Design and technology in England's national curriculum

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England's National Curriculum web site (dead link), retrieved 19:57, 25 November 2011 (CET) defines 2 key stages for the primary curriculum and 2 key stages for the secondary curriculum. For secondary education 15 subjects are listed for key stage 3 (i.e. 11 to 14 year olds) and 8 subjects are listed for key stage 4.

Design and technology is one of the key stage 3 (11-14 year olds) subjects. The others are: Art and design - Citizenship - English - Geography - History - ICT - Mathematics - Modern foreign languages - Music - Physical education - Science - Personal, social, health and economic education and religious education.

In this piece, we shortly describe the program, summarize the The Design and Technology association's response to the 2011 national Curriculum Review - Call for Evidence and then add some extra discussion.

See also:

The current keystage 3 design and technology program

Design and technology key stage 3 (PDF) is mandatory (statutory content) and it is defined as “In design and technology pupils combine practical and technological skills with creative thinking to design and make products and systems that meet human needs. They learn to use current technologies and consider the impact of future technological developments. They learn to think creatively and intervene to improve the quality of life, solving problems as individuals and members of a team.”. Interestingly, there is no explicit link related fields such as ICT, Mathematics or Art and Design, except some vague recommendation in the Curriculum opportunities: “g. make links between design and technology and other subjects and areas of the curriculum.”

For the sake of its novelty, we will reproduce both the set of key processes and the longer practical range and contents list. The former is defined as the essential skills and processes in design and technology that pupils need to learn to make progress.

Pupils should be able to:

  1. generate, develop, model and communicate ideas in a range of ways, using appropriate strategies
  2. respond creatively to briefs, developing their own proposals and producing specifications for products
  3. apply their knowledge and understanding of a range of materials, ingredients and technologies to design and make their products
  4. use their understanding of others’ designing to inform their own
  5. plan and organise activities and then shape, form, mix, assemble and finish materials, components or ingredients
  6. evaluate which hand and machine tools, equipment and computer-aided design/manufacture (CAD/CAM) facilities are the most appropriate to use
  7. solve technical problems
  8. reflect critically when evaluating and modifying their ideas and proposals to improve products throughout their development and manufacture.
- Key processes, retrieved 19:57, 25 November 2011 (CET)

This list includes mostly rather high-level strategic meta-cognitive skills and as far as we can tell does not guarantee per se any kind of result.

We found the probably less important Range and content list more interesting, since it also identifies more concrete subject areas and activities. This section outlines the breadth of the subject on which teachers should draw when teaching the key concepts and key processes.

a) The curriculum should include resistant materials, systems and control and at least one of food or textiles product areas.
In each product area the study of designing should include understanding of
b) users’ needs and the problems arising from them
c) the criteria used to judge the quality of products, including fitness for purpose, the extent to which they meet a clear need and whether resources have been used appropriately
d) the impact of products beyond meeting their original purpose and how to assess products in terms of sustainability
e) aesthetic, technical, constructional and relevant wider issues that may influence designing, selection of materials, making and product development.
The study of making in food should include
f) a broad range of practical skills, techniques, equipment and standard recipes, and how to use them to develop, plan and cook meals and single or multiple products
g) how to plan and carry out a broad range of practical cooking tasks safely and hygienically
h) healthy eating models relating to a balanced diet, the nutritional needs of different groups in society and the factors affecting food choice and how to take these into account when planning, preparing and cooking meals and products
i) the characteristics of a broad range of ingredients, including their nutritional, functional and sensory properties.
The study of making in resistant materials and textiles should include
j) a broad range of techniques, including handcraft skills and CAD/CAM, and how to use them to ensure consistency and precision when making single and multiple products
k) the behaviour of structural elements in a variety of materials
l) how to use materials, smart materials, technology and aesthetic qualities to design and make products of worth
m) how to prepare and assemble components to achieve functional results.
The study of making in systems and control should include
n) the practical application of systems and control in design proposals
o) electrical, electronic, mechanical, microprocessor and computer control systems and how to use them effectively
p) using systems and control to assemble subsystems into more complex systems
q) feedback and how a variety of inputs can give rise to a variety of outputs.

