Whilst typing a reply to a post by David Barlex asking whether D&T is harder than physics I began pondering the decline in status D&T has experienced over the last decade. You can read my response by following the link above to David’s post. If reductions in funding for D&T are responsible for the decline where is the evidence?
In this post I will look at my experiences as a pupil in the 1970s and compare that with schools today.
As a boy I was always interested in practical subjects so chose to attend an out of catchment area secondary modern school. It had a suite of well equipped workshops and technical drawing rooms and I was taught a wide range of skills using wood metal and plastics plus technical drawing. D&T lessons lasted half a day every week and were mostly practical with the scope for design gradually increasing. At ‘O’ level (GCSE) and ‘A’ level we had almost free choice of projects and mine included an oscillating table saw, unicycle and monkey bike made by chopping a scooter.
Pupils today are fortunate if they have two hours per week for D&T. They complete a larger number of small projects in a narrower range of materials but in good departments experience a wider range of technologies. For many pupils their skills of making are limited with little time to practice and refine their knowledge and understanding of materials and manufacturing techniques.
Specialist areas in schools have changed with metal and wood areas being combined in multi-material rooms. With less space, the range and number of machines and processes has been reduced cutting down the amount of time pupils can experience these techniques. Unless pupils know how materials behave how can they possible make design decisions about which materials are most suitable and how much material to use?
The D&T projects I made, in what is now called key stage 3, were carefully planned by teachers to cover the range of materials and techniques needed to prepare us for the examinations to come later. In examination courses we negotiated our projects with teachers and, within reason, they would purchase any materials or components that weren’t stocked. Before we could take our projects home we paid for the materials used. Limited capitation in today’s D&T department mean the materials, processes and even contexts for GCSE and A level projects are restricted limiting opportunities for pupils to follow their own interests or explore topical contexts and needs.
There are many other reasons for the decline in D&T and in the next post I will explore changes in initial teacher training and the effect on what is taught in schools.