Echoes of a nearby future – where is (design) education going?

A well known on-line resource quotes ‘Design Education‘ as the ‘teaching of theory and application in the design of products, services and environments’

I’ve been away from my blog for a while focusing on Twitter and Pinterest. I’ve become a bit fed up and disappointed with education, sadly. My apologies….

I write this having come out of yet another summer of anxiety and uncertainty waiting for internally marked, but externally moderated, work for students studying design and technology in school. I’ve been in this game for over thirty years and until quite recently loved every second of it. Inspiring and supporting young creative minds to go on and study design at university and beyond (not this digital incarnation of the word – I mean the hands-on sketching, designing and manufacture of products that do, at times, employ or use various technologies as needed) has to be one of the best jobs in the world. Line managing thousands of folk over the years, managing significant budgets, overseeing and directing diverse and challenging projects, managing and leading teams of professionals in support of those students, marketing and branding departments to help facilitate investment and sponsorship…..and so on. Yip, the role of a design and technology professional was a wonderfully challenging and diverse job. But the joy has gone, and it has gone because of variables that, to put it quite simply, are out of my hands. I’ve thought about this long and hard, and the reasons are threefold.

Firstly, when you work with students for a number of years (two years at A-level or Diploma, or more if you include MYP/IGCSE etc.) you get to know them; their personalities, skill sets, weaknesses and strengths….you ‘know’ them well and you mark/grade/support/guide them as best you can and as they need. I expect internally marked grades to be more or less upheld as I believe I understand what is required and know the students – you attend exam provider inset/cpd and go to subject group meetings to ensure you are at least up to date. I also expect some moderation by the exam groups to ensure that my own visions are in line with the exam requirements…so a grade shift (up or down) by a small margin is expected. What I can’t abide, and I’ve experienced this more in the past five years of delivering design and technology, is a significant mark down because an element of the exam guide/rubric has not been clearly identified in the supporting portfolio, so the moderator has just decided that no mark can be awarded or attained EVEN THOUGH the work is very strong in all areas. As a lead moderator/team leader in the past it was my job to guide my team to see this – to see the bigger picture (if genuinely quantifiable) and give the marks based on the evidence clearly portrayed in the portfolio, not just decide that objective C, part ii has not been clearly identified. Common sense has gone out of the window.

Secondly, the subject has become dominated by the role of technology – specifically digital technologies and this is wrong in my book. ICT (Information and Communication Technology) has always been a part of our subject and arguably in the early and mid 1980’s design and technology led the way with CAD, systems and control in schools whilst CS/ICT became the whole school policy of IT departments. The situation has been exasperated by the coining of the term ‘digital design’ in the 1990’s, an American incarnation I believe, which has since clouded what design education is about especially in international circles. So within the MYP and Diploma programmes, for example, we have a mix of understanding and philosophy. In the UK, Australia, much of South East Asia, Design and Technology as a curriculum subject has embraced and used ICT and related technologies in the work students do to support their design ideas. As they use a pencil or pen. In the US and some other countries, it seems that the indoctrination with coding and so called ‘digital design’ has been done at the expense of manufacture and design (drawing, sketching, examining design history and culture, anthropology – arguably the foundation stone of good design). DO NOT MISUNDERSTAND ME, of course these technologies are of value and are needed BUT they cannot stand alone. Good Design and Technology education must include these aspects of systems and control, graphics, food/drink and textiles, manufacture, materials science, business and economics, languages, history, elements of science and maths, Art….so, we need to see this imbalance pulled back into equilibrium; the process of designing, manufacture at a bench, modelling and prototyping in resistant and compliant materials materials, sketching and drawing, reading up on design history, reasearching using other languages/culture (anthropology) MUST involve the use of Digital technologies, coding, CAD/CAM etc. but not be dominated by it. In my opinion of course.

