Boys into Textiles (INTX): D&T Textiles

DSC00571

I have always had an interest the differences between the learning of boys and girls. Part of this is because of the whole school role I had as Assistant Principal where I did a lot of work focusing on raising the achievement of boys. Even before that, however, I was interested in how boys think and learn. This was because it wasn’t seen as cool for boys to like textiles and this was something I never understood. As with many big businesses, many of the leaders in the textiles industries are men, yet it is looked down on by boys in school. This has meant that much of my career has been focused on trying to prove that boys are just as good as girls in a textiles classroom and that they can enjoy it just as much. 


Combatting stereotypes in textiles

boy on machine

The Textiles Industry is a major employer in this country and across the world. The nature of the industry is changing although the press focus tends to fall on the bad news areas like the closing manufacturing units and the growth of manufacturing abroad. The other side of the coin is that, like other industries and society as a whole, Textiles is changing and moving forward to keep up with the modern technological world we now live in. In many areas the industry is actually leading the way with Textiles materials that are stronger than metal and developments in ‘intelligent’ fabrics with ‘super powers’ to combat fire, chemicals and the elements.

Textiles has always been a popular secondary school subject coming under the umbrella of Design and Technology. The idea that Textiles is all about ‘sewing’ and ‘fashion’ is still, however, a dominant one and it is this image that is putting off a lot of young males who consider this option at GCSE far too girly with little real value in terms of careers or future study. The situation is not helped by parents, and even other teachers, being behind the times and not realising things have changed in recent years. 

Developments in Textiles Technology will play an important part in all of our futures and it is therefore important that the subject is able to attract high calibre technically minded students that can carry this research forward – these students are the future of Textiles and boys should have as much access to these opportunities as girls. 


A 21st Century curriculum

IMG_7966

During my time at Lutterworth College, a large 14-19 non selective comprehensive school in Leicestershire, my colleagues and I were keen to design a 21st Century curriculum that appealed to both boys and girls.

In particular we were keen to teach textiles in a way that challenged the stereotypes of textiles being a dying industry as well as one that only appeals to girls. We therefore focused on changing the curriculum to reflect the more technical nature of the Textiles industry educating students about the dynamic and exciting opportunities Textiles can offer beyond the traditional ones they knew. 

In addition we did research on how boys learn, both from an academic perspective, as well as by observing boys, and by doing surveys and interviews with them. We used this research to help us design a curriculum that appealed to boys as well as using it to help us adapt the teaching and learning strategies we used. 

IMGP0318

More information on these curriculum changes can be found at the following links and presentations:

Engaging boys

Boys will be boys presentation

21st Century textiles

Beyond cushions bags and hats - a presentation originally produced for the D&T Association on ideas for updating the textiles curriculum 

Modern, smart and electronic textiles - a resource pack to buy to help teachers update their curriculum

Electronic materials and components to buy - buy the resources needed to integrate electronics into textiles


The INTX project

IMGP0322

As well as reviewing our curriculum generally my colleagues and I at Lutterworth designed an off timetable project specifically focused at challenging and breaking stereotypes and barriers about textiles held by boys. 

INTX (standing for Boys into Textiles) started as a three day project specifically aimed at giving year 8 boys hands on experience in the area of industrial and technical Textiles. Applications were invited from the main feeder schools for the College. As a 14-19 school we did not teach KS3 students and therefore had limited influence over their option choices. The project aimed to educate and enthusing a group of young male ‘ambassadors’ about the nature of the modern Textiles industry so that stereotypes could be challenged at the classroom level with these boys spreading the word to their friends. This was felt to be a more powerful tool than talks about textiles from a group of adults. 

DSCF0021 _Snapseed

To get on the project boys had to submit an application form which included a short task. The aim of this was to create a sense of excitement about getting onto the project so that it would be considered 'special'. This also played to the fact that our research had told us that boys respond well to a competitive environment. There was a bias towards choosing gifted and talented students although the focus was not just on students who were strong academically but those who showed talent in areas relevant to D&T. The reason for this was because we needed high quality ambassadors who would understand the part they played in passing on the message to their friends once the project was over. This meant the project would have a longer term impact on boys. Also by focusing on G&T students we were able to access funding both within school and externally. 


What the boys experienced

IMGP0250

The 20 boys who attend INTX spent time doing a range of activities, lectures and visits linked to technical and industrial Textiles with the final day culminating in students doing presentations to invited guests and parents. Over time and with some funding cuts the project changed both in terms of length and supporting industrial partners but throughout the high tech emphasis was maintained as was the input from De Montfort University. 

