'Stem and design and technology both have critical thinking at heart, so why divide them?'

Creative subjects have been driven towards the fringes despite being closely linked to core EBacc subjects, writes Chris Hyde from Activate Learning

Chris Hyde

art and design college t levels FE government reform

As a student of design and technology, a very long time ago now, I remember being taught the types of perspective drawing and the importance of referencing the vanishing point.

The critical thing about a vanishing point is that it helps to create scale, focus and a sense of relationship order. This vital tiny little point that is often not seen enables the designer to produce an image, in my case often an item of furniture, that can be seen and communicated to others.

I have taught and directed design and technology subjects for nearly 25 years at Rycotewood Furniture Centre, in Oxfordshire, which is now part of Activate Learning. A key observation has been the challenge year-on-year of recruiting students who arrive at post-16 education with declining design and technology skills and attributes. So, I question, like the invisible vanishing point to help with constructing a perspective drawing, why does the education secretary not see what we see when it comes to the must-have of design and technology starting points in schools?

The craftsman creates

It is a key human need and condition to create, make and try to master. As a craftsman, when you make something there is a little bit of your skill and thinking that you pass on to the receiver. The craftsman creates, and the factory produces; hand in hand they work together – design to prototyping to manufacture.

Design and technology is core to an early understanding of materials, processes, tools and discipline. It prepares a student for problem-solving and problem-finding. This can be in a methodical way that could and will in the future be mainly achieved by robots and artificial intelligence with coded algorithms, but more importantly, it can be the "fine artist approach" – solving the problem from outside the box.

That creative thinking can be revolutionary and so useful in local and national communities. In this country we have a creative design reputation build upon it. The UK creative industries have a gross value added (GVA) of £76.9 billion. Yet entries for GCSEs in creative subjects fell by 46,000 last year.

The English Baccalaureate choices have driven out the creative subjects towards the fringes in favour of the academic subject options like science, technology, engineering and maths. The up and coming T levels will divide the academic from the vocational, creating pathways either being for the bright or those who are good with their hands.

Why divide academic and creative?

From my perspective, engineering, science and creative art and design subjects all have critical thinking and analysis in common, so why divide them? In the same way, academic and vocational is not an either/or.

In my observation in my role, I have clearly seen the intellectual thinking of a designer-maker. Parallel to this, an understanding of sciences such as chemistry and physics is essential. It is clear to us that creative, technical and social attributes combine these disciplines.

We want to shout out and protect these design and technology routes into our industry. We want to find these problem-solvers and finders of the future. We want to give students a chance to see themselves enjoying doing more than just swiping a piece of glass on a phone or pushing a button. To see them have a sense of achievement, standing back and admiring what they have made and how it positively benefits others in communities.

There is hope

However, I do believe that there is hope.

Nesta and the Creative Industries Federation have just announced that the number of UK creative jobs is set to grow by 5.3 per cent by 2024, faster than Stem at 5.1 per cent and double the average rate of employment, which will increase by 2.5 per cent.

The Sorrell Foundation National Saturday Clubs are great - we run three clubs - and the development of the Maker Network movement of Makerspaces and Fab Labs will continue to grow and combine formal and informal learning.

We agree, it would be such a shame to see the teaching of designing and making, which is so important to this country, just being a secret elective choice in an after-school club. 

The vanishing point of perspective is a powerful thing. We must all remember to keep our eye on it.

Chris Hyde is director of creative arts at Activate Learning

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