It’s So Rigorous; We Don’t Want You To Do It!

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Ross Morrison McGill founded @TeacherToolkit in 2010, and today, he is one of the 'most followed educators'on social media in the world. In 2015, he was nominated as one of the '500 Most Influential People in Britain' by The Sunday Times as a result of...
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Do we want examination courses that will inspire our students?

A new, gold-standard design and technology GCSE claims; “it will inspire the next top designers,” and will give students the chance to develop their own design briefs and projects and could lead them to producing anything from furniture for disabled people to computer-controlled robots.

Hang on a minute! What’s new about that?

Anything New?

We’ve been offering students their own design briefs for over 15 years(!) in design technology classrooms. Brian Russell, who first established an alternative Product Design GCSE, was a national advocate for students to develop their own design briefs. In many ways, as a young head of department, he was my subject hero. I even once tried to secure his job, in his department at the school where he worked in Bradford. Russell encouraged all technology teachers, to maintain the skills required to be a technologist or a designer in every student studying the subject; to develop a broad and balanced knowledge about all the material areas associated within the subject umbrella. For me, this was a masterpiece; allowing teachers to teach mixed ability groups, offering a GCSE course with incredible flexibility for students of all needs and ability, even the most academic! What transpired, was if students had a choice in their own design brief, the likelihood was, that they would perform better.

The Squeeze:

It’s just a shame the subject has been squeezed out of the curriculum and examination entries continue to decline, year on year. Although I do accept some technology departments are stuck in the dark ages and do need to develop projects to match the student population and the era in which we now live. However, departments stuck in the mud are a minority. Technology departments, just like any other subject, have to battle their own myths, reputations and stereotypes. What design technology teachers, or those who lead technology departments need to do, is to continue to celebrate and share widely the detailed and rigorous work already existing in departments across the country. The subject is in our own hands, and not politicians.

This aside, just take a look at what design technology heads of department are up against. Take a look at the red line below in this graph; data from The Cultural Learning Alliance, who have an ambition for all children and young people to have an entitlement to quality cultural learning.

Ebacc subjects Cultural Alliance

Click to enlarge

It is clear to see, the impact English and maths, and the removal of technology as a core subject has had on the subject. With the squeeze further on the subject with the English Baccalaureate, there is a danger we may start to see the slow-death of design technology!

Hot Off The Press!

I received the following email alert from the DfE on 16th November 2015; obviously this is a subject very close to my heart.

DfE Design Technology GCSE

So, what ‘s new Mr. Gibb?

Schools Minister Nick Gibb said:

As part of our commitment to social justice, we are restoring rigour to the curriculum so all young people, irrespective of background, have access to an excellent, well-rounded education. We now have a design and technology GCSE which has been shaped by leading industry figures to significantly deepen students’ understanding of this subject. This is a rigorous qualification which will require students to have a sound grasp of maths and science, and which will undoubtedly stretch them to further develop the kind of knowledge and skills so sought after by employers and universities.

How many of these experts have taught design technology in schools? And if so, when last did they set foot in a design technology classroom?

The qualification has been developed with industry experts, ensuring students are equipped with the skills employers need …Students will be required to have a good grounding in maths and science to study the qualification, in which they will be tasked with making products using the best material, equipment and techniques. (Source)


It doesn’t matter what has been developed in the new GCSE specification, if the DfE aim to have 90% of all students completing the English Baccalaureate, the work put into developing a revised and rigorous Design Technology GCSE will be fruitless. Why? Because schools and students will be squeezed out from being able to offer it within their curriculum. My rationale is here.

You can read Gibb’s full announcement here.


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