The reader also might consult the (long) list of key concepts

Interestingly, food plays an important part in the subject list. Again, other design disciplines like music or visual arts are not addressed in the document, i.e. its left to the teachers to integrate or not. We don't see this as a problem, since choices will have to be made anyhow, but we just would like to point out that "design and technology" could be addressed differently. Associations, like The Design and Technology association also advocate "where necessary, reduce prescription, since "too much content can limit teachers‘ ability to exercise their professional autonomy in order to meet the needs of individual pupils and to achieve the required depth in learning". (Response to the national curriculum Review, retrieved 20:33, 25 November 2011 (CET). In addition, the same association also suggests to identify essential content across 'all subjects.

Also, we have the (not supported) suspicion that some teachers may resort to baking cookies, a bit of embroidery or sewing and playing with Legos, i.e. neglect the very difficult task of teaching both difficult technology and creating innovating designs. Such problems could not be overcome by adding more prescriptive elements to the curriculum, but rather through teacher training and teacher-led innovation. The review response of the D&T response we cited above includes a quite extensive literature of good practice that we shall summarize below.

The 2011 review

England has one of the most centralized school systems of the world and it seems that there is a will to give more autonomy to schools and even individual teachers. In the "National Curriculum Review - Call for Evidence", Section E, explicitly states: “Please bear in mind in considering your responses that removing a subject from the National Curriculum would not mean that that subject was not important, or that schools should stop teaching it. Instead, it would mean that it is not necessary for the Government to specify in a statutory Programme of Study precisely what should be taught in that subject, and that decisions should instead be made at local level, by individual schools and teachers.”. In addition in early 2012, there will be a call for detailed suggestion of new programmes of study.

The response from the The Design and Technology association

The Design and Technology association gave a detailed response that includes academic evidence for the usefulness of "design and technology" and from which we will summarize the most salient statements and quotes. The association based their response on a panel of input from both academics and industry leaders. For sake of simplicity we will not use double quoting, i.e. quoted text below was directly taken from the report and not the original.

A first line of arguments in favor or teaching design and technology is biological and anthropological. “The hand is the cutting edge of the mind. Civilisation is not a collection of finished artefacts; it is an elaboration of processes. In the end the march of man is the refinement of the hand in action.” (Bronowski, 1973). Sir James Dyson's (2010) "ingenious Britain" calling for more polymatsh “young people capable of using head and hands”, arguing that ““Hands‟, in that they can solve problems, have no fear of failure, and follow their theories through into practice by actually making things.”. Dyson is an industrial designer who invented the bagless cyclonic separation vacuum cleaner.

Design and technology is then examined with respect to its role in the larger STEM area (science, technology, engineering and mathematics) and it is argued that design and technology does not have but should have the same priority as science and math (Dyson, 2010). “Design and Technology is the only subject in the current National Curriculum that embodies this activity and provides learners with the opportunity to change their environment. From KS1 onwards D&T provides a rich mix of practical, technical and academic approaches which prepares pupils to live and work in an advanced technological society (Ofsted, 2008). The learning of science and mathematics is of course necessary to support this endeavor, particularly with regard to technical aspects of the subject but whilst these are necessary they alone are not sufficient for the task.”.

Consistent with international trends (see below), the response suggest that technology is “most effectively taught in richly contextualised scenarios, (Ofsted, 2011) creating a vibrant, engaging and realistic way of learning other key subjects – for example through the ways in which subjects such as science, maths and English can be developed through direct application”.

The response also points out that several studies suggest that design and technology is a popular subject (Pollard, 2000; Benson and Lunt, 2009, LC Research Associates, 2006). Ofsted (2011), reports that “In all schools (primary and secondary) most pupils clearly enjoyed D&T because of the opportunities presented to investigate and develop their own ideas to solve problems creatively and to use them to create products.”