Thirdly, the subject of design (and education as a whole) has lost its way. Sir Ken Robinson is spot on (see my blog entry Ken Robinson – creativity in education a decade on ) and the writings of the great Don Norman (How Design Education Must Change) are big influencers. Education is archaic and based on industrial ideals that go back 100’s of years. Schools have become exam factories and many parents want ‘results’ over education and substance. Many curriculums are antique and still revolve around the idea that algebra, Shakespeare and the dissection of a bulls eye are key to educational prowess and success. I’m not sure where the blame lies. Governments? Subject Associations? Universities? Political think tanks? Naive and inexperienced leaders within curriculum providers and subject reform groups? School Heads or curriculum leaders who fail to see the value of a subject that in their eyes is not seen as academic? Management by walking about, not just pinging emails, and experience based on service at the chalk face not just through theory delivered by a further degree. I don’t know, but suddenly, from a subject of significance in terms of wealth creation on a global scale over a decade ago (certainly in the UK), design (and technology) has suddenly become a second rate area of curriculum study in many, not all, schools. It’s expensive to run, difficult to get skilled staff who have the diverse range of skills required to manage and lead the subject and the new breed of educators are full of this digital technology stuff. Good design does not revolve around a ‘makerspace’ plonked in a library (!) consisting of a 3D printer (a CNC glue gun in effect and a technology that has been around for twenty years….), a bit of CNC kit with a CAD workstation attached and a soldering iron. Madness.

Design and Technology is not about ICT, apprenticeships or simply ‘making stuff’. It’s a significant, and much needed, diverse and challenging subject that drives global wealth creation, nurtures key skills (interpersonal and presentation) and embraces anthropology. It’s complicated, expensive yet thouroughly rewarding for all involved.

But for me, the fire in the belly has subsided. I’m being drawn to other industries that value the skill sets that I have built up over thirty years of delivering Design and Technology around the globe, all starting from a four year B.Ed Hons in the subject. No Masters this or PhD that….just solid delivery and experience. More mastery than any further degree can offer.

It’s sad. I think I’m a good teacher (two national and international nominations/awards support this) and I think I inspire youngsters. I get on well with parents and colleagues, know how to create and steer a vision…but I can’t deal with the nonsense of moderation and the apparent breakdown of my subject by folk in positions of responsibility who simply ‘don’t get it’. I’m also becoming disillusioned by education in schools – direction, curriculum and management. Seemingly, my professional skills in project, facility, budget and staff management, leadership and HR/PR are more valued by folk in other professions than in schools and education. These other professions also pay more for the same, or less, hours. Job satisfaction…? Maybe, maybe not, but until I try, who knows. A no brainier?

I do hope Design and Technology remains in schools. It’s an invaluable subject of application. A vital one. Education will be much poorer without it. Future generations of students, and consequently the world of work, will be poorer without it.

I hope I’m proved wrong.

Dick Powell – Futures Design Lecture

Dick Powell – Futures Design Lecture

Well worth a look – the future of Design and Technology education in the UK and beyond. I admire Dick Powell, from his work with Magic Markers and rendering back in the day, on to his work in product and industrial design with Seymour Powell through to his passion for Design education.

Design Futures Lecture with Dick Powell

Q. What Industry am I in? What’s my job? What’s my work/life balance?

Q. What Industry am I in? What’s my job? What’s my work/life balance?

I was in discussion with a friend, in another industry, who asked me what my job actually entails – what do I do? It was born out of the frustration of not being able to meet up due to our work commitments (or more pointedly, mine). It was clear that my work/life balance was not quite right. So I jotted down in the bar where we were what, exactly, my job involved. It was quite an eye opener…

