Better Together? (by Ken Baynes)

Design Education: A Vision for the Future ... LDP's response to the draft proposals for Design and Technology in the English National Curriculum (2013)

Design Education: A Vision for the Future … LDP’s response to the draft proposals for Design and Technology in the English National Curriculum (2013)

Much progress has been made since the astonishing Draft Proposals for Design and Technology in the English National Curriculum were published in 2013 and LDP responded by rapidly publishing Design Education: A Vision for the Future with the help of many of our friends. In the last few weeks, we have been reading two documents with ‘design’ in the title. Both will have an effect on the future of general education. The new GCSE proposals for Design and Technology and the National Society for Education in Art and Design (NSEAD) published ‘A Manifesto for Art, Craft and Design Education’. Feedback on the GCSE proposals is required by 20 November and we will send an LDP response that we will also publish on our website. The point here is to wonder about the usefulness, or otherwise, of having two foci for design in the school curriculum.

The issue is important because there are plenty of signs that both  Design and Technology and Art and Design are being pushed to the margins of general education. The Manifesto says: ‘The education and cultural sectors are facing challenges from both current government policy and the global economic downturn’. This is borne out by current research by Eileen Adams for the journal ‘Cultural Trends’ (to be published in March 2015) where the effect of Coalition policy on art education is identified as being almost entirely negative. The same could probably be said of Design and Technology. Would the two subject areas be more powerful if they worked together?

The divide between art and technology has been a matter for concern for around 200 years. It seems to have emerged as a result of specialization brought about by the industrial revolution. However the Victorians, who believed in progress, thought they could fix it. The Great Exhibition of 1851 was a celebration of progress and the new industrial society. Its example would, it was hoped, show the possibility of a world ‘freed from the tyrannies of war through liberalism and free trade’. The exhibition made a huge profit and this money was used to create a novel set of institutions in South Kensington. Prince Albert himself shared the vision of a place where art, science and technology would come together. The hard fact was, however, that education moved into more specialist directions, spurred on by the competition for funds, talent and status. Art schools, intended originally to train designers for the decorative arts, remained outside the universities while architecture and engineering fought to be included even while most members of the two professions continued to be trained on the job in drawing offices. The 1870 Education Act established elementary education for all, but the curriculum was grindingly utilitarian shaping boys for a job in industry and girls for keeping the home.

The vision of a wider design education persisted but often it was fiercely anti-industrial. Morris, Ruskin and the Arts and Crafts movement wanted a social revolution to re-establish craft production as the norm. It fell to thinkers on the continent of Europe and in the United States to seek for a more creative relationship between art, engineering and industry. They were partly inspired by the values of British engineering design, seeing it as rational, functional and – as a result – beautiful.  In Germany Hermann Muthesius sought a synthesis between ‘machine style’ and arts and crafts. He founded the Deutsche Werkbund in 1907 and after the conflagration of the First World War this led to the establishment of the Bauhaus. No design school has ever been so influential. Walter Gropius, its first head, was an architect who firmly believed that art, craft and technology needed to cooperate in order to create a better world for the mass of people.

The Bauhaus was too good to survive the Nazi holocaust. Its teachers and students were scattered to Britain and America. A tragedy for Germany was a huge advantage for the democracies. Gropius came to Britain before the Second World War began but he soon moved on to the United States. Significantly, while here he designed a school: Impington Village College in Cambridgeshire. It was a portent of things to come. After 1945 school building was one of the areas where visionary modern design became a symbol of educational and social change.

When I was sixteen, I started my art and design education at Bideford School of Art in north Devon. It was craft-based but at the same time supported originality and imagination. A seminal moment came when we made a visit to the 1951 Festival of Britain. It was a new world and, it seemed to me, a vision of a better future. The design of the Festival environment was the result of many disciplines working together, particularly engineers, architects, artists, craftspeople and exhibition designers.

When, in the late 1960s, I became involved in general education at Hornsey College of Art, I found that Peter Green, then Head of the Teacher Training Department, was determined to bring art education kicking and screaming into the 20th Century. He saw how culture was changing fast and that new visual media such as film, television, comics and advertising were shaping the way young people understood the world. The department also recognized the beginnings of consumer culture, and acknowledged the importance of fashion and graphics. In all these fields it was ‘designers’ that created imagery and products and ‘technology’ that made social change possible In fact, technology drove change forward.

At the same time a similar way of thinking was revolutionizing what had just been renamed Craft, Design and Technology. Here also the intention was to make a craft-based subject – Woodwork and Metalwork – relevant to an industrial society based on mass-production and technological change. These two movements for curriculum reform had much in common. There were pioneering attempts to bring them together. In Leicestershire, Bernard Aylward became ‘Design Adviser’ and the authority created design departments, often with purpose-built facilities. Other authorities followed suit and a design education ‘movement’ emerged with Professor Bruce Archer providing much of the theoretical underpinning. Mrs Thatcher even supported research into ’Design in General Education’ by the newly formed Design Education Unit at the Royal College of Art.

With ‘design’ included in two subject areas of the new National Curriculum the future looked secure. The subsequent history has not been happy. Subject rivalries proved very damaging. Opportunities for cooperation were missed. For example, one of the most important areas of design activity – architecture and town planning – proved to be nobody’s baby. Tragic because it could have provided the perfect area for cooperation together with exciting opportunities for teaching and learning.  Rivalries weakened the ability of both subjects to claim an important place in the curriculum.

However, there is a lot more to the ‘better together’ argument than curriculum politics. Design and Technology and Art and Design are the only areas of study centrally concerned with the creation of material culture. Since material culture provides the setting for all our lives and embodies many of our most potent hopes and fears, it is hard to imagine anything more important in the educational experience of children and young people.

There are also striking pedagogical approaches in common. In both areas the main medium for learning is practice. Typically, students carry out a series of projects which have been planned to provide a realistic framework for learning: design by designing; drawing by drawing; modelling by modelling and so on. They are learnt through making in the broadest sense of that word. In secondary school, perhaps only drama, music and cooking share this approach, though primary teachers have traditionally used it much more widely. In professional and trade education it is the only way to learn practical skills such as surgery, bricklaying, surveying or playing an instrument. This does not mean that these areas lack theory or rigour. Quite the contrary: there is always a dynamic interchange between theory and practice and a creative interplay between what is known already and what might be done in the future.

Better together need not mean merging. What it should mean is cooperation at many different levels of the education system. It is up to the teachers’ professional bodies, in conjunction with university departments, to take a lead to make design education more effective and better understood.

  • LDP published Design Education: A Vision for the Future in April 2013. It presents some fundamental positions that should underpin the development of design education in the 21st century.


LDP’s recommended supplier is The Great British Bookshop:Great British Bookshop The book is also available from  good book stores (eg Waterstones) and online book sellers (eg BOOKS etc).

ISBN References

ISBN [Paperback, B&W] 978-1-909671-03-4 … £7.99 RRP
ISBN [ePub, B&W] 978-1-909671-04-1 … £2.99 RRP
ISBN [Mobi, B&W] 978-1-909671-05-8 … £2.99 RRP

You are welcome to download a section of the book by clicking on the link below. This is a free download.

Download Sample Pages

View the Book Page for Design Education: A Vision for the Future.

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