These result probably should be cautiously interpreted, since "old fashioned" technology education may not be very popular (references needed). The Ofsted (2011) report indeed points out that “outstanding achievement was evident when students ... responded to ambitious challenges, showing significant levels of originality, imagination or creativity and produced ideas and manufactured prototypes that were varied and innovative.”. The (original) Ofsted (2011b) executive report then also clearly states that “Many teachers were not keeping pace with technological developments or expanding upon their initial training sufficiently to enable them to teach the technically demanding aspects of the curriculum. The variation between the best and weakest provision was unacceptably wide.” Moreover, while primary schools globally receive praise, the report points out, that too often - about half of the schools - curriculum planning was week at stage 3 (11-14 year olds). E.g. pupils “found projects and units of work in D&T easy and the nature of the work was pitched too low or duplicated earlier learning of the type commonly seen in primary schools. This did not challenge pupils sufficiently, particularly the most able.”. In other words, not enough design challenge and not enough technical engineering (e.g. in a half of the schools ICT, CAD/CAM and control technology was weak which then led to little interest to pass technical GCSE exams at the end of key stage 4 (14-16 year olds).

Interestingly, “Hutchinson, Stagg and Bentley (2009) found that “Pupils were also far more likely to rate design and technology – than other STEM subjects – as a subject they were good at”. In other words, design and technology activities are somewhat inherently self-efficacious which in turn affects motivation to learn. The report quotes Barnet (2006:90) who reports that “giving students a hands-on activity (designing and making a remote operated vehicle) had a number of consequences including improved attendance, students‘ engaging in scientifically relevant and rich conversations‘ and taking ownership over a project which required significant time and effort”. The Ofsted (2007) report notes that “The act of creation was particularly significant” and motivation. Quoting Williams and Burden (1997) research “on motivation and the relevance of “challenge, developing competence and mastery, goal setting, group interaction and sharing, internal locus of control, and intrinsic enjoyment in an activity for its own sake” and pointed out that the respondents mentioned all of these spontaneously in the interviews.”

Similar arguments can be found throughout the project-oriented learning literature. The Ofsted (2007:6) report also links design and technology education to learner's personal development. “They behaved well, understood the subject's relevance and learned to use complex and expensive equipment effectively.”

One main thrust of the response addressed economic recovery through some sort of re-industrialization, which is not surprising given the state of the UK economy and the very reason to introduce design and technology in schools. No studies evaluating the impact on the economy were cited, since creating and effect through educational change will take many years. There also seems to be a follow-up problem. “The prospect of attending a University Technical College may become unappealing (Baker and Mitchell 2010)”, despite some interest in design and technology that other studies demonstrate. The response then quotes Wolf (2011) who makes the case for modern apprenticeship and Lucas, Claxton and Webster (2010) who advocate vocational education in general, arguing that “the benefits of practical and vocational learning are self-evident: if we learn by doing as well as by thinking, reading and writing, we develop skills and competence as well as knowledge.”. A strong vocational education system is implemented in Switzerland and in Germany may explain why these two economies do rather well compared to other traditional economies of all the other larger EU countries. E.g. in Switzerland about 3/4 of young people don't attend high school, but enter an apprenticeship in a company or another organization at the age of 15/16. Brighter and motivated students can then aim for a professional higher secondary diploma and then enter a university of applied sciences.

Design and technology education may contribute to develop meta-cognitive and other higher-order skills. “Lucas et al (2010:39) emphasise the value of problem-based learning for both learner and future employer, linking problem-solving and wider skills to well-being and social inclusion.”. Claxton, Lucas and Webster (2010:45) argue against the so-called academic/practical dichotomy “Protracted, collaborative problem-solving, challenges that students and trainees can really get their teeth into, help them build the habits and frames of mind that are conducive to lifelong learning – and they do it better than does scribbling down lecture notes and mugging them up for a test.”

Perspectives on technology education

“The discussion about technology can easily become a narrow one if it is limited to frustrated technology teachers defending the position of technology education as an independent school subject. One could seriously ask the question if teaching about technology in a separate subject is the only option for developing technological literacy. [...] In fact, the difficulties that technology teachers often have in moving away from the past in which this dedicated school subject with technology in its name was focused on the teaching and learning of handicraft skills mainly. There was certainly a value in that, which somehow must be kept active, but the contribution to technological literacy was fairly limited in that type of technology education.” (de Vries (2011: 1))

As far as we can tell from our own personal experience, this describes pretty much the current state of technology education in the French lower secondary schools, i.e. the subject matter called "techno". In the past (and that means in most systems today) “it was often taken to be the processing of materials by means of tools and machines.” (de Vries, 2011:2).

