In the fifth episode of The Subject Leaders Podcast, Sarah Haigh, subject leader for DT, answers the following questions:
How can subject leaders set clear objectives for their subject's curriculum?
How can subject leaders ensure that their subject's curriculum matches the national curriculum?
With the national Curriculum, do you feel like it's freeing or constraining to have that maybe one or two pages of objectives as opposed to, like you said, with maths and English and science, where it's actually quite a full curriculum?
Are skills continua a good idea when developing a subject based on a national curriculum outlined?
How can teachers themselves develop the subject knowledge needed to be able to teach DT?
Should children work through the entire iterative design process in each unit?
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Below you can find the transcript for this episode of The Subject Leaders Podcast:
Sarah: My name is Sarah. I currently work at Westbourne Primary School in Manningham in Bradford. I've been there for nearly seven years now, really enjoying it. It's quite a disadvantaged area, but that means we could do a lot of really good work there, which I'm sure is there everywhere.
Aidan: So, can you tell us a little bit about your experience as a primary teacher and a subject leader?
Sara: Yes, so I have worked in upper key stage two for my whole teaching career the past seven years. Four years in year six and then three years in year five. I was first given music as a subject lead, but I didn't really know what to do with it, and then was given DT in 2019. So I've been DT lead since 2019 and I've done quite a lot of work on our DT curriculum since then.
Aidan: Great. So is DT your subject specialism or have you got another?
Sara: I have not done DT since I was in year 13, year eleven, doing my GCCEs. It was just I was asked to do it. I do enjoy music, I've done a lot of music things, but I did biology at Uni. So very different to what my skill set is, but I've put a lot of work in and I've done a lot of work in my own subject knowledge to help me.
Aidan: Yeah, I think that's really encouraging for other subject leaders because quite often in primary you end up leading a subject that isn't necessarily one that you've spent a lot of time learning about, whether at Uni or otherwise. So it's going to be interesting to see how you've developed your own knowledge of a subject in order to be able to lead it in school. So, if the curriculum were being slimmed down, which subject would you fight hard to keep?
Sarah: I know I am a DT lead, but since becoming DT lead, I realised that it is actually a really important subject; I think it provides children with lots of transferable skills that they need in later life. And if you think about our future, a lot of jobs that they're going to have in the future are going to be based on technology, designing, things like that. So I think that is a really good one. I think all of the subjects have their place in education. It's just there are so many it's really hard to say which one we wouldn't need. I think they all are important in their own way.
Aidan: Yeah, it's a difficult question.
Sarah: Yeah. Just sitting on the fence on that one, I'm not quite sure!
Aidan: That's fine, that's allowed. So what do you love about being a subject leader?
Sarah: I like that you're given responsibility and you get to try things out, make mistakes, as everyone does, but work through things and it's giving that first step in, if you did want to go into leadership, you have that first step, a bit of responsibility and things like that.
Aidan: Yeah, it's a bit of a taster, isn't it, of what might be available to you as a school leader in other roles.
Sarah: And I think also if you've only been in one year group, make sure you then look at other parts, like other year groups and things like that. So you're not just then stuck in your own bubble of key stage, you then look elsewhere and then you get more information about where the children are either going or coming from as well.
Aidan: Yeah, definitely. And especially you've got time to get out of your class and to go and see your subject's lessons in action and you do get to interact with lots more children of different ages. That's great.
How can subject leaders set clear objectives for their subject's curriculum?
Aidan: So let's get on to your big three questions that are really specific to you today. The first couple are ones that you will answer so that subject leaders of all subjects can learn from what your experiences have been. And the last one, we will focus more in on your particular subject, DT. So, first question, how can subject leaders set clear objectives for their subject's curriculum?
