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As schools open their doors and welcome students into the new academic year, the RSA Pupil Design Awards team is preparing to run the competition with a greater number of schools and a fantastic new programme partner.

A social design competition with a mission

On the face of it, and at its most simple, the RSA Pupil Design Awards is a secondary school competition about using design thinking to solve social challenges. However, dig a little deeper and you’ll discover that it is a chance for students to delve into something they feel passionate about and think about making a difference. For teachers, there are opportunities to build students’ teamwork and communication skills as well as providing an opportunity to prepare students for Design & Technology qualifications in KS4.

Here are five reasons why we think the competition is an exciting prospect for schools this year:

1: High quality professional development opportunity

This year we are really excited to be running a series of regional teacher-induction events in partnership with Fixperts, an organisation that we think are doing really exciting work to encourage young people to get into design.

Teachers will interrogate the design thinking process and will discover useful approaches to get their students thinking and acting like social designers. We will spend time creating bespoke plans for each school – so teachers can plan how students can increase their knowledge and experience of human-centred design by engaging with people and organisations in their local community.   

The competition will allow teachers space to think about the learning outcomes students can gain from interacting with the world outside the school gates as researchers and applying that learning to addressing a social challenge through designing a product, service or campaign.

2: Prepare students for further study

Design thinking, and iterative design approaches in particular, feature heavily in the non-exam assessment of the new Design and Technology GCSE. Teachers taking part last year told us the Pupil Design Awards gave students the chance to work in a way that provided them with knowledge of the processes expected of them in this part of the qualification.

3: Adapt the competition to your students and subject

The competition provides three briefs that describe broad social challenges. This year the briefs will look at social isolation, how students can engage meaningfully with employers, and the links between food and ill-health. Students identify the key problem statement that they wish to address and then progress through the researching, ideating, prototyping, refining and finalising stages of the design thinking cycle.

The competition is not solely aimed at design and technology departments. In the past we have had entries from art students, performing arts students, from schools using the competition as an enrichment activity, and from those using the competition as part of a bespoke art and science curriculum.

4: Take advantage of our inspirational mentors and resources

Our amazing network of design mentors support students’ progression through the design thinking process. Each mentor has won an RSA Student Design Award – a prestigious university-level competition that has launched the careers of thousands of incredible designers, such as Jony Ive, Chief Design Officer at Apple. Teachers tell us that the mentors have a positive impact on the outputs their students create for the competition, as well as providing inspiration for a diverse range of careers.

Student and teacher resources guide you through the various stages of the competition and suggest practical activities to help you scaffold your sessions.

The Pupil Design Awards give students a leading role at various stages of the design process so that as well as gaining knowledge about design thinking as an approach to problem-solving, they also have the chance to build collaboration, leadership and communication skills.

5: Support the future of design in schools

The contextual backdrop of the competition is an alarming decline in the number of design and technology GCSE entries. DfE statistics show that in England in 2018 there were 117,605 students entered for the Design and Technology GCSE, with the figure in 2010 at 270,401 (JCQ statistics here), this is drop of 57% drop. We see the competition, and other programmes like it, as key to making a case for the continued provision of design within secondary school provision.

At an APDIG event in July on Design and Innovation in Practice Based Research, Tony Ryan - the Chief Executive of the D&TA – in a comment to the room made a strong case for design subjects to remain in the curricular provision of schools, the overriding sentiment being that curricular provision is essential to ensure the flickering flame of design education continues to burn, and here at the RSA we couldn’t agree more.

Taking part in the Pupil Design Awards, whether as part of your curricular provision or as an extra-curricular activity, means helping support the future of design in schools by saying we think design has value in teaching our young people about the world and how they can make change within it.

Interested in participating this year?

The window for submitting an expression of interest to take part in the competition this year is open until the 28th September. If you are interested in finding out more about taking part in this year’s competition, please get in touch with me on Sam.Grinsted@rsa.org.uk and my colleague Fran Landreth Strong at Fran.Landrethstrong@rsa.org.uk – we would love to hear from you!


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