My D&T journey

A little bit of self indulgence: an end of year reflection

As we near the start of a new term, and a new academic year, with all the impending changes ahead for D&T, as well as education generally, I have been reflecting on my own D&T journey over the years. 

L graduation

As a qualified coach a useful reflection tool I use with clients is to get them to write a stream of thought for 15 minutes to see where it takes them and what they learn along the way. That is how this page started out, but somehow it became something much bigger, becoming probably the longest blog I have ever done! Along the way I have taken a trip down memory lane, reflected on how D&T has changed over the years, considered the things that have shaped me as a D&T teacher, found answers to some questions that have been on my mind for a while, as well as having the chance to think about the next step in my D&T journey with the up and coming changes at GCSE and A level.  

1984: Where it all began!

I’ve been in education since 1984 with a 2 year break in the 90s when I worked as a retail manager after meeting my husband and moving to London. I felt that having gone straight from school into education that I would benefit personally and career wise seeing ‘the real world’!  The picture below shows me with a bad late 80s / early 90s perm outside the Mothercare branch where I did my retail management training. I still consider this some of the best CPD I ever did from both a D&T and leadership perspective. The ‘real world’ turned out to be full of D&T and I still use what I learnt in my teaching today.

L Mothercare

In my early teaching days in the 1980s I pretty much did what I wanted in my classroom. I was never observed, in fact no one ever came into my classroom to even check if I had arrived in the morning, let alone check on what I did! That might seem like a good thing compared to the Big Brother classrooms we have today but other teachers rarely shared ideas, and with little direction I often felt quite lost for much of my early career. This was particularly the case in the challenging schools I worked in, where you were pretty much on your own, and you either sank or swam! Without social media and the sharing culture of today you had to create your own resources and come up with your own ideas from scratch. There was no internet to get ideas or check up on some facts and no Facebook groups to get support with dealing with more challenging groups. I am making myself sound very old, but so many things were very different to today. For many of my early years in teaching I didn’t even have access to a photocopier, and computers were a long way off, so it was awkward, messy and inconsistent banda machines for all resources. I even remember hand writing some resources copying them out several times!

What I taught was very craft based with little or no links to any other area of D&T. In fact D&T as such didn’t exist for the first few years of my teaching. My job title was ‘needlework teacher’ and I taught girls to sew. And that was it. The subject was viewed more as a hobby than a career option and there was no talk of industry, manufacturing and all that we associate with modern D&T. I don’t care what Michael Gove, Nicky Morgan, or any other government minister says there was little challenge or robustness to the curriculum back then!

Change, change, and a bit more change!

In nearly 30 years in education I have seen huge changes, so in some ways the changes we have now don’t phase me too much because it’s a roller coaster I have been on for a long time! I have also seen a lot of personal change as I've worked in 5 very different schools in Birmingham, Nottingham, London and Leicestershire, as well as having 6 different job titles linked to different levels of leadership. 

When I began teaching I taught the last few years or so of the old O level and CSE qualifications before big change came in with the new GCSEs. I saw the introduction of the National Curriculum, the revamp of A levels along with countless other changes. Even the language was different as students were referred to as 1st years, 2nd years etc., there were no key stages, and all the modern buzz words such as literacy, numeracy, pupil premium, AfL were a long way off.

Although I enjoyed my job it was only when D&T was introduced in 1989 that I really got any true job satisfaction. Suddenly what was happening in the classroom was about more than just developing hobby skills. I clearly remember the excitement of having an Apple Mac, an Acorn computer and a Poem embroidery machine as at the time it was all cutting edge technology for the classroom!


It was actually quite an exciting time overall; there were resources to help you develop your classroom practice, training and support, as well as a clear direction. The subject started to become increasingly valued as there was a recognition of what it developed beyond the obvious practical skills. There was also a growing understanding of the importance of designing and making and its impact on society as a whole. I suddenly felt valued and respected by students, parents, other staff, as well as the wider community.