Sarah: I had to quite think about this quite hard and I thought about the journey that I've been on, because when I became the subject to the DT, I was like, I've not done DT since year eleven. I didn't even know what that means. What is DT? In my primary school? And I won't lie, I got it wrong to begin with. I went straight in straight away saying, right, let's do X, Y and Z. And it wasn't until later on in the journey that I realised that actually, that's not the way to go about it. So, especially if you knew I don't think you should make any sort of objectives before you have improved your own subject knowledge. Because if you've not taught the subject before or you haven't really led that subject it somewhere, then who are you to go and say, right, we're doing this, when you don't know if that's the right sort of thing? So I think improving your own subject knowledge is massive to begin with and some of the foundation subjects, the curriculum is actually quite vague, so some of the subjects have like two pages of the curriculum and then key stage two, it's over four years as well. So it's about understanding what all of those sections actually mean. I would research organisations that are focused on that part of the curriculum as well. So, like, Mary Myatt is really good on Twitter. We've also had her come to one of our trust conferences and she was really good. She has so many good sources for the foundation curriculum. She has lots of links to various different places in our school. We've looked at the Historical Association for helping with our history curriculum, the Design and Technology Association for our DT curriculum. It's about going out there and seeing what good resources there are out there that can help you understand what your subject is about, really. And then I think once you've improved your own subject knowledge, you need to look at what your school vision is for your children. Do you have a motto that talks about their learning? What are the values of the school? What do you expect the children to achieve by the end of it? Because your subject needs to fit into the values of the school. Do you expect the children to learn through skills? Do you want them to learn in a different way? So it's about how are you going to fit into the school's vision of the children's journey of learning? So that for me took quite a while. So I did my NPQML a couple of years ago where I was reintroducing the DT curriculum to our school. And a lot of work, it was months of work went into subject knowledge and me finding out what DT actually was and putting that into the context of our school before I even then went to staff with what the changes were going to make. So only recently I brought about a long term plan for a subject. Before our school and staff were able to decide what they wanted to do, whereas I've realised since doing the NPQ, that actually that isn't good for children necessarily because it doesn't provide them with the consistency in their learning and the teaching in the school. So I think you creating a long term plan as a subject lead massively creates clear objectives so people know when they're going to be teaching something and then also creating a medium term plan as well. They know what knowledge or skills and it can be progressive and also making sure that we can link back to prior learning and things like that. So I think having been a subject lead, you need to have those two documents that you have made because then it's really clear on what they need to teach, when they need to teach it, and what knowledge they need to teach and the progression of it.
Aidan: Great. So we can look at what's out there and we can immerse ourselves as subject leaders into that to develop our own subject knowledge. And once we've done that and gone through that process, start to work out which objectives go where in which year group and to start to sequence those and see how they're going to build on each other. And you would advise a subject leader to do that themselves so that they really have that clear understanding of the curriculum.
Sarah: Yeah, I think once you become a subject lead and you start implementing things, you then become an expert in that subject. So your teachers are going to come to you and ask you questions and expect you to provide an answer. So if you don't know the answer, then you need to go about and find the time and it's really hard. We talk about time and no one's got any time but it's advocating for the subject that you need. So if you need that time, then going for and asking for time from your school to be able to answer other people's questions by having the knowledge yourself and being confident in giving that knowledge.
Aidan: Yeah. So having that subject knowledge has got a greater purpose than just setting the objectives. It does so much more as well.
Sarah: Because - I know I hate using the word Ofsted - but now they ask you why you've made the decisions that you've made and you've got to be able to answer that. So if you've gone away and researched about your subject, you've improved your subject knowledge, you will have those answers without even really needing to think about it because you've made decisions based on what you know.
How can subject leaders ensure that their subject's curriculum matches the national curriculum?
Aidan: Great, thanks. So you mentioned earlier about the national curriculum and using that as part of your process for setting clear objectives. How can subject leaders ensure that their subject's curriculum matches the national curriculum?
