Time for school

Design education – we are told – is in grave danger in the UK.

At the same time as Chancellor George Osborne says he wants the words Made in Britain, Created in Britain, Designed in Britain and Invented in Britain to ‘drive our nation forward’, the Government is at risk, observers say, of ‘cutting design education off at the knees’.

With the National Curriculum currently under review, design and technology’s status as a statutory subject is under threat. Meanwhile higher-education funding cuts have left design – which is not among the protected Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics (Stem) subjects – dangerously exposed.

To address this issue, a panel of leading design, technology and education experts – including round-the-world yachtswoman Dame Ellen MacArthur – gathered at the Institution of Mechanical Engineers last night to reinforce the importance of design education.

Ellen MacArthur
Ellen MacArthur

Chaired by Design Museum director Deyan Sudjic, the panel, as well as boasting Dame Ellen, also featured Seymour Powell co-founder Dick Powell; Engineering UK chief executive Paul Jackson; inventor and entrepreneur Mandy Haberman; and AKQA founder Ajaz Ahmed.

The panel
from left to right: Panel Mandy Haberman, Dick Powell, Deyan Sudjic, Ellen MacArthur, Paul Jackson and Ajaz Ahmed

Powell – whose consultancy Seymour Powell organised the event alongside the James Dyson Foundation and the Design and Technology Foundation – says, ‘We would not have our creative industries as they are today if we did not have design and technology at the core of the curriculum.’ He predicts ‘a return to the 1950s’ if design education is not protected.

With the pragmatism you would expect from one of the country’s leading designers, Powell says, ‘Standing up and whinging about the cuts is not going to do anything. This is an opportunity to redefine how we educate young people and put funds towards that.’

Dick Powell
Dick Powell

At the higher-education level, Powell proposes a two-tier system based around ‘centres of excellence’ to which funding could be channelled – which he says is in opposition to Government suggestions that raising fees could lead to a rise in university teaching quality through self-selection.

Ellen MacArthur, who gave up sailing last year to launch the Ellen MacArthur Foundation, which aims to help young people rethink and redesign the future, says her design and technology GCSE was ‘absolutely essential’ on her round-the-world yacht voyage, saying, ‘It was key to helping me make decisions and understanding how things worked on the yacht.’

MacArthur’s father was a design and technology teacher (as – it was pointed out – was Jonathan Ive’s father), and she describes a childhood ‘surrounded by tools’.

Members of the panel say they will continue to promote the issue while various audience members – including Design Council chief executive David Kester and IME chief executive Stephen Tetlow – promised to work together to press the issue to Government. Kester says ‘We need to put forward some very coherent arguments’ in order to get design education on to the Government’s upcoming Innovation Strategy.

The Design and Technology Association, Seymour Powell and the James Dyson Foundation have also put together a film with design luminaries, teachers and others discussing the importance of design education, as well as a ‘manifesto’ for design and technology education.


Public consultation on the future of the National Curriculum opens next year. The D&T Association says, ‘At this stage it will be stated which other subjects in addition to English, mathematics, science and physical education will be included. We need to make sure D&T is!’

Related stories: Call to bring design education on to Government’s Innovation Strategy (13 July)

Hide Comments (4)Show Comments (4)
  • Michael Stewart November 30, -0001 at 12:00 am

    Your article highlights the huge gap between the the government’s wish list and the means to make it happen. I absolutely agree with Dick Powell’s statement “This is an opportunity to redefine how we educate young people and put funds towards that”. The UK’s design heritage is a valuable resource with it’s roots in solid teaching, groundbreaking research and innovative thinking, but we need to look to new models for the delivery of design education.

  • Andy Penaluna November 30, -0001 at 12:00 am

    As design educator who sees the bigger picture – I use design approaches in developing enterprise education strategies, I remain concerned in terms of valuing expertise. Most of my calls have been for design and business educators to meet and share experiences.

    I actually made it into the white paper for the Quality Assurance Agency enterprise work I lead… but if it were not for my design roots and design alumni I wouldn’t be anywhere near this space.

    So promise to yell!!

  • UK Education Consultants November 30, -0001 at 12:00 am

    In reality your creative writing abilities has inspired me to begin my own Blog Engine website now.

  • Kathryn Palmer November 30, -0001 at 12:00 am

    Undoubtedly, creativity has long been an integral part of ‘Brand Britain’ and one that will decline with the introduction of funding cuts to higher-education ‘arts’ courses. Arguably an even greater problem, and one that will result in detrimentally diminished creativity and individuality from a young age, is that of ‘tick box’ education!


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