The death of design and technology: a tragedy in three parts

Paul Woodward
30th December 2016 at 13:03

Subject Genius, Paul Woodward, The death of design and technology: A tragedy in three parts

Playing devil’s advocate and, after watching 'Scrooge' felt like something a little more dramatic today so bear with me for this final D&T blog. The scene is a large academy in the very near future but could just as easily be any school; maybe even yours. As we join the cast, a dark cloud hangs over the future of design education thanks to the best efforts of the oppressive government.

Scene 1: The Headmaster's office

It’s Tuesday morning and the Headmaster is meeting with the Assistant Principal, David, to discuss next year’s curriculum.

Head: “Right, item number two on the agenda, the design and technology department.”

David: “Yes, it’s a bit of a concern. Running costs are some of the highest in the school, there are health and safety concerns and a lot of the equipment needs updating. Staffing is also a problem and, to be honest, numbers taking the subject have been steadily dropping. Not sure they are really ready for the new reformed subject either.”

Head: “Hmmm, is it worth reviving? I always liked woodwork at school and thought it was a popular subject but if that’s not the case anymore maybe it’s not worth investing in. After all, it’s not a core subject area and it’s not getting the highest attainment levels. Hell, we could get better positive progress with PE, combine lessons with home economics and get ourselves a nice PR friendly ‘getting fit for school’ campaign to put in the local papers and keep the governors happy.”

David: “Sounds like a great idea. To be honest, after buying the new SLT coffee machines and the new swimming pool, there isn’t much money left for them anyway. We could distribute the computers elsewhere, sell on the machinery and convert the workshops into lecture rooms and common rooms.”

Head: “Don’t forget all the new assistant principals will need new offices too. What about home economics and textiles, aren’t they still popular?”

David: “Well its food and nutrition now, nothing to do with DT[Sic], and we can do textiles through art which doesn’t have too many students, gets good results and they do help with the school magazine, not to mention they give us plenty of stuff to decorate the corridors with. Seems to me that most of the kids in DT can't keep up anyway and end up coming in after school so we could just let the kids in detention play around with wood and stuff to keep them occupied, plus we can still say we are supporting design." (David laughs, but he is deadly serious).

Head: “Sounds like a plan, let’s start the ball rolling. Now who gets to tell the Head of DT the bad news?” (Grins knowingly as David leaves the meeting looking very worried).

Scene 2: Creative Arts Faculty office

It's Wednesday lunchtime and the heads of subject are giving up another lunch break for faculty meetings. The Assistant Principal, David, is meeting with Angela, Head of DT.

David:  “So, I have some concerns about the faculty I need to discuss with you. First, the numbers taking the subject seem to be in decline and…”

Angela: “If I could just interrupt there, numbers are down because of the Progress 8 measures you introduced and the school’s insistence on students taking the full set of EBacc subject options. Add to that the fact they have to start D&T in Year 9 if they want to do the GCSE.”

David:  “Ok, well the results don’t seem to be as good as last year…”

Angela: “If I could just say, we have our work moderated and the exam board seem to move the goalposts each year as well as adjusting our marks with little explanation why. We lose student time to extra lessons in maths, English, science and even PE!! We have almost no budget, are using outdated equipment, we are expected to teach a two year course in one year and push Year 9 students through a GCSE. And you still want 4 levels of progress…it’s almost like you are trying to drive us out.”

David:  “Yes, funny you should mention that. I have met with the Head, the governors and the senior management team and we feel that DT is really not contributing positively to our Progress and Attainment 8 results. Furthermore, staffing issues and the increasing costs of running the department are really not feasible and we don’t really see how woodwork and metalwork are of benefit to the school or the students. Sadly, we have made the decision to stop the teaching of DT from the end of the summer term. Thanks for all you have done and here’s hoping that you go out with a decent set of results this year.”

David shuffles his official looking papers, loads his briefcase and hurriedly exits the room leaving Angela sat in shocked silence.

Scene 3: The communal D&T meeting area (usually around the largest, cleanest work bench).

It’s a Thursday afternoon after school and D&T staff are gathered to discuss the future. If you are a Sci-fi buff imagine the teachers as nameless Star Trek characters in red tops while Angela gets to break the bad news…(Trekkies will get that one!)

Angela: “I’m afraid I have some bad news, the management have decided to remove design and technology from the school next year. There will inevitably be redundancies but if you are able to teach another subject there might be the possibility of relocating to another department.”

Teacher 1: “But what about our contribution to STEM in the school and offering a balanced curriculum to the students?”

Angela:  “The Head says it’s not important to the school’s aim to get ‘outstanding’, that we already have S&M covered and that we can offer some ‘arty and technical stuff’ through extra-curricular activities.”

Teacher 2: “But what about our contribution to developing talent for the UK’s creative, design and engineering industries?”

Angela:  “Oh I guess that other countries will supply the workforce we need in the future, after all they have a more positive attitude to design education than us, and will probably be cheaper. The Head says we will always need accountants, doctors, lawyers etc. so the school will be focussing on those sorts of careers from next year.”

Teacher 3: “But what about the students who don’t want those careers or aren’t able enough to be lawyers and doctors?”

Angela:  “I am told there will eventually be something called grammar schools for the brighter students and students like that will end up in schools like this. If need be there are some technical awards they can do but the maths department say they aren't really GCSE's...”

Teacher 1: “So, schools like ours will eventually be left with the less academic and lower ability students? What will they study?”

Angela:  “Probably subjects like art...and design.”

Teacher 2: “But didn’t you just tell us the school is closing down D&T as it isn’t contributing positively to the Progress 8 results or the EBacc?”

Angela sits in stunned silence as the dichotomy of the situation suddenly dawns on her. She is rendered speechless by how ridiculous the whole debacle has become.

The meeting ends on a very sad tone and as they leave the workshop to go home, the local church bell tolls just once to allegorically signify the end of another day…and very likely the end of an era for design and technology education.

Over the coming months, the life and resources of the department are slowly drained until the builders move in to start their renovations.

With one final gasp, design and technology lies dead.

The end.


Happy New Year to everyone and, like the aforementioned Mr Scrooge, let's hope we all wake up to find it was all just a terrible (if prophetic) dream.



Paul has taught a range of creative and technical subjects specialising in Design and Technology for 23 years in a range of schools, including stints as Head of D&T and Head of a Creative Arts faculty. He continues to work within D&T as a consultant but is currently taking a break from teaching to explore design in industry.

His Subject Genius blog was shortlisted for the 2016 TES Awards.