Professor Geoffrey Harrison

Published 19th March 2019

It is with sadness that we have to report the death of Professor Geoffrey Harrison, one of the key figures in the development of design and technological education. As we approach the 2019 Design and Technology Association Excellence Awards later this month it is fitting to remember that when the scheme was launched in 1999 it was decided to make the first Outstanding Contribution awards to five individuals who had each made a major contribution to the development of Design and Technology - John Eggleston, George Hicks, John Swain, Gordon Warren and Geoffrey Harrison.

After two years national service Geoffrey went to the University of Cambridge to study Mechanical Sciences before starting a career as a civil engineer. These early experiences caused him to question how the education of future engineers could be made better and proved to be the start of what became his lifelong crusade.

His initial school teaching experiences were at Dauntseys independent school where his pioneering work in the teaching of engineering and technology led to him being headhunted in the 1960s to set up the new Creative Design Department at Loughborough College (later University). The course he developed was revolutionary and initially resulted in a fair amount of internal dissent from both staff and students used to the traditional handicraft courses. Whilst he reorganised the department, he was invited by the Schools Council to direct their ‘Project Technology’ curriculum development project.

His vision was to develop resources to enhance technology teaching and learning across the school curriculum, and to influence the training of teachers to adopt these new approaches. His success in promoting and achieving these objectives lay in his ability to collaborate and coordinate at all levels of education. To this end he enlisted the support of the national professional teaching bodies and the UK Science and Engineering and Design Councils.

In the early 1970s he moved to Trent Polytechnic (later Nottingham Trent University), taking Project Technology with him, and established the National Centre for School Technology in the Design and Engineering Department. It provided an important national focus for the development of technological capability as part of both initial teacher training and teacher continuing professional development. This was the start of a series of developments, contributions and interventions which helped move handicraft into craft, design and technology and, in turn, into design and technology and the national curriculum and GCSE/GCE subjects which now exist.

The National Centre staff worked tirelessly on regional and national courses of in-service training for science and craft teachers and on the development of teaching materials that could be easily adopted in schools. This made possible the rapid expansion of this subject area in schools across the country. The Schools Technology Forum originated from the work of his department and provided the opportunity for technology teachers across the country to share their expertise and teaching successes.

He worked tirelessly with colleagues in higher education, the engineering institutions and government to help explain the unique contribution design and technology can make to the  education of all young people - and how it differs from other subjects (particularly his 1985 paper with Paul Black In Place of Confusion: technology and science in the school curriculum;  London: Nuffield Chelsea Curriculum Trust and National Centre for School Technology, Trent Polytechnic).

He never seemed to retire and his contribution to the development of design and technological education in the UK and internationally was both innovative and sustained. Other countries still look to the UK as the leader in D&T education and that is, in no small part, due to the work and legacy of Professor Geoffrey Harrison.

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