Congratulations to the Design & Technology Association, Seymour Powell and the James Dyson Foundation for the excellent event they put together on July 12th to debate the question “Is Creative Britain in Reverse?” Compliments also on the ‘manifesto video’ they launched that night which has gone viral in the intervening time.
The Coalition Government’s curriculum review, likely to strip Design and Technology (aka ‘DT’) of its compulsory status at Key Stage 3 (roughly corresponding to ages 11-14 in the pre-GCSE period of school life) was the occasion for this debate. Eloquently setting the scene, Deyan Sudjic mused that ‘Design puts you at the centre of things, not the periphery’. Others in the film talked persuasively about how badly we need design. While Ellen MacArthur couched it in the environmental imperative to ‘use things, not use them up’, David Kester declared design ‘absolutely essential to our economic growth and success’.
Neither I nor anyone else in the audience that evening would likely demur. The rub happens when you substitute DT for ‘design’. First I heard that DT ‘teaches children to think for themselves’, ‘gives children a reason for applying their literacy and numeracy’ and gives them ‘a broader set of choices’ about the future. Hmmm. Then I heard that ‘the design education system will collapse if DT is stripped of its compulsory status’. Skepticism is now making me wince, because it’s all true about design, but DT is an imperfect proxy.
Finally I heard ‘We would not have our creative industries if DT had not been introduced into the curriculum’. Ah yes: the creative industries. By this giddy phrase do we not mean design and art direction, film, tv and media production, publishing and music, not to mention the arts per se as they can be commercialised? And do these activities not depend just as much on ‘artistic’ intelligence as they do on Science, Technology, Engineering & Maths? Enter the elephant in the room, Art, and that other subject in the National Curriculum, Art and Design. Is the panel happy, I asked, with the divorce from Art that the National Curriculum perpetuated? To be fair, the panel weren’t happy; certainly Dick Powell vigorously acknowledged that the divorce was wrong.
Back to DT, the imperfect proxy for design: RSA Design and RSA Education have jointly commissioned two pieces of work to begin to answer the inauspicious question ‘What’s wrong with DT?’ John Miller’s essay, here, analyses the reasons why DT has failed to break the bounds of its pre-National Curriculum antecedents in Art, Craft & Design and Home Economics, and has not become the place where students explore how to create a better world.
We asked Ian McGimpsey to answer the question in a different way, by reviewing the academic literature on DT since its establishment in the National Curriculum. His review, here, suggests that DT has tried to be too many things to too many people, rather than focusing on its own worth and integrity as a subject area. By claiming to be supremely inter-disciplinary, and a solution to Britain’s global competitiveness via an often tenuous relation to STEM, DT has been preoccupied in over-justifying its place on the curriculum to the detriment of the subject itself.
Rather than defending DT, can we use the new curriculum freedoms, afforded by the Government’s diversion to assessing performance in ‘E-Bac’ core subjects, to reform DT? To re-couple Art with Design and to give purpose to Craft, Technology and ICT under the banner of design. Because it’s true: understanding design will give children a broader set of choices about what we do with and in the world. Just don’t call it DT.