According to de Vries, 1996 “Gardner (1994) shows how Francis Bacon already defended the thesis that technology should be applied science and that we find this opinion time and again in later literature. It is then suggested that there is a more or less straightforward path from that scientific knowledge to the technological product. This opinion for some time functioned as a paradigm for the philosophy of technology.”

For the moment, we dont' have enough knowledge to really support the claim that the current paradigms about technology education stress its integrating role between various domains like science, technology, (visual) design, ethics, economics, etc. It also could be argued that engineering disciplines themselves mutated into "design sciences". The problem now arises that "design can not be taught in the abstract" (nothing that is abstract really can). Not surprisingly and international delphi study came up with the following figure:

De Vries et al. 2010 Concepts and Contexts in Engineering and Technology Education: a Modified Delphi Study and Expert Panel Report

I.e. the study suggest addressing technology through five core views called themes: design, modeling, systems, resources and human values and then suggests exposing learners to various "concrete" subjects (i.e. technological contexts) like food, shelter (housing), water, energy, etc.

James Pellegrino (2001), suggests defining research in Pasteur's quadrant (Stokes, 1997). “Stokes maps research in a two-dimensional space with research being low to high in terms of its pursuit of general theoretical principles, and low to high in terms of its attempt to solve practical problems. Pasteur's work serves as the prototype for research that operates at the high end of each scale. His work typifies the high-high quadrant. The contrast quadrants are named after Bohr, whose work was high on theory but low on application, and Edison, whose work was low on theory but high on application. The final quadrant, defined by being low on both scales, remains unnamed. I surmise that this is the area where many doctoral studies belong. Besides, who would like to have a quadrant named after them which implies that one's work has neither practical nor theoretical value?”

The aims of Design and Technology education probably sit in the "Edison" quadrant. However, Design and technology does have potential to interact with the "Bohr" quadrant and therefore improve the "Pasteur quadrant". Of course, it also has a lot of potential for the "doctoral studies" quadrant, i.e. be fairly useless.


  • Pupils’ Attitudes Towards Technology (PATT) conference, Delft, the Netherlands in 2009.
  • First American Society for the Advancement of Science (AAAS) Technology Education Research Conference
For teachers


This bibliography was bootstrapped from The Design and Technology association's Response to the national curriculum Review, retrieved 20:51, 25 November 2011 (CET)

