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Why I'll miss Design and Technology lessons

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[THIS WEEK] Every now and then, a cause reminds you of an organisation’s purpose, writes James Pallister

So it is with the imminent removal of Design and Technology from the National Curriculum, which the Royal Society of Arts, under director of design Emily Campbell, vigourously opposes.

In its new pamphlet ‘What’s wrong with DT?’, John Miller outlines the threat to Design and Technology posed by the introduction of the English Baccalaureate to secondary schools this year. Under Thatcher, Design and Technology was made compulsory until GCSE level, but with the introduction of the new examination system it becomes optional after 14.

Miller fears Design and Technology will emerge a loser from this change, with time and resources directed towards E-Bac subjects. He fears a ‘return to the bad old days of the subjects’ roots in woodwork, metalwork, needlework, home economics and technical drawing’.

I’m of the generation that was taught Design and Technology, but these topics sound familiar. I have fond memories of making wooden boxes, learning about orthographic projections and learning to braze metal. The practical nature of the subject and style of teaching also meant there was plenty of potential for mucking around.

The DT skills I learned seem far removed from the whizzy, hi-tech knowledge economy that governments long for. I’m not entirely sure how weeks spent filing squares of metal into circles and tapping screwthreads for my GCSE metalwork project (speaker stands) helped my design skills, fun though they were.

That may miss the point though, as Emily Campbell and Becky Francis acknowledge; they suggest that DT’s past obsession with justifying its relevance lost it ‘the skilled engagement with materiality, which may be the principal cognitive virtue of design process’. The curriculum can and should be better, they argue, especially if we have any pretensions to retain our status as a manufacturing nation.

Hear hear. Happy days spent with bastard files and cellulose thinners may have made me partisan, but it’s clear that teaching practical and tactile skills should be encouraged, not left to wither away for future generations.

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