From textiles teacher to D&T teacher

It took a while for me to become a ‘D&T teacher’ and not just a textiles teacher. Ultimately, however, it became a natural process because the developments in the real world started to pull together different material areas and processes with the lines between them becoming more blurred. 

L P7310064

I don’t know when I became a D&T teacher rather than a textiles teacher, but whilst my biggest passion is still for textiles, I now see myself as 'D&T’. I see D&T all around me in all its different forms, so much so that on days out I am the one photographing the solar powered litter bins rather than taking family shots, something which both amuses and confuses my family at times! I don’t always fully understand what I see, because it’s outside my textiles comfort zone, but I know it’s D&T, and I have learnt that what counts is not my lack of knowledge, just my interest and a desire to find out more.

Approaching the future

With the new KS3 and 4 curriculum moving towards a more broader product design approach, like many others, I naturally have some mixed feelings. There’s an inevitable desire not to have to face more change. On the other hand D&T in the real world is constantly changing and I have always believed that a D&T classroom has to keep pace with the real world in order to be something more than a craft hobby subject. Whilst I feel wary about stepping outside my comfort zone, I am also excited about the possibilities of being able to pursue ideas that previously I might have been reluctant to investigate because they weren’t relevant to the current specifications, and therefore weren’t necessarily a good use of my time. The light project below, for example, combines 3D printing and polyester fabric fused together using their thermoplastic properties, with e-textiles added as the light source, would be difficult to fit into the traditional textiles curriculum at GCSE and A level, but it's an exciting possibility with the new curriculum. 

3D printed textiles light

Of course I am wary of what comes next, especially for textiles where my passion for is still the deepest. In particular it concerns me that there won’t be sufficient funding and training for the new KS4 curriculum to be implemented well and that this will lead to a major dumbing down of what we do. I also worry about the impact on skill levels for individual material areas and the potential for a reduction in quality outcomes. I do however recognise that D&T isn’t like any other subject and by it’s very nature it is about constant change.  How things are designed and made in the real world, how new materials, products and systems are developed is all about a constantly evolving and changing process. I believe our D&T classrooms have to reflect the real world, which makes change something D&T teachers have to accept, and even embrace.

A blast from the past: some points from my blog post in December 2014

At the end of 2014 a blog post I wrote posed some key questions and thoughts about D&T, many of which are still relevant, and I am going to finish by including some of these questions and thoughts as part of this blog along with a few additional questions based on developments in the last few months (the newer questions are in the darker grey with the questions from 2014 in the lighter grey). 

As D&T hits the crest of a new wave of change, and after reflecting on my D&T journey so far, it seems a good end to my personal D&T journey to consider these questions and thoughts again. These questions don't require an answer, and don’t aim to influence opinions, but are more about reflection, whether it be my own, or that of anyone who reads this blog. My coaching background means I find questions help me identify positive ways forward whilst also helping me avoid getting stuck in the past. Like a lot of ‘diary’ type reflective writing it might be interesting, if nothing else, to look back on this in a few years time when the dust has settled! 

‘Talk up’ D&T 
(newer questions are dark grey with the questions from my 2014 blog in light grey). 

● In your school, do pupils, parents, the community generally, other staff, and SLT have a clear idea of what D&T is?

● What keywords would parents, pupils, the community, other staff, and SLT use to describe D&T, each material area and the projects you do? Do those words fully reflect a dynamic, 21st Century D&T department?

● How do you promote and celebrate D&T on a weekly basis?

● Does your team present a united ‘D&T’ message by referring to themselves as D&T teachers (or D&T and then their material area e.g. D&T graphics) rather than just using their material area (e.g. graphics)?

A 21st Century D&T curriculum
(newer questions are dark grey with the questions from my 2014 blog in light grey). 

● Do projects showcase 21st Century D&T rather than reinforcing stereotypes of what D&T is?

● Are your projects different to the ones parents made when they were at school?

● Do your projects use new materials and technologies that parents have never seen before?

● Do you plan teaching and learning with a dynamic STEM approach or do you have a more traditional craft approach?

