Designed for Failure–Draft National Curriculum in Design & Technology

In February the Department for Education released a draft of its proposed changes to Design & Technology in England for Key Stages 1-3 (ages 5-14).  From a Government that has consistently argued for more ‘rigour’ in education, it makes for a truly shocking read.  The fact that ‘food and nutrition’ form the only compulsory part of the proposed D&T curriculum is just the the start of these highly unambitious, low-aiming and frankly economically illiterate proposals.  In a survey conducted by the Design and Technology Association, 91.8% of respondents have said that the draft does not represent high quality D&T, while 95% said it will not encourage the development of modern and relevant D&T practice.  Oh, and isn’t it ironic that it’s National Science and Engineering Week as well…

Now while it’s vitally important that young people are taught how to cook, and about food, nutrition and healthy eating, these are not part of ‘design and technology’.  Whereas the Government should be taking this opportunity to modernise D&T and ensure that young people learn about modern design skills, manufacturing processes and technologies, instead they propose to focus purely on domestic and craft-level skills.

Students of design and technology need to be awakened to the possibilities of state-of-the-art processes and technology, and encouraged to develop skills in computer-aided design and manufacturing.  They should be aware of some of the incredible capabilities of technology to produce components at both the nanoscale (e.g. computer processor manufacture) and the massive scale (e.g. single piece 300 tonne castings).  I’m not suggesting that schools should be expected to deliver expert tuition in these areas; only that students need to be made aware of what’s possible and be inspired about the endless possibilities that the vast field of design and technology offers.  As well as being taught basic workshop skills so that they understand the fundamentals of traditional machining processes, young people should see the benefits of modern multi-axis machining centres and additive manufacturing processes – small 3D printers are hardly expensive!

Craft-skills and basic construction, carpentry and metalworking skills are valuable for domestic repairs and maintenance tasks, but are insufficient for the needs of an advanced economy like the UK.  It’s interesting to see that the draft proposals give preferential treatment to computer science over ICT; favouring teaching students the skills to design and develop new programs rather than simply learn how to use them – why is the same approach not adopted for other areas of design and technology?

It’s been ten years since I sat my GCSEs – and yet reading these ‘new’ proposals it seems like design and technology is about to take a huge step backwards.  They are devastatingly disappointing and shallow proposals that will lead to yet another generation of technologically ill-educated individuals, once again missing an opportunity to develop a strong base of educated and skilled people to support economic growth in the future.

If you share some of these concerns, then you may be interested to know that the consultation period for these proposals ends on Tuesday 16th April.  Responses can be made online until then.

As one of the regular bloggers here at Developing Engineers I hope to provide some useful insights for and about young engineers, their career development and engagement with the wider engineering profession.

I’m currently a Research Fellow at The University of Sheffield with interests in manufacturing tribology and metallurgy, having gained an MEng in Mechanical Engineering there in 2009. In addition to being an Associate Member of the Institution of Mechanical Engineers I currently support the new multi-institution organisation UK Tribology, in developing their website and social media activities.

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