While perusing through social media and forums I will come across statements from teachers regarding their specialist status and I have referred to myself as a subject specialist on many occasions in the past but towards the end of my time in the classroom I stopped using the term. Why? Because few of us, teachers that is, are truly specialists in a field of design or technology.
What it is more likely to mean is that there is an area of design education that you believe you fit into better than the others or have more experience of teaching...unless of course you do come from a specialist design or manufacturing background.
Defined as 'a person who concentrates primarily on a particular subject or activity' this applies to our own definition of a teaching role but how many of us can lay claim to being; 'a person highly skilled in a specific and restricted field'.
Take for instance the resistant materials specialist. Forgetting for a moment that few people can actually define what resistant materials really are, what you are implying is that you are a specialist in the use, development and working knowledge of what some might call 'hard' or 'constructional' materials. Without referring to Google, text books or notes would you know the density of nylon or the relative weight of steel to aluminium, the hardness rating of stainless steel or the melting point of copper or any one of hundreds of other material related specs?
On the same lines are you a proficient welder, bench carpenter, joiner or knowledgeable in aspects of casting or plastic moulding? Do you know how to use graphics material at a level approaching professional? Do you approach the teaching of food with the skills of a chef, or at least a professional caterer? Can you sew like a seamstress or wire a circuit like an electronics engineer? Student numbers and health and safety aside, could you run all of the technical aspects of a department without a technician?
I am sure you get the point and perhaps I am mischievously diluting the point with words like 'professional' and 'expert' but just how 'highly skilled' are you really in a 'specific and restricted field'? Given the wide range of secondary subjects it may be appropriate to class yourself as a specialist in a subject area but within the general area of D&T can anyone really declare themselves a specialist in a particular field of design or manufacturing?
The old saying goes that you can be a jack of all trades but master of none and perhaps this will be true more than ever once design and technology is condensed down to a single subject title. Even if you were considered a specialist in any one area, you (or the collective you as a department) will soon be expected to know about a wide range of what were once referred to as specialisms.
Will your department have the necessary skills and knowledge to cover such a wide range of materials and processing areas or are you, like many shrinking departments, having to dilute your overall subject delivery to focus on the area where the staff are 'specialists' and simply cross your fingers and hope for the best in the exam?
Of course, this line of questioning is moot and I am just addressing the fact that the new GCSE covers so much material . As trained teachers in a subject area we have perhaps earned the right to be a subject specialist. For those who believe they are material area specialists, and I am certainly not one by my own definitions, it would be interesting to know what defines you as such. If it's exam results then maybe you are a specialist in exam preparation or subject delivery rather than necessarily being a design or material subject specialist. I once taught a subject for the first time to GCSE and A-level students who all passed. I wouldn't class myself as a teacher of that subject never mind being any sort of specialist but results alone might contradict that.
Perhaps the ability to consult, advise, lead or train others is where the definition of subject 'specialist' is more deserved. Regardless of whether or not the term applies to you at the moment, we will all be design and technology 'specialists' by virtue of teaching the single title subject. It's going to be quite a challenge for any one teacher to deliver all the aspects of materials and design that this subject will need to cover. That is why teams of staff with a range of skills can deliver the subject areas they know best but, with D&T in decline and more departments running with limited staff, I expect it will be increasingly difficult for teachers to deliver all the material and even more difficult to truly be classed as a specialist!
Paul has taught Design and Technology for 24 years in a range of schools as a subject head and leader of a creative arts faculty. He continues to work as a freelance designer, examiner, moderator and D&T consultant. Having taken a break from teaching to work as a head of design in a manufacturing industry, he will shortly be returning to education to once again lead a Creative Arts faculty.