Get in on the balancing act
The Specialist Schools Trust (formerly the Technology Colleges Trust) is well known as a provider of advice to aspiring specialist schools and for its support network. Recently it has also gained a reputation for curriculum support. As the trust's national subject leader for technology colleges (with special responsibility for design and technology) my role is to support the subject in specialist schools.
My experience of running a successful Damp;T department at Thomas Alleyne's High School in Uttoxeter, where GCSE results rose by 40 per cent and attracted nearly 100 A-level students, taught me much about initiating change. Turning a department into a successful and cohesive team is achievable, but doing that on a national level is another issue. In my first year at the trust I have assessed the position of Damp;T in the 2,000 affiliated schools and attended national meetings. Too often, I hear that design is not a priority in many Damp;T departments. I have seen a lot of good practice and excellent examples of design thinking by students, standards reflected in entries to Designer of the Future, a competition developed by the trust in association with the Design Museum in London.
I have also been involved in research into the current state of "creativity in Damp;T". To support our schools, we need a clear vision and to help formulate this, I chose Catherine Williamson, an independent researcher with a career in professional design, because she lacked experience of Damp;T and I wanted a fresh point of view. We devised a set of relatively simple questions based on people's own experiences and she visited rural and urban schools across five regions.
We found that some Damp;T teachers struggled to name a favourite designer. Can you imagine art or English colleagues struggling to name a favourite artist or author? This shows that more teachers come from a practical background than from one in design. While many have taken design on board, others have made more modest progress.
The research showed that teachers teach to exam criteria rather than concentrating on the subject. But surely subject and exam must be one and the same. Yet most of those questioned said that they couldn't teach as much creativity as they wished because of exam restrictions. So, with students' best interests at heart they followed the exam criteria in a bid to improve grades. No doubt this is true of many subjects, but what a shame it should be the case where creativity is at the heart of the subject. We also found that no teachers had attended Inset aimed at fostering creativity in the past year.
The key stage 3 national strategy is now being piloted in 10 local education authorities. Its main focus is to offer strategies for teaching "how to design". This welcome initiative should have a big impact in the classroom. Teachers also said there was a lack of resources - specifically for helping students with project work, breaking it down into stages that they could understand and develop.
Using the research findings, we plan to produce four sets of teaching materials, including: la series of interactive teaching resources based on A1 posters that illustrate good practice at each stage of the design process; la set of inspiring materials that introduce a range of methodologies by professional designers or schools of design which relate to the Damp;T specialist areas; lregional handling boxes containing collections of products; la handbook for heads of department based on good practice. This will be aimed primarily at young teachers who have gained rapid promotion, many of whom lack the support of a subject inspector because of staff shortages.
When this initiative is implemented, these resources should be a welcome addition to Damp;T departments, not only in specialist schools but in all schools across the UK. I am looking for partnerships during the production of these materials and have had fruitful discussions with the Qualifications and Curriculum Authority, Department for Education and Skills, Design Museum, Design and Technology Association (DATA) and the Design Council.
Wouldn't it be good if all our organisations could show teachers that we all talk the same language, and that sometimes we even speak to each other? If we work together, we can push our subject forward and move Damp;T from good to great.