UK education is narrowing for the masses, with a decline in Design and Technology teaching and decreasing budgets.
If left unchecked, we could be facing a future where we must import the best talent, and where we risk losing our best talent by restricting learning and breadth of early experiences.
Do we want to see a future Britain where the likes of Jonathan Ive or Alice Temperley are left behind by education? Do we want to see broad education and opportunities for all in education, or just those in private and independent schools, the haves and the have-nots? The Design and Technology Association believe that:
Design and Technology is an inspiring, rigorous and practical subject which prepares all students and young people to live and work in the designed and made world.
Times have changed
I attended a state secondary school built in the late 1960s, with wings jutting off from a large central corridor into the different faculties. Back then, the large engineering block had dedicated workshops for woodwork, metal casting and machining, draftsmanship and a full art studio with kilns and photo developing. All very Bauhaus.
The school was originally a secondary modern high school, for the learning needs of a wide range of learners and local employers. By the time I studied there in the 90s, the school was reassigned as a comprehensive high school following the national curriculum.
The 90s narrow curriculum and decreasing school budgets did not allow for quite as much hands-on learning. Metal lathes were left to gather dust, while we were herded towards more traditional craft skills like basic woodwork.
I was pretty capable in core subjects, but only found value and meaning in ‘making’ things. This was true of many other pupils too. The design and technology teachers recognised this, and so setup a short-lived lunch club where we could use the ‘non-curriculum’ equipment to experiment on personal projects. Our science teacher let us take over his ageing Volvo 200 series, teaching us motor mechanics while he got a full service (as best as you can get from 14 year olds). This experiential learning hooked me onto a more vocational education.
My father trained as a design engineer, and my mother a research chemist, and so became my go-to for extra knowledge and exposure to manufacturing. They happily took me along to visit production lines, drawing offices and laboratories during the summer holidays. I followed this passion for all things design and making through college, and then art school where I switched to graphic design.
Until recently I placed great value on the later years of my education, specifically my college tutors. What I have come to realise, is that without D&T in my early education, I would not have considered a career in design through vocational education. While my career has evolved from hands-on making, to design strategy and branding, many of the experiences with D&T have directly shaped my life. I know this is true for the vast majority of my peers.
Changes to the school curriculum and examination framework potentially threaten to close the doors of experiential learning and wider opportunities to young learners at an early stage. I spoke to friends in education and one of them, a high school and further education teacher in Norfolk, explained the D&T decline simply:
This is all because high schools can’t afford to waste time on anything that doesn’t give them points on a league table.
There’s a lot of talk in the design and manufacturing industry about government plans to devalue the role of D&T in education. Shortages of qualified teachers, insufficient funding, outdated technology and finally government emphasis away from D&T create a bleak picture for young people right now, and in a wider context a huge negative impact on our traditionally strong design industry in Britain. The Design and Technology Association are lobbying to protect D&T, fighting the UK government’s induced decline in schools.
It’s important that as an industry, we act now. Not only to create a robust skilled workforce now and for the future, but also to ensure that design is built into the cultural landscape of Britain. British design is well respected globally because of our long-standing industrial and design heritage.
The opportunity is to reverse the decline in D&T education, and to foster environments in school that support vocational learning. To see a future where young talent is fostered and supported, ensuring we see a future rich with new ideas and future skills.
Sign the petition here to show your support of D&T education, and learn more about the campaign from The Design & Technology Association, including ways to contact your local MP.