Sarah: I think main thing is you got to read the national curriculum as your starting point because that is what we are expected to teach. Some schools might not follow the national curriculum if they are an academy but that most schools will do. So your starting point is reading the national curriculum. And I hold my hands up. I don't think as a teacher I actually read the first part of the curriculum. But it tells you that the purpose of the study until I became a subject lead and not actually knowing why you are teaching that subject as a teacher, I think is not very good. And that is something I have to change it myself. But that is a starting point of reading, the purpose of it. Because what your curriculum has to match that purpose through the skills and through the knowledge that you teach, which is nice and easy if you lead on math or English or science. Because there are lots and lots of individual, very small objectives that are very clear. If you then go to art or MFL, it becomes a lot smaller and you've got to pick apart the actual bits that are in that curriculum. So it's about reading between the lines. So lots of things are put into one sentence where actually it might be two or three different parts to your subject's curriculum. So for example, if you look at the art curriculum, it mentions drawing, painting and sculpture. Well, individually they're quite massive things that you could draw out a lot of progression from all the way from the nursery to year six. So it's about picking out those kind of key disciplines, I'm going to call them, within the subject that you can then form your curriculum on. So in DT, you've got textiles and mechanics and electricity and structures. There are sort of disciplines that you do DT. Within geography, you've got your physical geography and your locational knowledge. And is it yeah, it's about finding what is going to be the main sort of themes within that subject that you can show progression in and then identifying the skills that the children are going to have to need to meet that criteria of the curriculum. Like I said before, I'd go out and find people who have looked at that curriculum and have pulled that apart. I always say don't reinvent the wheel or work smarter, not harder. So not necessarily just taking things straight away, but using what other people have learned and found out and helping that with what you are trying to do as well.
Aidan: So we circle back, don't we, to some of your answer, to the first question, in that you're going to use the structure of the national curriculum, but actually you are going to fill in the gaps. You're going to read between the lines, you're going to make some inferences, and you're going to bring that knowledge that you've gained of your subject to actually, what does painting look like, for example? So do you think that skills, continuum or continua, are a good idea when developing a subject based on a national curriculum outlined that doesn't give that much detail?
Sarah: That's what at our school the route that we've gone down. We are very much teaching the subject through skills. So through history we teach historical skills. So looking at primary and secondary sources while looking at the different aspects of history, teaching DT through specific skills and we're developing our art curriculum to do the same. So we are very much teaching through a progression of skills because drawing should look, if you're looking at art, drawings should look very different between a nursery child and a year six child. Sometimes it doesn't, but our curriculum should give them the tools and the skills to improve and progress. So I think focusing on the skills and showing how that is taught differently from year six that down yet to year one is a really good way of teaching, especially the foundation subjects.
Aidan: And I am assuming that that goes along with knowledge that has been specified as well. So that you've got knowledge and skills.
Sarah: Yes. So we have specific knowledge that we'll teach which our subject leads are now specifically writing in medium term plans, so you have specific knowledge that you will teach alongside the skills. So for example, in DT the skill is joining two things together, but the knowledge is that if you cut an art straw at the end, it will stick easily. Or the knowledge if you are cooking that you need to knead the bread to stretch the gluten so the bread will not be so tough, whereas the skill is just the kneading. So they go sort of hand in hand together, the knowledge and the skills.
Aidan: Great. And just one more question on this. With the national Curriculum, do you feel like it's freeing or constraining to have that maybe one or two pages of objectives as opposed to, like you said, with maths and English and science, where it's actually quite a full curriculum?
Sarah: That is a hard question because you want to have the creativity and the freedom for the children to express themselves and do things their own way. But then maths will probably look quite similar in whatever school you go in, because you have to teach those things, but the foundations will look quite different, which is not necessarily a bad thing. But when you know in maths you have to teach something in a certain year group, it does make your life easier. But I think schools are now taking the time to separate the curriculum out into specific year groups. So they are I think it is good that you are able to fit the curriculum to your school, because Manningham is a very different place to even Ilkley, which is a couple of miles away. So our children's experiences are very different. So what we do in our curriculum matches the experience they've had or what we can give them for their education. So I think it does mean that you can tailor it to your school a bit more rather than being fixed and so you have to do this in this year group, because our children might not be as advanced in their art skills compared to the school so we can then tailor it to what their needs are.
Aidan: Yeah, it does provide that flexibility, doesn't it? Even if initial look at it, think, you think, what on earth are we supposed to do with this?
