The importance of underpinning principles
It is difficult to see from the GCSE Curriculum proposals how much the changes will tackle the current lack of depth and work in the design process. Young people need to know the basics. Design technology will come and go but underpinning design principles live on. Of course, developing artform specific skills is essential, but there is no need to jump straight on to Macs before the building blocks are in place.
Creative learning for GCSE students should be fun, engaging and experimental. It is encouraging to see that idea generation and risk-taking are included in learning outcomes. But historically these are aims that can be quickly eroded when placed within the context of examination and the pressure of pass and fail, and targets. Industry and educators frequently remind us that too often young people have lost the sense of fun and experimentation in their work. We need to ensure this is not the case and young people have the space to test out new thinking and are encouraged to be brave in their ideas. Students need to learn that failure is not necessarily a bad thing. It’s imperative that students aren’t fearful of feedback. This means more portfolio work and less exams.
We need to link education to the workplace and the trends that are driving the industry to ensure that learning remains relevant. Too much of our education system operates in a vacuum. Highlighted by the fact that of the consultancies and industry we spoke to, only 19 per cent knew about this consultation let alone planned to respond/had been contacted.
A further example is the lack of reference to digital design. Digital should not be taught in isolation to design and technology. A comfort and familiarity with technical skills like programming and coding that facilitate prototyping should be instilled. So much design exists in a digital medium now, and too few young designers are encouraged to learn new skills to embrace these areas. Ideas will always be king, but being able to express ideas is equally important.
More emphasis on work experience is essential, giving people a flavour of the world of work through placements, helping them to understand and engage with the industry. Central government can only do so much but if they focus on developing the right framework teachers should be empowered to make it happen with imagination and industry support.
Furthermore, we should look to demonstrate how design has shaped and fuelled success in the world’s biggest brands and businesses (as well as the wider world) in order to make that connection between design and its importance in every day life.
The value of art and design
This year we have seen a government rightly celebrating the growth of the UK’s creative industries, however unless the subject receives the status it deserves art and design teachers will not receive the motivation, support, finance and plaudits they deserve. As one of our members stated it is often viewed as the ‘hobby’ subject. Revising GCSE and AS level content will be for nothing if the subject is not given appropriate weight and emphasis – in front of teachers, parents and students.
Government needs to connect the learning of design with career opportunities and broader commercial success. The 14-16 age is the age where students are thinking about which careers they want to pursue, and currently young people (and many teachers) simply do not know the doors that design skills can open.
Paul Drake is director of the D&AD Foundation.