Summer time...D&T teachers are chillin’

Published 24th July 2018

Written by: Tony Ryan

With the school summer holidays now upon us, this seemed as good a time as any to reflect on the academic year just passed and specifically my almost seven months at the D&T Association.

In a year in which the news has been pretty much dominated by Brexit, education appears to have been largely ignored by the press. Yes, we have a new Education Secretary as the previous incumbent was indicating that she was actually developing empathy for the intricacies of the post and therefore had to be moved on! Aside from this, it appears to me that schools have pretty much got their heads down and been concentrating on the increasingly difficult task, of providing an education worth having, to their young people.

One of the joys of this position is the contact that I get with a range of schools and teachers across the country. As an ex-headteacher you can pretty much smell a good school before you have left reception...did the staff greet you with a smile and eye contact or a grunt and disinterest? Is the reception area a celebration of all that is good at that school or a sterile functional environment? Of course, the assessment actually begins long before you reach the signing-in do the students present themselves on their way to school? Are they relaxed but with an obvious pride and respect for the uniform that they wear?

Once inside the school DT departments often take on their own persona. The corridor leading to the department is often a showcase for the subject. I love it when I see work displayed that is not perfect, but more on that later. Work displayed can tell you a lot about the curriculum offer and the way the subject is delivered and perceived within the school. Is the display broken down into components with separate boards for product design, graphics, textiles and still occasionally food? Or is it clear from the display that this is a department that has arranged its timetable and curriculum around teaching the knowledge, skills and attributes required to grow young designers?

We teach a complex subject, one that is often still mistakenly labelled as a purely dexterous activity suitable for the academically less able. If that were ever true, I don’t need to tell you that those days have long since passed. Modern design & technology is an academically demanding subject where students have to create their own pathways, carry out primary research in order to gain genuine empathy with their design subject, consider a range of materials and processes that just might be appropriate to the creation of a solution to the chosen problem and where failure is not considered absolute, but simply a necessary part of the design journey. Teaching students how to fail, learn and start again is part of every D&T teachers’ gift to the education process.

The new single award D&T GCSE is challenging some teachers, as much as it is students, at the moment. It requires an entirely new approach to how we approach the subject. It challenges us all to consider the student that we wish to emerge at the start of year ten and then work back to how we will support and guide the student on this difficult journey. I would take this argument one stage further and suggest that we should no longer be talking about KS3 and KS4; instead we are looking at a five-year course (with one opportunity for students to opt out along the way). The positive psychology of this was exemplified, at one school that I visited recently, who gave their students a sheet mapping their 7-year journey to A Levels on their first lesson in the subject as bright eyed year sevens. Was it coincidental that 86% of students in this school went on to choose D&T as one of their GCSE options? You could actually take this argument further still and argue that the journey starts at primary schools. There are pockets of real excellence evident in primary D&T but I am also aware that this is an area where we have work to do; rest assured this is high on our agenda for the next year.

I won’t pretend that it did not take me time to adjust to this role. The demands of this post are very different from those of headship and I needed to take time to listen, consolidate information and adjust. From this a clarity has emerged, in my head there are three clear priorities:

  • Assist our almost 11,000 members to teach the subject with style, confidence and swagger!
  • Link schools with business and industry. In the last seven months I have not met one industry leader at any level who does not understand the need for our subject. The more we link what our students do in schools, to the reality of the workplace, the stronger we become.
  • Lobby decision makers, not to try to make us an Ebacc subject, in many respects that’s where the problem lies, but to recognise and value the strong contribution that our subject makes to a broad, balanced and most of all relevant curriculum offer.

I wish you all a relaxing and peaceful summer break. Enjoy time with your family, read the book, smell the air and don’t for one moment let anyone tell you that you don’t deserve this. We need you rejuvenated, fit and ready to go in September; we have work to do!

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