As educators we often consider our contribution to the whole student and how the experience of studying design and technology might benefit them. We hope that students will enjoy this subject, do well in it and take it to the next level. Most of our preparation to teach the subject is based on the long term from KS2 all the way to A-level and hopefully considers life even beyond that, but what if the student doesn’t take the subject all the way to a career, do we just wave goodbye and thank them for their contribution? Have you ever stopped to consider what a student actually leaves with when they stop studying D&T and do you even think that’s important given that they have decided against further study in your subject? Let’s consider the various points where students can leave a period of sustained D&T study.
I’m no expert on the early years but from what my wife has told me of her time as a nursery nurse, design and technology is learnt through creative play and use of computers. As education is mandatory up to the age of 18 with no choice of subjects studied until KS3 or KS4 we should consider that students don’t really leave design and technology only the educational setting in which they have studied. Therefore handover is the key word here rather than ‘exit’. However, it’s safe to say that Key Stage 1 is likely to have very limited dedicated design and technology lessons.
At Key Stage 2 most schools will hopefully still have some element of design and technology in the curriculum and we hope that, as they move into Key Stage 3 they have an understanding of the subject but I know of schools where the study of GCSE D&T is no longer mandatory and students make a decision in Year 6 about continuing their studies. This does concern me as students may be basing that decision purely on their experiences in KS2 which may well fail to reflect the range of study available at KS3 and beyond. If a child were to opt out of studying D&T at this point, and for some that may be a perfectly reasonable move, this limited experience would represent their educational exposure to D&T.
For those that either choose to continue, or have no choice, KS3 is the time when they learn about the subject and the application of design and technology in society. Over the next 3 years we teach students all the necessary skills in order to continue at GCSE but, if they decide to leave, what skills do they actually leave with? Many of us may not care, after all we have given three years of our best to try and inspire them to continue but they have decided not to. Perhaps it’s a case of ‘job done, let’s move on’ but surely you want those three years to actually mean something. The dilemma is; do you teach to prepare for GCSE or to ensure the student has sufficient knowledge of design and the associated technology to take into the outside world? Is it possible to do both?
So, we now (hopefully) have a captive audience at GCSE as they have chosen this subject and over the next 5 terms we work through preparatory project work, the controlled assessment and prepare them for their examinations. What is the motivation to do this beyond meeting targets and levels of progress? Do we teach as a foundation for A-level study or to give them the skills necessary to move into vocational courses or even the workplace? If the former, will the focus be on ticking boxes (more on that later) in order to meet a predefined percentage of A-C grades or are we genuinely structuring the learning material so students also leave with a set of genuinely useful skills?
Once students progress onto higher level courses, there are usually two exit strategies at the end: enter the workforce or continue to higher education. I am sure we would all like to think that University will be the student’s goal as they have chosen this subject alongside 2 or 3 others and no doubt have the academic skills to succeed. We work with them to get the best possible grade but again, what will the student do with the skills learnt if they don’t pursue a creative career at this level and what if we have struggled along with an academic route to design and engineering when a vocational one might have been more relevant?
I don’t have the answers but now is the perfect opportunity to review the work being undertaken for the new GCSE and A-levels and it’s not just D&T that needs to consider the skills it provides at each Key Stage; most subjects do. However, while preparing work for each stage bear in mind that this may be the student’s last taste of the subject. In the case of design and technology, every day of their lives will involve exposure to both aspects. For many, we may have lost (for now) their aspirations for a creative career but, as educators, have we prepared them to appreciate design, make effective use of technology, solve problems creatively and communicate effectively whatever career they may choose? At the very least, have we imbued them with the competence to live in, and contribute effectively to, a technological society?
Paul has taught design and technology for 23 years in a range of schools with stints as HOD and Head of a Creative Arts Faculty. He is currently taking a short break from DT to teach photography and media studies.
His Subject Genius blog was shortlisted for the 2016 TES Awards.