Q. What is my job? Could you guess from the following?

  • I line-manage, with support from a team of of specialist colleagues, up to 300 individuals across a broad range of knowledge and capability.
  • I am chief client liaison officer and the ‘face’ of the business, nationally and internationally.
  • I plan, manage and implement the internal and external marketing campaign(s) for my department including internal displays, infographics, notice boards (static and electronic), social media use, blog and forum updates and entries
  • I write, plan and coordinate development strategy through the short and long term (two to five years) and dovetail that into the larger corporate business plan.
  • I am responsible for the planning and implementation of Health and Safety (Risk Assessments) policy for our department including ergonomics and RSI related policy.
  • I coordinate and manage the interior design and planning for the department including furnishings, displays, equipment and storage capability.
  • I am responsible for planning and implementing the ICT policy including E-Safety, MED use (mobile Electronic Devices), computer aided design and computer aided manufacture across our facility
  • I am responsible for planning and implementing the Pedagogic policy including quality assurance, assessment and achievement.
  • I help manage the support planning for those with learning or physical disabilities 
  • I manage and plan for a financial budget that includes Human Resourcing, consumables and capital expenditure, INSET (In Service Training) and support materials (hard copy and on-line)
  • I plan, manage and implement CPD (professional development) and appraisal processes for my team leaders and support staff
  • I plan, manage and implement performance benchmarks and assessment for up to 300 individuals in my care.
  • I support, guide, officiate and manage any grievance or performance related procedure that may occur
  • I plan, manage, coordinate and accompany external trips and visits to help further understand what our competitors do and help nurture my understanding of current industrial practice and historical context.
  • I plan, manage and execute social gatherings and celebrations throughout the working year for my support team and individuals in my care.
  • I regularly work 12 hour days, and most weekends, to help further and support the development of the department and the individuals in my care.

If I was in any other industry I’d probably be earning six figure sums and receive in-service benefits (health care, car allowance etc.), performance related bonuses and various share dividends or gratuities. 

So, what do I do? Scroll down….


A. I have lead, managed and coordinated Departments and Faculties of Design, Art and Technology within secondary education, in national and international schools, over a twenty two year period (with thirty years of teaching and pastoral experience thrown in) .  It’s quite a significant and broad skills set. 

Surprised? I was after I wrote it all down.

Leading, managing and steering an academic and creative department in a school is a demanding, but very rewarding, job. However, when I stop and think that some entrepreneurs and top sportsmen/women earn in a single day what myself, and many of my colleagues globally, earn in a year it makes me quite sick. 

I don’t bemoan those athletes or entrepreneurs, but there is imbalance on the values we place on things. Bottom line, parents place their most precious and loved ones in our care eight hours a day for some forty weeks a year. How can you hang a financial value on that? Or should we? As a parent myself I value the importance of my two daughters looking forward to going to school in the morning, and coming home in an evening smiling and tired.

No sense in moaning though, the grass is always greener, isn’t it? After all, if I don’t like it, and think that I deserve better financial reward (job satisfaction aside…) for my commitment and experience, I should bite the bullet and move on – try another facet of my current industry or maybe even switch industries.

Now there’s an idea…

Creativity in Schools – A Decade on from Sir Ken Robinson’s TED Talk

Creativity in Schools – A Decade on from Sir Ken Robinson’s TED Talk

Ardles - V2education

Creativity in Schools – Sir Ken Robinson

So, what has happened almost a decade on?

The first of a series of iconic TED talks about how education needs to ‘shift paradigms’ occurred almost a decade ago back in June 2006 (yes, that was ten years ago this year). Sir Ken Robinson set the ball rolling with his TED Talk about how ‘schools kill creatively’ – a talk that still tops the ‘all time viewed’ lists with 13 million views in 2012…and over 37 million views as I type this in February of 2016.Sir Ken

Sir Ken has his critics who say that it’s easy to be seduced by his words when there is no action plan to apply (read his books and there are plenty of sensible and useful words of wisdom as to how we can improve things….). Personally I totally agree with Ken (and in fact saw Ken…

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Factory education fails everyone — @EDUWELLS

Reminding teachers of what it’s really like to be a student in school is one of my favourite professional pass times. I was presenting at a conference recently and at 3pm, many teachers were talking about being overloaded with information and how tired they were. I highlighted that this was exactly what it’s like to […]

via Factory education fails everyone — @EDUWELLS

Review: Griffin’s BreakSafe is the magnetic USB-C connection the 12-inch MacBook needs — 9to5Mac

One of the most interesting accessories that came out of the Consumer Electronics Show earlier this year was Griffin’s BreakSafe Magnetic USB-C Power Cable. As a 12-inch MacBook owner (and lover), one of the things I’ve missed the most with the machine is the MagSafe connection. Apple introduced the MagSafe technology 10 years ago, but thanks to…

via Review: Griffin’s BreakSafe is the magnetic USB-C connection the 12-inch MacBook needs — 9to5Mac