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In a recent article What is the future of D&T and Engineering, I wrote about the driving forces behind changes to Design and Technology (D&T) over the last few years.

I concentrated in particular on the trends for industry-led and industry-set standards in technical qualifications.

Further, I predicted these trends will continue to affect D&T qualifications in the coming years. 

As a D&T teacher, how can you prepare for further changes coming ahead and be on the front-foot, instead of reacting at the 11th hour?

The devil is always in the detail of course… and no specific guidance has been given by the Department for Education for Technical Awards and Applied Generals, post- introduction of T Levels…

However there are several things we can infer from new apprenticeships and T Levels that may practically affect D&T departments in future: your department name, the qualifications you teach, and the content you teach.


Firstly let’s look at whether Design and Technology as a subject name will still remain in future…

Why is this?

To understand changes to D&T in the next few years, we need to first understand the direction of travel and design of T Levels. T Levels will provide the main guiding principles for technical qualifications at KS5, and eventually KS4 and KS3.

Let’s take a look at the general framework of T Levels and those areas most likely to affect D&T:

  • Under T Levels there are distinct “routes” aligned to specific job sectors.
  • There will be an “Engineering” route focused on product development, testing, electronics, and manufacture. Under the Engineering route, there are sub-routes called “Design, Development and Control”, “Manufacturing and Process”, and “Maintenance, Installation and Repair”
  • There will be a route for Design under the name of “Creative and Design”. This route includes sub-routes such as “Craft and Design” and “Media, Broadcast and Production”.

So under the T Levels, there are two separate and distinct routes which would have traditionally sat under the umbrella of “Design and Technology”.

Given that each route will involve a substantial amount of teaching time and resources, this potential split of D&T into two routes may force all but the most well-resourced departments to choose one area of specialism over the other.


Secondly what changes will there be to the qualification and content you teach?

Since T Levels are already in design phase, looking at how they are being put together in more detail, gives us clues as to where the overall D&T curriculum will be heading in future.

If we look at the advisors on the T Level panel for the Engineering route – and Design, Development and Control in particular – they include representatives from ARM, Rolls Royce Electronics Systems, Autodesk and CADCOE. The route recognises the importance of digital design and microcontrollers and we can expect these technologies to feature prominently in any new specification for that route.

That in itself is not a big surprise given that the national curriculum for KS3 and KS4 has already been heading this way: all new GCSEs in D&T have some element of microcontrollers and CAD. However when the T Levels are introduced, these technologies are likely to make an even greater show in what you teach.

Indeed, we know that the new Level 3 BTECs in Engineering already includes substantially larger, and mandatory units, on microcontrollers and CAD… perhaps in anticipation of the changes to come.

Since Design, Development and Control (on the face of it) will be closest to what we recognise as Product Design taught in schools now, the development of this route is one to keep a close eye on.


With the above information to hand, we have come up with some considerations and practical suggestions to help you ‘future-proof’ D&T as a department within your school:

  • Plan for new teaching content. Bear in mind when you make any decisions about your department that future D&T qualifications, especially Engineering-oriented, will likely include:
    • Greater guided learning hours on microcontrollers (and programming)
    • Expectation that learners can use CAD/CAM
    • Understanding and application of design and testing processes
  • Position your department. Start discussions within your department and with SLT how to best position your department.
    • Are you students more technically minded and engineering focused or are your students more interested in creative arts?
    • What about members of your D&T team?
    • Is this the time you start to prepare your department to specialise in one or other of the T Level routes?
  • Review and plan department resources. Start reviewing, then planning for your department resources.
    • Do you already have the latest CAD/CAM equipment and a full IT suite, or are you making do with legacy technology?
    • Is this the time to review any investments you are about to make; can you purchase technology which will cover current qualifications, and, can tie in with changes in future?
  • Don’t forget your greatest asset – teachers. We know teachers are key to successful student outcomes. Preparations you can make here are probably the most important.
    • Will you be able to offer expertise across all the likely new technologies for each T Level?
    • What expertise do you have in your teaching staff? How can you support your team to build further expertise in areas of strength, and plug in gaps where needed? 
    • Reviewing and knowing likely areas of curriculum in future, can you develop a targeted CPD plan for your team for the next 2 to 3 year, as well as guide you when recruiting new members of staff.



The first T Levels will start in September 2020. Engineering routes are currently earmarked to start in 2021. While that is still some 2 years off before most schools see changes to their KS5 specifications, there are clear trends and signals from the government as to where technical qualifications are headed.

Not only will T Levels themselves promise yet another significant change to the D&T curriculum, technical qualifications at KS4 and KS5 which eventually feed into T Levels will likely see changes too.

We recommend that schools start to plan ahead and think about where their D&T department will fit in to the new technical and vocational education landscape now.

What do you think? Where do you think your department will head? Let us know by email or post a comment at the end of this blog.


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