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Author: John Chidgey
Partnership for Schools (P4S) - the non-government department responsible to the Department of Children Schools and Families (DCSF) for the Building Schools for the Future programme show that there will be more new and refurbished secondary schools, including academies, opening in England over the next 20 years since the 1960s. This announcement, along with the BSF programme already well established in more than half of the local authorities in England means that all 3500 Design and Technology departments are likely to be affected. The programme began with the opening of a Wave 1 school in September 2008 - the Brunel Academy in Bristol. The subsequent rollout, although already behind schedule due to procurement rather than design issues, offers a ‘transformational education’ for young people across the country. This is unprecedented and nothing short of a lifetime opportunity to make statements, both visually and practically, about how our subject can, and indeed should, contribute to the future education of young people.

Attempting to establish exactly what a ‘transformed’ experience for young people in Design and Technology over the next 5, 10 or 20 years must accordingly be a concern of the utmost importance - perhaps the most important issue to grasp and debate within the D&T community. Developing a vision statement for D&T is a challenge for any well informed department. In the short to medium timescale an outstanding or good Self Evaluation Form (SEF) and Improvement Plan are considered essential, but long term, knowledge and understanding of the implications of the changes in the curriculum for teaching and learning will be necessary to inform future design scenarios.

Schools, academies and local authorities on the BSF programme Wave 5 and beyond are expected to produce a vision or Strategy for Change document(s) which tells P4S with the ‘what’ and the ‘how’ that a transformed school will meet the needs of and add value to the educational experience of young people and local community in the future. The Stakeholder groups in these schools who (rather than the Headteacher) drive this agenda can justifiably request similar vision statements from identified learning areas and/or subject adjacencies, including D&T.

A Subject Leader of a D&T department need to be members of schools’ Stakeholder groups to champion the changes which only they as experts will be able to elucidate, (D&T being generally not well understood by HTs and Private Sector Partners), and very importantly should establish early on the lengthy design process the number of anticipated ‘classroom’ spaces required to realise their overall vision for D&T. The key message here is early intervention and participation.

Design and Technology Subject Associations and the Community generally should be very concerned about their lack of involvement in the design of new subject learning environments integral to BSF and other new school build projects under Private Finance Initiatives – PFI. Evidence over the recent past would suggest that whilst there are improvements in many whole school features, there is still very limited progress being made in the learning environments related to Design and Technology and its associated vocational subjects.

I mentioned earlier in this paper how it is important to engage members of a D&T department, (in addition to developing a SEF and an Improvement Plan) in long term thinking and planning for future accommodation requirements that prepares them for the inevitable debate they must have on ‘transforming’ Design and Technology. The debate should focus on learning and the curriculum – not equipment or furniture at this stage of the process. Subject Leaders should contact the D&T subject associations for further advice as soon as they are aware of BSF meetings in school. They should also be members of an in-house stakeholder groups to argue for D&T’s physical setting, especially if a new build or a remodel, (see NAAIDT Accommodation Guide No 23) and its desired proximity to other subject areas. They may discover that the numbers of ‘learning spaces’ in revised accommodation schedules allocated to their subject area might be different from what they are used to (often fewer due to falling numbers of pupils), and they need to be aware of the changes anticipated for the role of teachers of Design and Technology.

D&T also has the additional design complications of linking its National Curriculum accommodation needs with those for the associated vocational opportunities and diplomas for engineering, manufacturing, construction and catering, for example, which are developing rapidly but without any strategic planning on joint accommodation and resources – not to mention on the training of teachers and H&S implications! Debate too is required on provision to accommodate the proposed interdisciplinary connections of the Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics (STEM) agenda.

The National Association of Inspectors and Advisers in Design and Technology (NAAIDT) has produced Guideline No 23 ‘Transforming D&T’ which offers some ‘lessons learned’ and suggestions on accommodation matters. The NAAIDT is also currently training its members as accommodation consultants who can give advice to local authorities and BSF project managers on more detailed arrangements and the layout of ‘Product Design Suites’ and vocational areas, once they have discussed with the stakeholders, department members and pupils and understood the future curriculum and learning and teaching needs. Research and Development however is exceedingly short in this area and, sadly, D&T as an important contributor to education has not to date had access to the resources enjoyed by some other areas of the curriculum. Project Farady, for example, commissioned by the DCSF in December 2006 is a major research and design project set up to rethink radically how Science is taught in schools and to develop exemplar designs. ( Similarly, Physical Education and School Sport is high on the national agenda and commands a high profile in BSF, as does Information and Communication Technologies (ICT). Where is D&T in this?

In the mid 1990s when the Specialist Schools Programme was launched, funding was initially only available for aspiring Technology Colleges (a combination of D&T, Science, Maths and ICT). Currently about 80% (2993) of all secondary schools are specialist schools (plus 83 academies) across a range of subject areas and nearly 600 (20%) of these are designated as Technology Colleges. This represents a far greater number than any other specialism and many of these Colleges have since become largely D&T focused as the other subject areas have gained separate subject designation. The BSF initiative expects the D&T Community to ‘transform’ and apply to future generations these developments founded on the past 20 years of progress in young people’s education – yet to try and do this without the necessary groundwork being carried out by our subject specialists will be futile.

The limited (but significant) evidence to date shows that new classrooms and some specialist subject area workshops in the BSF programme are simply ‘more of the same’ and not visionary as the programme’s criteria expects them to be. Building Bulletins are sometimes being used too prescriptively, not as guide as intended, and without the essential provision of the subject expertise which our D&T associations and specialists can provide.

In 2004 the then Department for Education and Skills (DFES) commissioned a working group of D&T specialists, led by HMI Mike Ive (retired), to produce Building Bulletin 81 ‘ Design and Technology Accommodation in Secondary Schools – A Design Guide’. This has been one of the most useful guides the subject has had but is now in urgent need of an update along with other supportive exemplar materials if we are to achieve anything near transformation along the lines portrayed and expected by BSF. A further complication here is that (in my experience) many of the architects and other specialists employed to give BSF related advice to schools are familiar with Building Bulletin 98 the ‘Briefing Framework for Secondary School Projects’ (a revision of BB82: Area Guideline for Schools – Secondary Section), but are not aware of BB81 even though there are references to it in the BB98.

The two subject associations NAAIDT and D&TA are keen to support and give advice to organisations and local authorities that are determined to provide our young people with better schools to meet their future needs, not simply better buildings. It is not too late to be better prepared for this once-in-a-lifetime challenge, but mistakes and poor design of Design and Technology suites are occurring on a regular basis and, worryingly this trend will continue until a research and development programme is initiated and funded by the government department responsible for the future of our children’s education in our country, and P4S recognises their obligation to provide to local authorities and other employers specialist subject advice in Design and Technology and its vocational counterparts.

John Chidgey
Lead Inspector for BSF and Design and Technology in Durham LA.

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Submitted by: Phil Driscoll Email:
Publication date: 24th April 2009 Withdrawal date: ---
Created: 24th April 2009 Last updated: 24th April 2009 16:12
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