  • Abrahams, I. (2009). Does Practical Work Really Motivate? A study of the affective value of practical work in secondary school science. International Journal of Science Education, 31: 17, 2335 — 2353
  • Arthur, W. Brian. (2009) The Nature of Technology. Allen Lane, London, England
  • Baker, K. and Mitchell P. (2010) University Technical Colleges A UTC Curriculum Framework. The Baker Dearing Trust, England
  • Barlex, David (Ed.) (2007), Design and Technology for the next Generation CliffeCo, Shropshire England
  • Bandura, A. (1997). Self-efficacy: The exercise of control. New York: W. H. Freeman
  • Barnett , M. (2006). Engaging Inner City Students in Learning Through Designing Remote Operated Vehicles. Journal of Science Education and Technology 14:1 87-100
  • Benson C. And Lunt J. (2009) It puts a smile on your face, What do children actually think of D&T P296 -305 in Dakers J. De Fries M. de Vries, M.J. and Dow W. (eds.) Pupil Attitudes Towards Technology: International Conference on Design and Technology Educational Research. Glasgow: University of Glasgow
  • Bronowski, J. (1973) The Ascent of Man. British Broadcasting Corporation, London
  • Cable, V. Manufacturing Summit Meeting, January 26 2011
  • Claxton, G., Lucas, B. and Webster, R. (2010). Bodies of Knowledge – how the learning sciences could transform practical and vocational education. Winchester: Edge/Centre for Real World Learning
  • Dakers, John R. (Ed.) (2006) Defining Technological Literacy: Towards an Epistemological Framework Palgrave Macmillan, New York.
  • Donovan, M. S., Bransford, J. D., and Pellegrino, J. W. (Eds.). (1999). How people learn: Bridging research and practice. Washington, DC: National Academy Press.
  • Edwards, J. (2002). Sampson‘s Hair: Denuding the Technology Curriculum? Journal of Technology Studies 28 (1) 8-13
  • Foster, P. and Wright, N. (2001). How Children Think and Feel About Design and Technology: Two Case Studies. The Journal of Industrial Teacher Education, 38:2. Retrieved August 9, 2010 from
  • Gardner, P. L. (1994). The relationship between technology and science: Some historical and philosophical reflections. Part 1. International Journal of Technology and Design Education 4(2), 123-154.
  • Gardner, P. L. (1995). The relationship between technology and science: Some historical and philosophical reflections. Part 2. International Journal of Technology and Design Education 5(1), 1-33.
  • Hallam, S., Rogers, L. and Rhamie, J (2010). Staff perceptions of the success of an alternative curriculum: Skill Force. Emotional and Behavioural Difficulties, 15: 1, 63 — 74
  • Hayes, J. (26 October 2010) The craft so long to learn – skills and their place in modern Britain - a speech to the RSA
  • Hill, A. M. (1998). Problem Solving in Real-Life Contexts: An Alternative for Design in Technology Education. International Journal of Technology and Design Education 8, 203–220.
  • Hughes, M. (2001). Using Students‘ Views on Design and Technology to Inform Curriculum Review at Key Stage 3. The Journal of Design and Technology Education 6:2 167 – 170.
  • Hutchinson, J. Stagg, P. and Bentley, K. (2009) STEM Careers Awareness Timelines - attitudes and ambitions towards science, technology, engineering and maths (STEM at Key Stage 3), International Centre for Guidance Studies (iCeGS), University of Derby
  • International Technology Education Association. (2000). Standards for technological literacy. Reston, VA: Author
  • Kelly, K. (2010) What Technology Wants. Viking New York
  • Kimbell, R. and Stables, K. (2007) Researching design learning: Issues and findings from two decades of research and development,
  • Kimbell, R., & Perry, D. (2001). Design and technology in a knowledge economy. London: Engineering Council.
  • Kimbell, R., Wheeler, T., Stables, K., Shepard, T., Martin, F., Davies, D., Pollitt, A., Whitehouse, G., 2009 e-scape portfolio assessment: a research & development project for the Department of Children & Family Services
  • Koh, C., Wang, C., Tan, O., Liu, W. and Ee-J. (2008). Students' discourse and motivation in project work. In Jeffrey, P AARE 2008 International education research conference : Brisbane : papers collection:(Conference of the Australian Association for Research in Education, 30 November - 4 December 2008). Melbourne : Australian Association for Research in Education.
  • Lawler, T. (2006a). Design styles and teaching styles: a longitudinal study of pupils‟ ways of doing designing following complementary re-grouping and teaching. Paper presented at the TERC 2006: Values in Technology Education Gold Coast, Australia
  • Lawler, T., & Howlett, M., 2003, Designing Styles – A new way of looking at design and technology learning and teaching‘ in Norman, E. W. L., & Spendlove, D., Design Matters: DATA International Research Conference, 2003, D&T Association, Wellesbourne
  • Leahy, K., Gaughran, W. and Seery, N. (2009). Preferential Learning Styles as an Influencing Factor in Design Pedagogy. Design and Technology Education: an International Journal 14:2 25-44
