Sainsbury and the Post-16 Skills Plan: why D&T teaching will need to be re-evaluated to help students make the right choices for their future careers

Paul Woodward
17th March 2017 at 13:03

Subject Genius, Paul Woodward, Sainsbury and the Post-16 Skills Plan: why D&T teaching will need to be re-evaluated to help students make the right choices for their future careers

Originally titled 'The Sainsbury Review' you have no idea how my puerile mind wanted to make a comparison between the major supermarkets in the UK in this blog but getting back to the subject I am sure most of you have heard of or read the Sainsbury Review of Post-16 education. No? Well let me enlighten you.

It will be particularly memorable for me as it was announced on the morning of the 8th of July which was the day I was giving a workshop at D&TA’s summer school on working with the new A-levels in D&T. I was quite happy with the material I was to deliver that day and, having woken up in a strange hotel looking for breakfast and a route planner to the hosting institution, I was oblivious to the news that day…until I arrived at the venue and sat through the opening speech. Hmmm...time to rethink my material it would seem. Luckily, my audience appeared less informed so I managed to get through the afternoon without any awkward questions.

After the event where, fortuitously, few others had heard the announcement, I had time to read the details of the review. Originally trained in FE and having spent most of my career teaching A-level D&T, it was particularly relevant to me so I read with interest. For those trying to run busy secondary departments and getting to grips with the new D&T syllabi, it may have passed them by; after all it did go very quiet after it was announced,  so here is a basic summary.

The review by Lord Sainsbury looked at post-16 provision in an education system where pupils have to remain in education until 18 unless they gain employment or an apprenticeship. And then it all went quiet and I forgot about it until late January 2017 when it was proposed almost word for word by the Prime Minister and renamed the 'Post-16 Skills Plan' although it now links into industrial plans for post brexit Britain. If adopted by the government in 2019 the new system will replace the current system of over 20,000 courses provided by 160 organisations with two main routes; academic and technical.

Oh dear, here we go again with that argument.                     

At 16 students can choose the academic option - A-levels leading to an undergraduate degree, which will signal the end of being able to choose a mixture of academic and vocational qualifications. If they choose the technical option there would be 15 routes into employment in order to prepare them for skilled employment which requires technical knowledge and practical skills valued by industry. This would either be college based with compulsory work experience or an employment (apprenticeship) based programme with at least 20% college based provision. There will be a bridging provision for those in the technical route leading to an undergraduate degree.

The question here is whether D&T can continue to remain an academic subject or will it become part of the technical route? After all, surely there can't be two almost identical subjects that cover the necessary material but with different weightings on the 'academic' or 'practical' aspects. Much may also depend on university support of design related subjects as an undergraduate degree in the future. There is much discussion regarding the practical/academic weighting of the subject at GCSE so I wonder how this will be addressed if D&T A-levels were to become even more academic in order to separate it from a more vocational based course. I have no answers here, but when a course that has both academic and practical elements straddles two separate routes trying to move apart from each other...well, it will need very long legs to do that!

The first pathfinder routes will begin teaching from 2019 with all routes available by 2022. Of those 15 routes, four strike me as being particularly relevant to the students who currently follow a course in design and technology: construction, creative and design, digital, and engineering and manufacturing.

While it would be easy to see D&T as part of the creative and design option it would be naive to disregard how construction, digital and engineering and manufacturing might also appeal to students once attracted to D&T. Several such as science, sales and marketing touch upon aspects of the subject as well.

Bear in mind that such initiatives, such as Labour's 14-19 diplomas, have tried and failed before. It is also worth noting that there will be just one awarding organisation for each of the 15 routes; an exclusive license will be granted in order for the AO. So the route may be optional but the syllabus and course content will be from just one provider. There is no reference to such a system being introduced for academic routes.

So what does this mean for primary and secondary D&T education? Well probably not a lot really until it comes to options evenings and career advice for Post-16 but don't be surprised if what comes 'after' eventually trickles down into what comes 'before'. It will undoubtedly affect those who teach A-level D&T in the future but perhaps that's not such a bad thing for quality. How many of us have found students unable to meet the standards required signing up for A-level just because they can't leave school, can't do much of anything else and 'did ok at GCSE'? Diminishing numbers of D&T students and their effects on department's staffing and budgets is a different matter.

There is a great deal of focus on secondary education in the news; the EBacc, levels of progress, Progress 8 etc. but once the hard work is done meeting these often inconsequential and constantly moving targets, it's the Post-16 sector that links the student to adult employment and careers that will ultimately shape the world of the future. This reform, if accepted will commence in the same year of the first full A-level examination of the newly reformed D&T syllabus. Time alone will tell what its future will be beyond that and changes won't be immediate but those who teach the subject at Post-16 would be wise to keep an eye on its progress over the coming months. Perhaps more importantly, those teaching up to and including GCSE may soon have to re-evaluate how their teaching of the subject will adequately prepare students to confidently make the right choice at post-16.



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.