MVC-021S

INTX highlights over the years included a brilliant lecture from Professor Gary Savage from BAR Racing on the use of Carbon Fibre in F1 racing cars, a visit to the army research base at Bicester where students were fascinated by bullet proof fabrics and the different ways the army uses Textiles, visits to Palmhive Technical Textiles in Nottingham to see how these fabrics were made, lectures on Futurology from Dr Phil Sams, a research scientist who captured students’ interest with talk of exo-skeletons, anabatic shoes and smart materials, presentations from Darren Robinson of A4 Distribution, a Skate Footwear company who showed the boys specialist skate footwear and discussed why their favourite sport required such modern technology and even watching skate boarders in action using high tech textiles at The Board Walk in Leicester. In addition to this various hands on testing of different fabrics was done in the testing labs at De Montfort University. 

IMGP0327

An important part of the project was the tasks the students were set. These included research projects, presentations, fabric testing exercises as well as design and make activities. The aim to show students that not only was this exciting cutting edge technology out there but that they could be involved in it at school in a more basic way. 


The results

100_0773

The boys response to the INTX project each year was excellent and there was always a real buzz in the air during the project. Comments like : ‘It was the greatest experience ever’, ‘It was great and you were unlucky if you didn’t go’, ‘Interesting and exciting’, ‘Brilliant and totally worthwhile’ have been typical of feedback from boys that take part.  

IMGP0343

The INTX project, along with other work the department did,  saw an increase in the number of boys opting at GCSE and A level as well as in the number of students who went onto study or work in a related area after school. The impact on the older boys who took part in leading the project was also huge and we regularly saw a dramatic change in their attitude and performance resulting from the leadership skills they had developed. 

DSC00569

Although the project did target a particular group of students it was definitely felt that the benefits went across a broad range of students. We also, for example, saw a change in attitudes across the school towards Textiles with it no longer being considered a ‘girly’ subject. This change in attitude was not just restricted to the students but also impacted on parents, those in the community and staff in school. This in turn resulted increased support within school for the subject as well as increased funding. 

DSC00576

The impact on the teaching and learning in the department was also significant in that teachers took on board new ideas and were open to changing their teaching styles and strategies. The added bonus was that the new curriculum and ideas that worked well with supporting boys learning also had a very positive impact on the learning of girls. 

There is a whole world of Textiles out there that is different to the traditional ‘design’ and ‘fashion’ image. Perhaps the comment that best represents what many of the boys discovered about Textiles is a comment said in total awe and amazement by one of the year 8 boys on the project in the early days ‘Textiles is everything and everywhere’.

Click here to find out about a similar event run by Maggie Brand from Uckfield Community Technology College in East Sussex. 


DPP 0088  Snapseed

Published articles on INTX

Future Materials (industrial textiles magazine)

Just4Textiles (textiles in education magazine)

D&T Practice (D&T in education magazine by the D&T Association)

A student's view


Are you trying to make your curriculum more boy friendly?

I get a lot of requests for information on teaching boys in textiles but this is such a huge area that it is hard to sum it up in a few words. Many of the training workshops I run focus on teaching and learning strategies that engage boys in textiles and I also run workshops where the focus is only on the learning of boys (check the Workshop Calendar to see if there are any of these courses coming up soon) 

Here are my top 10 tips on working with boys:

  1. Give learning a purpose by showing them the big picture 
  2. Relate boys learning to their experiences & choose resources with this in mind 
  3. Make learning active by allowing boys the opportunity to explore ideas through problem solving & an iterative approach (& teach theory through practical as much as possible)
  4. Use a variety of learning styles & multi sensory approaches as well as building in competition and humour
  5. Provide boys with choice and ask them what would support their learning
  6. Give opportunities for talking, particularly based around the things boys are weak at, as this helps them practise these skills 
  7. Develop boys skills by explicitly developing key skills and teaching strategies in areas where boys are perceived as being weaker e.g. memory skills, thinking skills, planning and organising, evaluation
  8. Break down learning into clear steps to encourage boys to experience success and to them giving up quickly
  9. Give instant feedback and spontaneous specific praise and as this builds on small successes and develops self esteem 
  10. Teach as if you have boys even if you don’t as this helps you embed boy friendly habits. When planning projects choose ones that will suit boys as they generally appeal to girls (but this is rarely the case the other way round)
IMGP0720


The workshops I run on boys learning provide support on how to actively achieve these points in the classroom in an engaging way. 


Recommended Reading

PICT0024Connell Bevan

There is a huge amount of reading material on how boys learn. A book that I found very influential on my own teaching is 'Bringing the best out in boys' by Lucinda Neall. It is easy to read and challenges teachers to think about boys in a different way.










Contact:     Tel 01159 607061    Mob 07972 749240   Email julie@julieboyd.co.uk
You can also find a contact form under 'About'  on the top menu bar

© Julie Boyd 2012  All  text, images & ideas on this website are the copyright of Julie Boyd & may not be copied or reproduced without permission.. All rights Reserved.