How can teachers develop the subject knowledge needed to be able to teach DT?
Aidan: Let's move on to your last question. I know we've referred to DT and some other subjects already, but this question is very particularly about DT, and you've mentioned a little bit about this already, so I wondered if we could explore it some more. So how can teachers themselves develop the subject knowledge needed to be able to teach DT?
Sarah: So I think the first step is that your subject lead has to be knowledgeable, because as a teacher, you are probably going to get a lot of the knowledge from your subject lead through your CPD time, and unless you as a teacher, go off and do the research yourself. I think what I told my staff was basically what DT is, because we were not teaching DT prior to 2020 or even after that, we were teaching craft. So people were making Tudor houses or Viking long shirts or shields or hats. And I thought that was DT because they're making. In the DT curriculum, it says you need to design, make, and evaluate. However, DT is actually designing something for somebody for a purpose. And that is the really important thing, that purpose. It has to have a purpose, otherwise it isn't DT. So gone are the days where we now make Greek pots out of clay, which is even more of an art objective than DT. So that is, at the bare bones of our DT, our children are designing something for somebody for some purpose. And that came from the Design and Technology Association. They call it the three S's to keep it nice and simple. If you have not got a membership as a school for the Design and Technology Association, I really recommend it because they have so many great resources that you can use for your school. And it's not a scheme of work that you might get with Plan B or Kapow. It gives you a framework that you can use to then enter a context for your school that benefits your children. That I thought was really good. So you've got the three S's, which is DT. Then it's understanding that DT is actually split into what I'm going to call disciplines. I mentioned a bit earlier that we've got mechanisms textiles, structures, food and electrical systems. Now, in the national curriculum, they're putting the squared brackets, which says you don't have to teach those things. It's not statutory, but actually it's giving you a hint there of what your curriculum could involve. So I think that is a good starting point for making sure that you are including those different parts in your curriculum. So we cover DT over a key stage, so they cover those different disciplines over year one and two, three and four, five and six. So we don't do DT every term. We do it once a term, so three times a year, they do six different units every two years. And the third thing that I think is really important is that DT is a process, and it's the same process every single time that you do DT. So children need to start by evaluating what is already out there, so evaluating existing products, they'd know what's out there, what other people have designed, taking things apart. I know often we look at cost, but we do a lot of things with pictures so they can see things and we try get things in as well. Once you've evaluated what's already out there, we then teach them the specific skills that they're going to need later on, because decisions about how they're going to do something if they don't actually know the skill that's involved. So, for example, if they're doing textiles, we'll teach them sewing stitches, or if they're cooking, we'll teach them knife skills, or health and safety kneading if we're making bread. And then after we've done all that, we then go into designing, making their own and evaluating. And what I tell my staff is that you should not have 30 of the same in your class they should all be different because the children need to be making their own decisions and working through problems, which are great life skills for later in life: decision making and working through problems. And then we also make sure that it's looking at the skills. So we were a school where we linked a lot of things. And DT often gets linked to history, which I saw an article about why we're linking design and technology history when we're supposed to be innovative and looking forward and future thinking. So now all our topics, our units are standalone, but we link a lot to science and maths because it's the STEM subjects. So that we make links where there are strong links, we don't make tenuous links. So we really focus on teaching those DT skills. Then none of the subjects are watered down. The children get a really good deal with all of the subjects rather than mixing them and trying to make tenuous links. Those are the key things that I think are a good fit for a DT curriculum.
Aidan: Yeah, I think that it's really interesting the things you've outlined as things that teachers need to know, because there's one way of answering that question, which would be how to soar a piece of wood, how to solder some electronic components together. But you've actually gone before all of that. Before you get to those kind of details, you actually need to know what DT is, what its purpose is. You actually need to know about that iterative design process and what those different stages are. And if you've got those pieces of knowledge that understanding, you can run a unit a lot more successfully, regardless of whether it's woodwork or fabric or food, because you've got those basic underpinning structures to the unit. What would you say to teachers who had got that knowledge that you've just outlined, but then do want that more discipline-specific knowledge?
