifically report on will make our inspection reports more coherent and inclusive?

There has been increased focus from government recently on the importance of raising the profile of technical and vocational training and most importantly, on giving parity of esteem with traditional ‘academic’ routes. Further education institutions, as the bulk providers of technical and vocational education, should be the focus of rigorous inspection and support, to ensure that these ambitions can be met.

There are fundamental differences in the nature of technical and vocational study programmes, academic courses, traineeships and other full-time provision for 14-16-year olds. By combining these into fewer grades, care needs to be taken not to lose definition between the quality of different provisions.

Due to the challenges around the introduction of T Levels, such as potential issues which have been loudly flagged around employer engagement and work placements, we believe it advisable to consider consulting on their integration into the new framework at the earliest available opportunity and definitely prior to their introduction. Institutions offering these qualifications will need additional support and advice.

Proposal 10

To what extent do you agree or disagree with the proposed model for short inspections?

We welcome the proposed change to the nature of short inspections that better aligns it with the new “quality of education” judgement. We particularly welcome the proposal to allow lead inspectors to spend more time on-site with school leaders so that they can better plan for the inspection and increase the dialogue held with school leaders.

Proposal 11

To what extent do you agree or disagree that the timescale within which providers that are judged to ‘require improvement’ receive their next full inspection should be extended from ’12-24 months to ’12-30 months?

We agree with this proposal as in some cases it will give the school more time within which to embed change before being re-inspected. Monitoring visits will continue to provide the assurance that schools are moving in the right direction.

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