Article - Issue 65, December 2015

LETTERS - Importance of D&T in schools, A shortage of specialist staff.

Professor Bill Lucas and Michael Ive OBE HMI

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Richard Green’s Design and Technology Opinion piece in Ingenia 64, rang true in many ways. Unless students have opportunities to make things at school, we will never inspire girls and boys to consider engineering careers.

Last year, in conjunction with the Royal Academy of Engineering, we, at the University of Winchester’s Centre for Real-World Learning, published the report Thinking like an Engineer: implications for the education system. The report looks at engineering education as a set of six engineering habits of mind. These habits are: systems thinking, adapting, improving, visualising, problem-finding and creative problem solving. These represent the characteristic ways in which engineers think and act.

Since then, we have been working with primary and secondary schools in Manchester and Hampshire to explore the implications for teaching. What kind of curriculum materials work best? Which subjects? Which pedagogies?

Engineers are problem-finders. So are students of D&T. If you want to create problem-finders, for example, then you will be likely to use techniques such as idea generation, reframing techniques, questioning, researching, prototyping, trialling, team-working and project-management. In fact, as you look at each of the other five engineering habits, it is clear what a powerful contribution Design and Technology (D&T) can make to developing all of them.

A decade ago, Sir Christopher Frayling made a telling point in an article in The Guardian. He explained how, in the heat of the industrial age, practical work was dropped in favour of literacy and numeracy as the new grammar schools gained in importance. He said: “The original meaning of the ‘3Rs’ was completely different in Regency times, at the beginning of the 19th century. The three Rs were reading, wroughting and arithmetic – in other words, literacy, making things and numeracy. And then in the era of Mr Gradgrind and the Great Exhibition of the 1850s, the wroughting got dropped in favour of writing.”

‘Wroughting’ means making things. Wheelwrights, shipwrights and many others like them helped make Britain what it was. We had to wait many decades before schools again realised the importance of all pupils needing to learn both how to thinking and to make. D&T is the perfect way to enable this to happen.

One way we can ensure that more students emerge from secondary school wanting to be engineers either via college or apprenticeship or university, is to ensure that the teaching methods that teachers use explicitly promotes our six engineering habits of mind. Of all the subjects that lend themselves to these kinds of approaches, D&T is, for me, the most important. Of course, we want engineers to be grounded in science and maths and able to communicate well. But we also need them to have experiences of problem-finding and problem-solving, which are so much part of D&T. In short, we need manipulate as well as articulate school leavers.

Recently my colleague Guy Claxton and I imagined what a girl – we called her Ruby after her imaginary grandmother Rita (as in Educating Rita) – might emerge from her time in school with. In Educating Ruby: what our children really need to learn we identified seven capabilities each beginning with the letter C (7Cs not 3Rs seemed more of our time!). These are confidence, curiosity, collaboration, communication, creativity, commitment and craftsmanship.

We imagined Ruby as a great engineer. Her favourite subject at school? D&T of course, if her school still offers it. For this reason we wish all power to the Design and Technology Association and their Designed and Made in Britain campaign!

Professor Bill Lucas
Director, Centre for Real-World Learning, University of Winchester


In Design and Technology – averting a crisis, in Ingenia 64, Richard Green, CEO of the Design and Technology Association, made a wide‑ranging and well-evidenced case that the survival of Design and Technology (D&T) in secondary schools is under threat. He said he believes that this will adversely impact on our “advanced technological society”. He also identified a ‘perfect storm’ of problems and issues: revised National Curriculum proposals that until recently were inappropriate and discouraged teachers; misrepresentation and misunderstanding of the subject by politicians and some academics; recent government policies on the accountability system as a whole that disadvantage D&T and other practical/aesthetic subjects; ongoing teacher shortage with a lack of teacher-capability in the more ‘hi-tech’ aspects of D&T.

I believe that it is the last of these points, the staffing, that is at the heart of the ‘storm’ of problems.

First, let us consider raw numbers. The Royal Society for the Encouragement of Arts, Manufactures and Commerce (RSA) commented at the end of October 2015 that: “With a record 50,000 teachers leaving the profession last year, and the government failing to hit its recruitment target three years in a row, clearly something is amiss.” But if that is the overall situation, D&T’s position is the worst of all with, in the last three years, a 57% shortfall in recruitment. Illogically, the total of ‘allocated places’ is less than the government’s ‘target figure’. Consequently, we are short of at least 1,200 specialist teachers.

Although there is a programme of bursaries to encourage recruitment, it does not, unfortunately, help D&T. While recruits with a good degree can get, tax‑free, £30,000 for physics, and £25,000 for a clutch of other subjects but only £12,000 is available to D&T recruits: the lowest bursary for the greatest shortage. It would seem that there is a lack of understanding of basic control principles here!

Secondly, we have to consider teachers’ capability. To quote Ofsted’s report Meeting technological challenges? D&T in schools 2007–10: “Many teachers were not keeping pace with technological developments or expanding upon their initial training sufficiently to enable them to teach the technically demanding aspects of the curriculum. To enable education in England to keep pace with global technological change, new approaches are needed to teaching pupils how to apply electronics in combination with new materials and how to apply control systems in all aspects of the subject.”

Sadly, this confirms my own inspection evidence from some 15 years ago. One very serious consequence of this lack of understanding of systems and control is the woefully low proportion of the total entry for GCSE in D&T taking either the Electronic Products (4%) or Systems and Control options (a mere 1.6%). This has fallen from the proportion in 2003 when, combined, it was 9%.

D&T is the synthesis of subject knowledge, cognitive skills (such as designing and problem-solving), and practical capability with materials and components. It is Electronic Products and Systems and Control specialisms that will be most useful for the future and yet many of existing and new D&T teachers do not have this expertise. Suitable subject‑specific support and training must be made readily available to all D&T teachers if children and students are to receive their entitlement of a worthwhile D&T education.

I cannot help but suspect that a major part of the underlying problem is the lack of direct experience of engineering or design, or even science, by our decision makers in politics and the senior civil service. On one occasion, when I had attempted to explain, at his request, some of the basics of D&T activity to a senior figure, he said: “Thank you, I don’t know much about all this; I didn’t do hobbies in my school”!

Michael Ive OBE HMI
Retired, formerly Specialist Adviser for
D&T to Ofsted
Trustee, Young Engineers

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