Sarah: I'm going to refer back to the Design and Association Technology Association, because we use their Projects on a Page, which are a fabulous resource because it goes through all of what I've just done and then it goes through the really specific things that you can teach them. So if you, for example, are doing structures, it tells you exactly how you can make joins. So our school doesn't have huge amounts of DT resources. We do have some, but you can do DT without a wesoldering iron. We don't have saws, we don't have wood. But art straws are a fabulous resource. They're cheap, you can cut them, the children, you can colour them. So it's about thinking what you already have in school rather than you don't feel that you have to give a child a saw because you've seen other schools doing it. I think if you have those sorts of tools built into your school already, you could probably do that easily. But for us, we decided that our staff didn't feel confident in using those tools. The children hadn't really learned how to use them. So we've gone for units that fit with our children and what we have but I think if you're looking for the specific things, then looking at the projects on the page, because they give you lots of advice on specific skills that you can teach them or different ways that you could do it that might fit your school.
Aidan: So this makes this curriculum that you're talking about accessible to anyone. It's not limited by the resources you have?
Sarah: No, it's not limited to the resources. So what you can do with wood, you can do with an art straw. It's just a lot cheaper and easier to use. We are very lucky that we have a cooking room, so we do have ovens and things like that. Other schools might not be as lucky. It's not until year five and six that we start using a heat source. So it could be that what you decide to make in the achieve fit the school that you have. You could also get portable gas burners if you're thinking of different ways that you could do things. But if you don't have something, it's about thinking cleverly about what you do have: think what you do have and how you can use that effectively in DT. And I say it doesn't have to as long as it functions and it's doing the right thing. You can talk about in your evaluation why it's not colourful. As long as it's a project that works and they can talk about it. And if things go wrong, great, because children can then start to problem solve and think about what they could have done differently, how could they have made it work, it didn't work and things like that. It's a good learning curve if not everything works.
Aidan: I'm going to throw in one more question. So you mentioned the design process earlier in your answer. Do you think that in each unit children have to work through that entire process or is there another way of doing it where teachers might provide some parts of the process and you focus on particular aspects?
Sarah: I think it is good for children to have that full cycle. I think sometimes we manage to support them, so in younger years they work together to create a design criteria. So there's a lot of adult support, but who are we to dampen down our children's creativity? If we're telling them that - we do phone cases in year six - your phone case has to be blue or something like that or it's got to have four sides, I think, that then restricts them. We need to let them be creative, think for themselves and have that full cycle. And I chose to do it like this because it goes to consistency. Our children will always follow the same cycle, so they always know that they will be looking at different products first. And if they're always doing that, they're going to get better and better and better at it. If we then take bits of the process out, they're then not going back and recapping that skill and then they don't know, are we doing this part today or we're not. It's always the same. So it doesn't matter what year group they go into, that is the cycle that they are going to follow. So they can really focus on the things that they do need to learn and then not think, oh well, I don't want to do that. It's given them the freedom and the opportunity to do their own individual thinking.
Aidan: So rather than take parts out, you will support different parts and work towards maybe more autonomy as the children get older and they carry out that process alone, having carried it out multiple times before.
Sarah: Yes. So things start out very much supported and scaffolded down in year one with lots of adults apart, working in groups and then as they move up, that's the progression: they do it themselves more. So in year six, they create their own design criteria, their own product. It's more something that they've done themselves. Obviously children, individual children might need extra bit of support and the way that the units progress if a child can't sew that they can go back and maybe look at year one or two and see if they can still do the same thing, but maybe in a slightly different way. So it's been inclusive. So everyone will create the same thing by the end, but it will look slightly different and got there in a slightly different way.
Aidan: Great. Thank you so much for your answers today. Thank you for taking the time out of your day as well to chat to me and to be a guest on this podcast. Do you want to add any final words to what you've said today?
Sarah: Basically, I've been pitching Design and Technology Association. If you don't have any DT curriculum, they are the people to go and find it all out from.
Aidan: Well, thank you so much. Thank you for coming on.
Sarah: Thank you. See you. Bye.