● What links to STEM do you have and how closely do you work with science, maths and ICT to ensure D&T plays a key role in STEM?

● Do all material areas fully embrace and promote their links to STEM?

Strengthening our D&T community
(newer questions are dark grey with the questions from my 2014 blog in light grey). 

● Why have we never been able to persuade people that D&T is an academically changing subject, especially at A level and beyond?

● How can we embrace the pace of change in D&T and recognise this as something to celebrate that makes us different to other subjects in school?

● How do we rebrand D&T within our own community and to the wider community in general?

● If evidence suggests D&T is in crisis (see the presentation by Diana Choulerton, Ofsted national D&T lead, do we carry on doing the same thing, and therefore getting the same results, or do we try something radically different?

● Do D&T teachers in your department fully understand what happens in other materials areas apart from their own?

● Do D&T teachers fully value what each material area does and promote and celebrate all material areas as being equal?

● How do you celebrate individuality within the D&T materials areas whilst still ensuring you are recognised as one subject?

Maintaining a positive outlook 
(newer questions are dark grey with the questions from my 2014 blog in light grey). 

● Are you supportive of all materials areas in D&T?

We know about some of the changes coming at GCSE but the specifications themselves don’t exist yet and there is currently no reason to suggest that any material area is more vulnerable than any other. Although there will be significant changes to the specification schools will still be able to teach each material area separately using specialists if they wish to. The only real threat to a material area will come from individual schools who decide to exclude it for their own reasons. 

● Are you basing decisions about D&T on facts or rumour?

We must be careful of making assumptions about the new GCSEs and A levels until we have hard facts. Some material areas in D&T are already being marginalised based on rumours and assumptions, and some of these are coming from the D&T community itself. This only weakens the position of D&T overall. 

A focus on D&T textiles: back to my roots
(newer questions are dark grey with the questions from my 2014 blog in light grey). 

● Do you believe in textiles?

There is no reason for textiles to be seen as a vulnerable subject in D&T. The references to fashion and interiors in the proposed new GCSE, along with other textiles related references, as well the textiles references at KS3, clearly indicate there is a place for textiles within D&T. Indeed with the availability of programmable components in textiles we can cover all areas of the KS3 curriculum in textiles alone. 

● Do you challenge those who undermine textiles?

Many within the D&T community themselves, including textiles teachers, are being negative about the future of textiles and this is the biggest threat it faces. This justifies decisions some schools are taking to marginalise textiles and it is creating a self fulfilling prophecy. It is important to remember that all of D&T is at risk, & not to allow textiles to become the scapegoat.

● Do you focus on STEM textiles?

Challenge people who say textiles is a dying industry. This is completely untrue, and some of the most exciting and revolutionary technology around at the moment, as well as what will exist in the future, is textiles based, with the UK being acknowledged as world leaders. Like any other industry, it is changing and evolving, and just because it isn’t the same as 50 years ago doesn’t mean it is dying.  D&T textiles on the curriculum needs to reflect this industry and craft based projects such as aprons and toys need to be considered carefully. Do they reflect 21st Century textiles? Do they portray an image that aligns with textiles engineering, textiles technology, complex pattern cutting, CAD/CAM etc. or do they reinforce traditional negative stereptypes?

● Are you considering an art textiles curriculum?

Some schools are making the decision to put textiles with art. This is not a decision to be taken lightly, despite the importance of art, and the cross over between the subjects. Although there are strong links, D&T textiles and art textiles are different and D&T is a weaker subject overall without textiles. If you are considering going down the art textiles route remember art is just as vulnerable as D&T, more so in some ways. There are also issues around how secure textiles is within art, as it is only one aspect of the subject, along with the fact that someone who trained as art teacher may have the advantage at interview over a D&T trained textiles teacher. If you consider the move to art textiles to be right for your department avoid saying this is because it is ‘easier’ or better ‘because it has no exam’. I have heard these comments many times and they are insulting to art colleagues and under value art as a subject. They also suggest D&T textiles teachers don’t like hard work and a challenge! 

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