Kingston Diary - A much needed change

KGS Staff

The latest figures from UCAS show 17,000 fewer students have chosen to take creative subjects, which includes Design based subjects such as Graphics, Photography, Design, Art and Craft. Also, nationally in 2017, just under 166,000 students took design and technology subjects at GCSE, less than half the numbers recorded in 2003.

Thinking about design is hard, but not thinking about it is disastrous (Ralph Caplan, Design Consultant)

There are many reasons to speculate on why this might be the case; one of those reasons could be that more recently the Government placed more emphasis on the Sciences and STEM based subjects with the chancellor Philip Hammond pledging £23 billion towards science and technology development in his 2016 Autumn Statement and Prime Minister Theresa May promised to develop the UK’s STEM and digital skills when outlining her industrial strategy in January. However, there was little mention of funding for the arts.

Another theory is the introduction of the English Baccalaureate (EBacc) curriculum – made up of English, maths, science, a language and either geography or history – which was introduced for GCSE students in 2010, and neglects to include creative subjects. Critics have said that the move devalues creativity, but the Government argues that GCSE students can choose arts subjects on top of the EBacc if they wish, which is certainly something we encourage KGS students to do. ‘The Government has moved away from supporting creative subjects quite alarmingly,’ says Paul Ring, a senior lecturer in interior architecture at Northumbria University. ‘Because of this rhetoric, 18-year-olds are wondering about the value of creative subjects.’

The UK's Design Council (a charity that advocates the importance of design and advises government) has also joined the describing the situation as "not sustainable for design businesses or the UK economy". The body said it would continue to lobby politicians from both main parties about the importance of educating a new generation of design talent. ‘We will be asking MPs to recognise design's current contribution to the economy, we'll press for design to be back in the curriculum to maintain our global status and we'll emphasise the need to act now for the future of the economy’.

Given that design teaches us how to think, and has a profound effect on the world in which we live, why is more emphasis and kudos not given to these subjects?

Unfortunately, it could be said, that Design and Technology in schools has an image problem, and that is probably down to the traditional thinking that it is a ‘wood and metal work subject’, as it would have been many years ago. However, over the past few years some of the country’s top design talent, led by James Dyson, have been putting the Government under pressure to rethink the Design and Technology curriculum. This change in curriculum comes into effect for the current Fourth Year, who will sit their GCSEs in 2019. In 2011 James Dyson began working with the Department for Education and The Design and Technology Association to completely rethink the curriculum content. At this time the subject really was in crisis, and there was a great danger that it would it be lost, particularly in schools where the funding is tight.

These changes are fundamental in teaching the designers of the future, as well as encouraging young people to pursue a career in design and technology based subjects. There are 6 core principles on which the new curriculum is based;

  • Coursework (NEA – non-examined assessment) starts with contexts and not briefs.
  • Materials are chosen with appropriateness to the brief, rather than the skills of the teacher or tools available.
  • New and emerging technologies such as 3D printing and robotics) are a part of design thinking.
  • Iterative design thinking to improve design skills and problem solving.
  • The examination and NEA (non-examined assessment – coursework) now have equal weighting.
  • The theoretical content has much more rigour and involves both Mathematical and Scientific based principles.
  • The Schools Minister Nick Gibb believes that ‘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.’
  • Internationally-renowned designer James Dyson said: ‘Design and technology is a subject of fundamental importance. Logical, creative and practical – it’s the only opportunity that school students have to apply what they learn in maths and science – directly preparing them for a career in engineering. But until now, this subject’s tremendous potential has not been met.
  • Andy Mitchell, Assistant Chief Executive of the Design and Technology Association, said: ‘The D&T Association believes that the revised subject content provides an excellent platform on which the awarding organisations can develop examination specifications reflecting developments in the subject and meeting better the needs of young people, employers, further and higher education and the country. The content should also inform the provision of continued professional development for teachers, which will be essential in ensuring the teaching of this highly relevant qualification and its increased value and status.’

We are in no doubt that the change in curriculum shows that the Government take Design and Technology seriously, and they place value on design and creative based subjects. We can only hope that, in time, this change in emphasis will bring more students back to studying design based subjects at University. Certainly the evidence already suggests that increasing numbers of students are interested in Science and Engineering degrees. At Kingston Grammar School the Design and Technology department have more students than ever before choosing the subject at Third Year and beyond, this has led to an increase in department staff and the provision of an additional classroom.

The Design Council have said that design is the key to "long-term, sustainable growth" in the UK. "The UK is home to, and has exported across the world, great architecture, product design and industrial design which shapes our everyday life, however, we have to face up to dawning reality that there are significant challenges for UK design. From Brexit to skills shortages, from a male workforce to concentration in the southeast." It is clear that there is still a long way to go before we are competing with dominant countries in the Far East and Scandinavia, but the change to the Design and Technology curriculum is well needed and we look forward to seeing the inspiration in provides to our students in the future.

Kingston Diary