The Design curriculum in English schools includes… cooking

Children cooking at school
This is what design is, according to the English National Curriculum


Worrying news about the state of teacher recruitment in the UK.

The number of new teachers for design and technology is also more than a third below what it needs to be and there is a 10% shortfall in the number of IT teachers required.

This is a pattern across most subjects (though there are too many art teachers, apparently).

Design courses at university still recruit students who’ve done art at school, rather than other subjects – even though those subjects may be more appropriate (psychology, sociology). That’s a relic of a past age, long overdue being taken outside and shot. But given that there’s a perfectly good design curriculum in schools, why are so many children doing art instead? Is design seen as engineering?

Here’s the Key Stage 3 Design Curriculum for England:

Through a variety of creative and practical activities, pupils should be taught the knowledge, understanding and skills needed to engage in an iterative process of designing and making. They should work in a range of domestic and local contexts [for example, the home, health, leisure and culture], and industrial contexts [for example, engineering, manufacturing, construction, food, energy, agriculture (including horticulture) and fashion].

When designing and making, pupils should be taught to:


  • use research and exploration, such as the study of different cultures, to identify and understand user needs
  • identify and solve their own design problems and understand how to reformulate problems given to them
  • develop specifications to inform the design of innovative, functional, appealing products that respond to needs in a variety of situations
  • use a variety of approaches [for example, biomimicry and user-centred design], to generate creative ideas and avoid stereotypical responses
  • develop and communicate design ideas using annotated sketches, detailed plans, 3-D and mathematical modelling, oral and digital presentations and computer-based tools


  • select from and use specialist tools, techniques, processes, equipment and machinery precisely, including computer-aided manufacture
  • select from and use a wider, more complex range of materials, components and ingredients, taking into account their propertie


  • analyse the work of past and present professionals and others to develop and broaden their understanding
  • investigate new and emerging technologies
  • test, evaluate and refine their ideas and products against a specification, taking into account the views of intended users and other interested groups
  • understand developments in design and technology, its impact on individuals, society and the environment, and the responsibilities of designers, engineers and technologists

Technical knowledge

  • understand and use the properties of materials and the performance of structural elements to achieve functioning solutions
  • understand how more advanced mechanical systems used in their products enable changes in movement and force
  • understand how more advanced electrical and electronic systems can be powered and used in their products [for example, circuits with heat, light, sound and movement as inputs and outputs]
  • apply computing and use electronics to embed intelligence in products that respond to inputs [for example, sensors], and control outputs [for example, actuators], using programmable components [for example, microcontrollers].

For me there’s too much emphasis on CAD and engineering rather than research and ideation. I feel the influence of James Dyson here but that stuff could be left until later in students’ education, particularly as universities have far better facilities than schools. We get too many students who think design is about working on a computer and not enough who think it has anything to do with talking to actual people.

Bizarrely, however, the Design Curriculum also includes a section on… cooking. I kid you not:

pupils should be taught how to cook and apply the principles of nutrition and healthy eating. Instilling a love of cooking in pupils will also open a door to one of the great expressions of human creativity. Learning how to cook is a crucial life skill that enables pupils to feed themselves and others affordably and well, now and in later life.

If you look at the comments Dyson made during the consultation phase it sounds like there was even more cooking – and gardening – in there. The gardening’s gone (although I daren’t look at Key Stages 1 and 2), but the cooking remains. I’m all for cooking. I agree it’s a crucial skill and an expression of human creativity. But it belongs in a design curriculum as much as physics belongs in Religious Education.

Anyway. Back to the problem with recruiting teachers.

Until teachers are valued (financially – words are cheap) you’ll never recruit as many as you need. And that’s true no matter which educational sector you look at. Why is a city financier paid more than the people who taught her? There’s a school (no pun intended) of thought that says that teaching is a calling, a sacrifice, and that you shouldn’t do it for the money. Okay. I can buy in to the idea that someone shouldn’t seek to teach simply for the money. But turning that around into a justification for crap wages is the sort of bullshit that can only come from someone who managed to get through school and university without anything approaching common sense.

Incidentally, the Government rejects the headline, saying we’re recruiting far more teachers than ever before. But that’s not the same as saying ‘we’ve got enough teachers’. It’s not keeping pace. Numeracy isn’t just the ability to add numbers up; it’s the ability to understand what they mean.

How we are becoming nation of digital makers – BBC News

There have been notable successes in helping children who might feel let down by the traditional educational system: a severely dyslexic child designed a game in Scratch to help children recognise letters and sentences a child who struggled with numeracy created a similar one about number bonds a child who had been excluded for disruptive behaviour found a talent for coding that gave him the confidence to go back to school. “He designed a game and went back into his school one Monday morning, asking if he could do a show-and-tell about the game he designed,” said Mr Claffey.

Read the full story here