John McMahon, RSA’s Head of Education, explains how 2022-23’s Pupil Design Awards will enable secondary school pupils to tackle today’s biggest social and ecological challenges through design thinking across the curriculum.
We live in a world experiencing multiple major challenges – ecological, especially the climate crisis; in terms of health, not least from the Covid-19 pandemic and its aftermath; economic, including deep poverty and vast income inequality; and social, with political divides often made worse by gaps in understanding between generations.
Children and young people can find themselves severely affected by these problems – they’re among the social groups most likely to be displaced by war, drought or famine; to have to make their lives in a warming, more polluted world; to experience poverty; to lack essential healthcare; to feel lonely or socially isolated, and to be neglected by the priorities of political parties.
Despite this greater vulnerability, when governments and other organisations seek to find solutions to these huge issues we all face, the views and ideas of children and young people often aren’t included. But it’s clear they have a tremendous amount to contribute.
Empowering young people to address the issues of the day
A range of evidence shows that children and young people are as, and often more, able than adults to demonstrate creativity and fresh thinking. Young people also have a great drive and determination to make the world better, as we’re seeing globally across examples as wide as the School Strikes for Climate, and the immense courage being shown through the protests in Iran.
The creativity and commitment that young people have in abundance can be further unlocked by the application of techniques like social design thinking; an approach by which problems and questions can be solved, and ideas developed and made real, through a process of structured, collaborative enquiry, prototyping and implementation. This is exactly what the Pupil Design Awards have been developed to enable.
What are the Pupil Design Awards?
The Pupil Design Awards are a free annual social design challenge for secondary schools (created by the RSA and the Comino Foundation, and delivered in partnership with Fixperts) through which young people are supported to become change agents in their own communities – building their confidence and self-efficacy, and skills in creative thinking, problem-solving and collaboration. Since 2014, over 200 schools and nearly 9,000 pupils have taken part.
The awards are segmented into three age groups – years seven and eight; years nine and ten; and year 12. They provide a clear and easy structure for schools, complementing the academic calendar, minimising administrative burden, and being flexible, so teachers can decide how to deliver the programme.
Each year, we publish three new design briefs for pupils to tackle. These have been developed for cross-subject compatibility right across the secondary curriculum. They are also frequently undertaken as an added-value extracurricular activity.
Supported by teachers and our mentors, pupils can explore these briefs either individually or in teams, and also through connecting to the local community.
Pupils responding to the briefs submit their work to our team. All pupils completing the programme will achieve a Pupil Design Award – receiving a certificate, and having their work hosted in a gallery on our website. They will also have their work appraised by, and receive constructive feedback from experienced professionals across social design, education and beyond.
Each spring, a smaller number of submissions will also be shortlisted for commendations at a celebration event held at our RSA House in central London.
PDA Briefs 2022-23
This year’s briefs are as follows:
How to get involved
You can find the full 2022-23 briefs on the Pupil Design Awards page of our website, alongside a teacher pack and a range of wider supplementary materials.
There, you’ll also find details on how to register your school’s interest; we also have a series of training events and information sessions on Tuesday 29 November and Tuesday 6 December. Click below to sign up.
All participating schools can also sign up for advice sessions and support from expert mentors (each a former winner of the Student Design Awards, the Pupil Design Awards higher education-facing sister programme).
We’re excited for your school to take part this year and look forward to meeting you at one of the upcoming sessions.
This evaluation illustrates how the Pupil Design Awards contributes to the pupils' creative self-efficacy, awareness of real-world issues and pupil and teachers' design capability, as well as the critical factors supporting teachers to complete projects and how we can make the awards more inclusive.