  • Livingstone, I. and Hope, A. (2011) Next Gen - Transforming the UK into the world‘s leading talent hub for the video games and visual effects industries, Nesta.
  • LC Research Associates, (2006) Key Stage 3 Review: Students and parents research, draft report for QCA
  • Lucas, B., Claxton, G. and Webster, R. (2010) Mind the Gap – research and reality in practical and vocational education. Winchester: Edge/Centre for Real World Learning
  • Lund, D. (1986) CDT in the 'Special Curriculum'. British Journal of Special Education; 13:4 166-168
  • Martin, G. E. (2008). What research matters most. In H. Middleton, & M. Pavlova (Eds.), Exploring technology education: Solutions to issues in a globalised world (pp. 17–27). Griffith Institute for Educational Research.
  • Martin, Gene (2011). A Context For Change – A Charge To Consider, in, de Vries (ed). Positioning Technology Education in the Curriculum, International Technology Education Studies, Sense Publishers. Introduction / PDF
  • Ofsted (2007). Education for a technologically advanced nation. London, Ofsted
  • Ofsted (2008) Education for a technologically advanced nation Design and technology in schools 2004 – 2007, Crown Copyright
  • Ofsted (2008, June 25). Design and technology is the most popular GCSE foundation subject, but a lack of specialist teachers means expensive school equipment sometimes lies idle.
  • Ofsted (2009) Improving primary teachers‟ subject knowledge across the curriculum. London: Ofsted
  • Ofsted 2011, Meeting technological challenges? Design and technology in schools 2007–10 March 2011, No. 100121 PDF - Abstract/Word/PDF
  • Ofsted. (2001). Improving attendance and behaviour in secondary schools: Strategies to promote educational inclusion. London: TSO.
  • Pollard et al, (2000) What Pupils Say: Changing Policy and Practice in Primary Education. London: Continuum
  • Silver, A. and Rushton, B.(2008). Primary-school children's attitudes towards science, engineering and technology and their images of scientists and engineers., Education 3-13, 36:1, 51 — 67
  • Skills for Jobs: Today and Tomorrow: The National Strategic Skills Audit for England, 2010‘ (UK Commission for Employment and Skills, 2010)
  • Stables, K. & Rogers M., 2001‗Reflective and literate boys: can D&T make a difference‘ in (ed. Roberts, P and Norman E) IDATER 2001: International Conference on Design and Technology Educational Research and Curriculum Development, Loughborough University, Loughborough UK, pp 124 – 129)
  • Stokes, D. (1997). Pasteur's Quadrant: Basic science and technological innovation. Washington, DC: Brookings Institution Press.
  • Streichler, J. (2000). The past defines the paths to be taken. In G. E. Martin (Ed.), Technology education for the 21st century (pp. 1–12). Council on Technology Teacher Education, Glencoe McGraw-Hill.
  • Tadich, B., Deed, C., Campbell, C. and Prain, V (2007). Student engagement in the middle years: A year 8 case study. Issues In Educational Research, Vol 17, 2007
  • Todd, R. (1999). Design and Technology Yields a New Paradigm for Elementary Schooling. Journal of Technology Studies, 25 (2)26-33
  • Twyford, J. and Burden, R. (2000). Is it Really Work? Primary School Pupils‘ Conceptions of Design and Technology as a National Curriculum Subject. The Journal of Design and Technology Education 5:2 101 – 105
  • UNESCO (2003) Improving Achievement of Students in Basic Education Through the Introduction of Design and Technology Curriculum – Bahrain (BAH/98/003) Evaluation report supported by UNESCO, UNDP Bahrain, Ministry of Education – evaluation leader Prof. Clare Benson
  • Williams, M. and Burden, R. (1997). Psychology for Language Teachers. Cambridge, Cambridge University Press.
  • Wilson, V. and Harris, M. (2004). Creating Change? A Review of the Impact of Design and Technology in Schools in England. Journal of Technology Education 15:2 46-65
  • Wolf, A. (2011) Review of Vocational Education The Wolf Report, Crown Copyright
  • de Vries, Marc, Hacker, Michael and Rossouw Ammeret, (2009) CCETE Project Concepts and Contexts in Engineering and Technology Education. Delft University of Technology, The Netherlands, and Hofstra University, USA, PDF at Hofstra
  • Vries, M.J. de (1991). 'The role of technology as an integrating discipline'. In: Hacker, M., Gordon, A., Vries, M.J. de (Eds.). Integrating advanced technology into technology education. Berlijn/Heidelberg: Springer Verlag.
  • Vries, M.J. de (1993). 'Design methodology and relationships with science: introduction'. In Vries, M.J. de, Cross, N., Grant. D.P. (eds.). Design Methodology and Relationships with Science. Dordrecht: Kluwer Academic Publishers.
  • Vries, M.J. de (1996). Technology Education: Beyond the "Technology is Applied Science" Paradigm, Technology education, Vol 8, Number 1, HTML.
  • Vries, M.J. de (2001), 'The History of Industrial Research Laboratories as a Resource for Teaching about Science-technology Relationships, Research in Science Education, Vol. 31, pp. 15-28.
  • Vries, M.J. de (ed) (2011) Positioning Technology Education in the Curriculum, International Technology Education Studies, Sense Publishers. Introduction / PDF