Significant factors affecting the effective delivery of D&T

Published 16th August 2019

I was fortunate to be able to attend Amanda Spielman's recent speech at the Innovate launch at the V&A in London. The full text is available here.  I thought it would be useful to reflect on some of the comments made that are particularly pertinent to Key Stages three to five.  

The opening section of the speech is somewhat familiar and depressing. Ms Spielman spelt out the long-term decline in students opting to study the subject at GCSE, from 2003 to 2017 the number of students choosing to study GCSE D&T dropped from 420,000 to just over 150,000 (a drop of almost two-thirds) and the biggest of all curriculum subjects alongside MFL. She went on to explore the plethora of combined reasons why this might be the case and described the dark combination of events as “a perfect storm” for the subject.

The truth is that technical or vocational education has always suffered in the UK in ways that other nations have not experienced. As a society, we have never really valued engineers and designers in the way that we have valued doctors or lawyers; we have a fixed and may I suggest, somewhat dated view of 'academia'.  

The mere fact that our subject is the last bastion of technical education left in pre-sixteen education and has been allowed to run itself into its present condition speaks volumes. You protect what you value and decision-makers over the years have not valued our subject.

The most significant factor affecting the effective delivery of our subject is, in my opinion, the lack of suitably qualified teachers. Again, the statistics are somewhat depressing, ours was the worst recruited of all subjects last year, and we have failed to hit relatively modest targets for years. Some point to the recent increase in teacher training bursary for design and technology to £12,000 as good news; I guess any improvement is welcome, but if you can teach D&T you probably have good levels of mathematics and science allowing you to teach these shortage subjects instead and draw a bursary of up to £30,000.

A lack of suitably qualified staff, together with a year-on-year reduction in budget since 2012 has left headteachers in a hard place. I felt for school leaders across England when Theresa May, by way of a parting act, announced a 3.5% pay rise on the last day of term for many and then closed the door behind her. This increase has not been fully Government funded and school leaders who thought they had consolidated their budgets for the coming year were left with a reasonably substantive hole to fill. Anyone who has ever worked in a secondary school will tell you that students can smell strong subject knowledge and passion, and will gravitate towards potential exam success; in the school jungle, it's the strongest that survive!

Amanda Spielman went on to admit that the slimming down of Ofsted (to adapt to a greatly reduced budget) and the resulting lack of subject inspections, has done little to help the subject as we have been virtually ignored in recent years. I am sure there are precious few departments praying that Ofsted will visit them, but this lack of visibility and accountability has done little to add to the subject's place within the hierarchy of subjects in schools across the country.

With all the above taken into account, I genuinely believe that the new framework, in place from September, provides an opportunity for the subject that should be grasped with both hands. Departments will now be observed as part of the inspection process, Brian Oppenheim, the subject HMI lead has been working with other HMI's to ensure that they are well drilled on exactly what to look for in design and technology departments. I have thoroughly enjoyed working with colleagues nationally on our newly launched curriculum course as we start with the basics of exactly what we mean by 'curriculum' and then construct an offer that excites, stretches and motivates all students with full regard taken of the school's intake, values and objectives...or in Ofsted speak intent, implementation and outcomes.  

Overall, it was good to hear the Chief Inspector speak in such an informed manner about our subject, even if there were no solutions offered in her speech (our job, not hers) it is up to each and every one of us to rise to the challenge and prove just how wonderful our subject can be. 

Written for D&T Practice 2019 by Tony Ryan, CEO, Design and Technology Association

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