Our Response to the GCSE Design and Technology Curriculum Overhaul in UK Schools

A shorter version of this article was originally published in Design Week.

As a designer, and as a parent whose child will be sitting their design and technology GCSE in a few months, I welcome this much needed change to the curriculum. The unprecedented challenges presented by the climate emergency will need a new generation of creative, collaborative and inclusive thinkers if we are to have a hope of addressing them.

Underfunding in creative subjects has positioned them as the neglected alternative to the stars of the STEM curriculum, but investment is needed in creative subjects now more than ever. Making a change is going to take more than big industry names setting briefs. One of this year's GCSE Design and Technology briefs was already centred around sustainability. Across the board, students are being asked to consider the sustainability of materials and supply chain, and to consider their users' needs and pain points. A positive start - but we know good design comes from practice not theory, and that’s where the current curriculum falls short.

In the classroom it’s far easier to focus on making CAD drawings and crafting joints, whereas enabling large cohorts of students to research with users and test prototypes is a whole other matter. Schools are under immense pressure to reach Ofsted and grade targets, so assessing the process of design needs to be as straightforward as assessing a butterfly hinge.

The success of this proposed curriculum overhaul rests on effectively supporting teachers and giving them the tools and resources they need to be successful within the constraints they face in comprehensive secondary schools. I’d ask the consortium to do the work; go sit in classrooms, understand what it’s really like teaching a class of different abilities whilst navigating broken equipment and working under immense time pressures.

At ustwo we are the founding partner of an industry programme called Flipside. Every year we teach a 12-week design curriculum to support young people from underrepresented groups across London to kickstart their careers in product design. A recurring theme among our new cohorts is that many of them didn’t consider design as a credible career or understand where it could take them. It’s no wonder we are collectively left looking at our industry's pitiful diversity stats year after year. If we are to address this and make a tangible change, support for design needs to start at school.

While I absolutely share the concerns raised about those with commercial interest shaping the GCSE design and technology curriculum, I believe that involving industry experts to help excite young people about where a career in design can take them, and the problems it can solve, can only be a good thing. If this government is not championing a career in design, others need to step in.