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.

Students aren’t customers

Students aren't customers

The latest in the Guardian’s “Anonymous Academic” series covers familiar territory:

Last week I sent out the first round of grades for a module and had 12 emails of complaint within an hour. One in particular stood out for its misunderstanding of what it means to be a scholar. The student said the grade must be incorrect because he had turned up to all the lectures – as if simply regurgitating what I had taught him deserved a 70+ grade.

As I attempted to formulate a diplomatic, polite and supportive response, I pondered a few things. When did it become an expectation that turning up to lectures is worthy of reward in itself? Moreover, when I was studying would I have ever had the balls to contact my lecturers and not only question their ability to grade my work appropriately but imply that my low grade was their fault?

For what it’s worth, this isn’t a recent phenomenon – I experienced it back in 2000. Admittedly that was from an American student who was paying (high) fees, but later that year I also had to field a telephone call from a parent (a parent!) annoyed that her son had only got a 2.2. Annoyed with me! That was my first year of teaching. I should have spotted the signs.

There are a few points to make here, and even they will only scratch the surface of how I feel about this.

While I do believe in student-centred learning, and ensuring that we understand the purpose of education is to advance the student, not the discipline, the idea that the student is a “customer” is simply wrong. The article condemns the idea that education is a service but I’m not so quick. To me the term “service” covers a whole range of things from the sort of service you get at a supermarket to the sort of service you get when you’re a central part of a complex process. One is passive, the other involved.

So it’s better to think of a student as a “member” of the university rather than a passive recipient of a service. Of course that’s how it used to be, and still is in some universities (students at Cambridge are “members” of their college, for example). The moment you think like this you can compare university with other membership-based organisations. Gym members don’t complain to management when they fail to lose weight – they understand they have a role in their own achievements. Don’t show up, don’t get the benefit. (I realise to some colleagues, likening study at university to membership of a gym is as bad as comparing it to a supermarket but bear with me – I’m on your side. To a point.)

Students should be treated with respect, as fellow scholars. Not as idiots.

The term “tuition fee” is so badly chosen it’s unbelievable. There are students out there who have taken their £9,000 and divided it by the number of hours of lectures they receive and used that to calculate, as in the example in the Guardian article, how much they’re owed in refunds if a lecturer doesn’t show up or how much each session is costing them. (I have no truck with anyone who just cancels lectures because they can’t be bothered, by the way, but genuine reasons do exist as to why a session may be postponed). Tuition fees don’t just cover tuition, in the same way that your gym fees don’t only pay for the bit of equipment you use. Perhaps we should start calling them something else? Oh yes – membership fees, perhaps?

Time does not equal money. Or rather, money does not equal tutors’ time. It measures students’ time. The measure of effectiveness is not the input (the teaching) but the output (the learning). A degree is calculated in terms of credits, and they relate to notional student effort, not notional tutor effort. A degree equates to 3,600 hours of learning, not teaching, and the best teachers facilitate learning, they don’t stand at the front and pontificate. So in terms of “tuition” my students might have got less than with some other colleagues but I would hope that in terms of “learning” they got more than their money’s worth.

The problem really becomes overwhelming when the university itself – or significant parts of it – start treating students like customers as well. The first educational establishment I worked in, an FE college, had changed its student support department to “customer services” and we were all told to stop referring to students as students, and call them customers instead. Fortunately the loudest critics of this policy were the students themselves, who rather liked the title.

So let’s reclaim the word “student” and use it wth pride.

The revolution that could change the way your child is taught

when we talk about education we spend a lot of time arguing over things that do not matter very much. Class sizes, uniforms, curriculum design, which politician runs the Department for Education – none of our favourite flashpoints make a lot of difference to whether children do well at school. For all that parents worry over which school to send their children to, more important is who teaches them when they get there.

Read the full story here