Design or decline? An open letter to Nicky Morgan - RSA

Blog: Design or decline? An open letter to Nicky Morgan

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  • Education
  • Curriculum
  • Schools

Earlier this week we were delighted to host the launch of the Design and Technology Association’s Designed and made in Britain? campaign. 


In schools across England, there is a growing crisis in design and technology, caused by a vicious cycle of declining pupil provision and GCSE participation, growing teacher shortages, and unfavourable changes to the accountability system. The campaign sets these issues out cogently, and has a clear ask for government, educators and industry as well as a compelling offer from DATA itself. 

I’ve frequently been pointing out to colleagues that if you think the arts in schools are in trouble, you should look at D&T.  We need to find ways for the arts and culture and design & technology worlds speaking with one voice. At the moment, we are fighting the battle on two fronts, separately, and the arguments might be more powerful and winnable if done together. My recent CD19 blog brought these issues together by asking this question: what would culturally educated, design-literate 19 year old look like?

Despite the troubling context, let’s retain a sense of optimism. I think that we’re at a point where Design and Technology could go through the same process that computer science has done since 2010 – where industry, educators and government have come together to revolutionise the curriculum and provision. We need to help politicians and others to understand the scale of the problem, but also grasp the huge opportunities there are to transform design and technology as a fundamental, engaging aspect of all young people’s learning.

Design has always been key to the RSA. One of our first prizes was awarded for young people’s technical drawing and in the 19th century Fellows designed a new extendable sweep that meant children no longer had to go up chimneys. More recently, our Royal Designers for Industry are a huge asset to the design community.  Current projects include the student design awards, The Great Recovery  and our Manual of Modern Making programme with RSA Academies, supported by the Comino Foundation.

The rise of 3D printing and other digital manufacturing processes, whilst no magic (3D) bullet, does have potential as a catalyst to revitalise D&T in schools. In July the RSA, with DATA and You-Invent, wrote a joint letter to the Education Secretary Nicky Morgan. The text is below. In short, if Ms Morgan really wants to make her mark, she should steer clear of silly party conference-fuelled policy wheezes, and focus on a real problem, with a real solution. She could do for D&T (which could do with a better name - any suggestions?) what Michael Gove successfully started for computer science. She is yet to give a response, so we would welcome yours.


Dear Secretary of State

We are writing to request a meeting to discuss how digital manufacturing technologies can play a more significant part in the development and modernisation of Design and Technology (D&T) in schools in order to foster the skills that all employers value and those in manufacturing and engineering are desperate for.

This letter is the outcome of discussions between forty teachers, industry leaders and other stakeholders at a seminar on 3D printing (3DP) in UK schools, held on 24 April 2015 at the London FabLab.

The presentations by the teachers included experience gained from the recent and very successful second pilot study on 3D printing in schools by the Department for Education as well as the campaign to launch ‘out-of-school’ clubs designed to encourage young people to choose STEM and digital design careers.  One presenter outlined the growing success of ‘crowdfunding’ 3DP installations – taking the pressure off school budgets and two others talked about the transformational nature of the technology for both curriculum and pedagogy. Another discussed the ‘manual of modern making’ project being led by RSA’s family of Academies in the West Midlands.

It was unanimously agreed that digital design and manufacturing in schools is at a tipping point. There is press coverage almost daily of new and innovative uses from engineering to fashion and medicine, accompanied by warnings of the escalating need to recruit and train a highly skilled workforce, for high value jobs in the STEM sector. D&T departments trained to fully utilise these technologies are perfectly placed to address this need.

At the same time, there is an emerging consensus that D&T is in a very vulnerable predicament in both primary and secondary schools in England. A focus on core subjects in primary schools and Ebacc subjects in secondary is leading to the marginalisation of D&T in many schools and, in some cases, its removal from the curriculum. D&T GCSE entries have fallen by 50% over the last 10 years. All of this is compounded by significant under recruitment into D&T secondary ITT courses and the increasing difficulty of teachers finding and attending high quality CPD to update their practice.

We believe that, in the same way that your predecessor as Secretary of State worked with education and industry leaders to make radical and long overdue changes to the Computing curriculum, D&T and D&T teachers are in need of similar support and transformation. Whilst only part of the solution, digital fabrication technologies could become a key lever for this transformation. We believe the DfE could play a significant role in facilitating this change during this parliament.

We have a number of ideas which we would welcome the opportunity to explore in more detail with you. These include: ways of supporting teacher to effect curriculum change; working with Awarding Organisations to build on the changes to GCSE and A level qualifications; new approaches to Initial Teacher Training and Continuing Professional Development; and how D&T could be repositioned to better support the STEM agenda.

The participants collectively feel this is the right moment to build on the successes of the existing programmes. They wish to engage through the undersigned organisations in a dialogue with your Department to ensure that as many students as possible have the best opportunity to participate in digital design and manufacturing and to optimise the links these technologies create with art, science, maths, computing and engineering. 


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  • Teaching how to Design green , creating wealth Or reducing reliance on imports  , it's less pain , I suppose . It appears to be less painful , could be exactly what the proxy and paradigm needs.