This blog post accompanies an article by McLain, Irving-Bell, Wooff and Morrison-Love (2019), in a political climate where an ideological interpretation of knowledge (Biesta, 2014; Muller & Young, 2019) has led to a narrowing of the school curriculum in England (Spielman, 2019). The tendency for educational policy and practice to pendulum swing from one extreme to the next has had a destabilising effect on subjects that are not protected within the English Baccalaureate (EBacc), including design and technology (D&T).
D&T has been in decline for the last 15 years in England. Beginning with the removal of mandatory study at key stage 4 in 2004 and drop in GCSE entries (Busby, 2019), it has been adversely impacted upon following successive governmental ‘reforms’, including most recently its exclusion from the EBacc. While Spielman (2019) argues that the EBacc is not solely responsible for this decline, and we agree, it is but one of the most recent of a series of unfortunate events.
We believe that D&T offers something unique to the curriculum (Irving-Bell, Wooff, & McLain, 2019), possibly hitherto unrecognised by current policymakers, or potentially masked by the dominating ideologies and hegemony. Viewed from a pragmatic perspective, rather than knowledge, in our article we explore how practical and creative subjects like D&T, offer a rich experience in the context of a broad and balanced curriculum.
The nature of a D&T curriculum is somewhat problematic when considered from a knowledge perspective, as illustrated by Bernstein’s (1971) classification and framing, which presents the subject as having weak boundaries – that is, it is difficult to define D&T knowledge and shares much with other disciplines. Furthermore, considering the complex and multifaceted, not to mention the ever-changing, nature of technology (Mitcham, 1994) the subject appears to resist definition. In this context, D&T faces challenges that threaten its place in a broad and balanced curriculum that are, in part, the result of an ideological bias favoured by the current educational policymakers in England.
We argue that the current fixation on so-called powerful knowledge (Husbands, 2015; Muller & Young, 2019) disadvantages certain subjects. These subjects tend to be practical and creative in nature, and are excluded from the protected subjects in the EBacc. We call for moderation among policymakers to dampen the pendulum swing from one extreme to another, recognising the unique contribution that all subjects make to the curriculum. We also propose that the nature of knowledge in D&T, and possible other practical and creative subjects, is knowledge for action. Furthermore, we argue that a lack of a definable knowledge base (as reductively viewed from a powerful knowledge perspective) should not condemn a subject to the sidelines. There is work to be done to promote an understanding of the nature of D&T activity with teachers, senior leaders and policymakers, if we are to reinvigorate or reimagine the subject (Irving-Bell et al., 2019).
Technology is a fundamentally human (and humanising) activity, which is inextricably linked to our evolution as a species and development of our societies. Therefore, a school subject where students engage with technological activity, design technological objects, and draw on a wide range of knowledge and values, should have a place in a modern, broad and balanced curriculum.
This blog is based on the article ‘How technology makes us human: Cultural and historical roots for design and technology education’ by Matt McLain, Dawne Irving-Bell, David Wooff and David Morrison-Love, published in the Curriculum Journal.
Bernstein, B. (1971). On the classification and framing of educational knowledge. In M. Young (Ed.), Knowledge and control. New directions for the sociology of education (pp. 47–69). London: Collier-Macmillan.
Biesta, G. (2014). Pragmatising the curriculum: Bringing knowledge back into the curriculum conversation, but via pragmatism. Curriculum Journal, 25(1), 29–49. http://doi.org/10.1080/09585176.2013.874954
Busby, E. (2019, May 24). Fewer students taking design and technology and music at GCSE, figures reveal. Independent. Retrieved from https://www.independent.co.uk/news/education/education-news/gcse-subjects-uptake-a-level-students-design-technology-arts-music-exams-a8929146.html
Husbands, C. (2015). Which knowledge matters most. In J. Simons & N. Porter (Eds.), Knowledge and the curriculum: A collection of essays to accompany E. D. Hirsch’s lecture at Policy Exchange (pp. 43–50). Retrieved from https://policyexchange.org.uk/wp-content/uploads/2016/09/knowledge-and-the-curriculum.pdf#page=44
Irving-Bell, D., Wooff, D., & McLain, M. (2019). Re-designing design and technology education: A living literature review of stakeholder perspectives. Paper presented at the PATT 37 Conference, Developing a knowledge economy through technology and engineering education, University of Malta, Msida Campus.
McLain, M., Irving-Bell, D., Wooff, D., & Morrison-Love, D. (2019). How technology makes us human: cultural and historical roots for design and technology education. Curriculum Journal, 30(4). http://doi.org/10.1080/09585176.2019.1649163
Mitcham, C. (1994). Thinking through technology: A path between engineering and philosophy. Chicago: The University of Chicago Press.
Muller, J., & Young, M. (2019). Knowledge, power and powerful knowledge re-visited. Curriculum Journal, 30(2), 196–214. http://doi.org/10.1080/09585176.2019.1570292
Spielman, A. (2019). Amanda Spielman speaking at the Victoria and Albert Museum (speech transcript). Retrieved from https://www.gov.uk/government/speeches/amanda-spielman-speeking-at-the-victoria-and-albert-museum