New Curriculum: D&T Textiles

This page outlines some of the questions I am regularly asked about the changes to the D&T curriculum, and in particular the change to the single GCSE D&T qualification and its impact on textiles. These answers are my own thoughts and opinions only and are not linked to any exam board or other organisation. The content will be relevant to all D&T teachers but the questions focus more on textiles as this is what I am asked about the most.

The quotes on this page are from key figures in textiles and most were taken from meetings, lectures or events where I heard each individual speak. 

You might also be interested in:

My thoughts on the new draft GCSE specifications  

Q&A page on D&T textiles and art textiles

The Textiles Ten

How textiles revolutionised human technology - article about the importance of textiles in the past and the future

Click here to see the latest documents on the new KS3, 4 & 5 curriculum 

Q1  What do you think of the changes in D&T? 

It’s important to stress these are my opinions only and I’m also basing comments on what we know so far about the changes. 

There isn’t a simple answer to this question. Do I think changes are needed in D&T? Yes, I do, in fact I think the 2009 GCSE and A level changes let us down and should have been gone further as we are now left with significant change all at once. I also think that the fact that textiles has traditionally been linked to Food Technology is no longer relevant and we have more in common with other areas of D&T and the changes help address that. 

I generally feel positive about the changes although I don’t agree with all aspects. There is too much major change at once, the timescale is far too short, and the reality of the set up of many D&T departments are a major barrier e.g. the traditional positioning of food and textiles rooms together, but the new curriculum focusing on textiles having a stronger link with other material areas. 

Am I nervous about the changes and their impact? Yes, I am, even though overall I am positive. It’s natural to feel nervous about the uncertainty change brings. I worry about the impact on D&T as a whole, and particularly textiles because it is my specialist area. Like others, I worry about the nature of the broader content and whether the GCSE will give a good grounding for A level. Also whilst I agree with the spirit of the changes, and the reasons for them, I remain wary about how the exam boards will approach things. 

So why do I generally support the changes? A key feature of my career has been getting textiles accepted as a valid, worthwhile and challenging subject. I have constantly challenged stereotypes around how textiles is perceived, including changing the attitudes of boys to textiles. I have also been passionate about promoting what textiles is as a 21st century subject (or 20th century as it was for part of my career!). 

Along with many other teachers, I fought hard to move away from the image of craft in order to reflect the reality of the industry and to get respect from others and give my subject validity. In recent years I have been sad to see craft projects creep back in, resulting once again in textiles being dismissed as irrelevant in some schools. 

I love craft textiles and if I could do craft textiles all day I would! The reality is it isn’t about what teachers like, but about the role education plays in meeting the needs of industry, and the needs of our young people going out into employment. The industry has changed significantly, with more cross overs in material areas and more links to science, and the current qualifications haven’t kept up with that and it is important our subject doesn’t lag behind.

It is vital D&T teachers focus on the bigger picture. Just because some of the new curriculum is new learning and out of our comfort zone doesn’t mean we shouldn’t embrace it. We need to do what is right for young people in an ever changing and technological world not what we like doing ourselves. And we need to remember that we have a responsibility to help students see the bigger picture rather than just letting them do what they want.

I think there is also some validity in the argument that students currently specialise too early, especially where a school has a 3 year GCSE starting in year 9. Students choose their options in year 8 meaning their experience of materials is very limited. The broader approach means students are more ‘grown up’ when they make the choice to specialise at post 16 level, and are therefore more able to consider career choices and the bigger picture. 

For various reasons textiles is also incorrectly seen as an easy subject and in particular the challenging academic side isn’t recognised. Whilst I am wary of the broader materials context of the new single GCSE written exam, the sad fact is that this content, along with the new science and maths content, might help our subject be valued more and might help others recognise the academic side of what we do. 

The changes are happening whether we like it or not. We may not agree with some of the changes but it is important to use our energies to try and make things work the best they can rather than fighting something we have no influence over. I think there are many challenges ahead but I keep going back in my mind to a department I worked in fairly early on in my career where computers were introduced. The change was resisted by everyone and I ended up with them in my classroom. The learning curve was steep but I quickly saw the benefits whilst other teachers held out for years before embracing IT. Now of course we all fight for more IT and recognise it’s importance to the industry. I have no idea if these changes will be similar but it leaves me more open minded about the fact that I might need to change what I do even though I don’t really want to!

Students are often doing the same project their parents did

Diana Choulerton, Ofsted National Lead for Design & Technology

Q2  Is there still a place for textiles in the single D&T qualification?

Whilst the move to the single D&T qualification is significant change there is no reason to assume it is a negative one for textiles. The impact the change will have depends on how each school approaches the single GCSE. It will also depend on how the exam boards interpret the subject content and how they choose to approach things.

Textiles has clear references in the curriculum at all key stages and this therefore means it should be taught at all key stages as well. Indeed the majority of the KS3 curriculum can be covered in textiles including the programmable components. Where departments are choosing to remove textiles from the curriculum this should be strongly challenged as it goes against the content of the D&T curriculum. Indeed, the content of the new curriculum itself provides a tool for making this challenge.

The new curriculum doesn’t mean we have to suddenly become experts in other material areas (more on this later). We can still retain our individual personality whilst becoming part of a wider group. How much textiles retains its identity and uniqueness will depend on how each school approaches the changes. Historically textiles has been linked to Food Technology in schools but in reality the links to learning across these areas is now weak and what we do is much more related to other material areas. 

I can’t promise things will be easy while the changes bed in, and there will be lots of challenges to face, but there is no reason why textiles shouldn’t play a big a part in the new curriculum as it does now. Whilst we will no doubt have to embrace new content there’s no reason why much of what we currently do shouldn't remain. 

….evolution not revolution…'

Jonny Edge, Subject Specialist Design & Technology, OCR


Check out this article on textiles in the 2017 GCSE (originally appeared in the CLEAPSS D&T magazine)

Q3  But don’t we lose the identity & uniqueness of textiles by moving towards a single GCSE in D&T?

The single GCSE in D&T is a significant change so there will be differences, and we probably won’t like some of them! Textiles won’t lose its uniqueness unless we allow it to. We need to focus on how we retain this individuality whilst also embracing new opportunities the new curriculum will give us. 

Just because we are embracing the potential of using other materials, including using non textiles materials alongside textiles ones, it doesn’t mean we lose the more traditional elements of D&T textiles, or the ability to be ‘arty’. In fact for many this will open up new areas of creativity and opportunity. 

How textiles retains its identity will be up to each individual school and the approach they take. Indeed the identity of textiles should become stronger as others will start to understand the wider nature of what textiles is, and that it is as much about engineering as it is about fashion.

We’re engineers – we deal with fibres as our building blocks

Dr Hewitt, Non Wovens Innovation & Research Institute

Q4  How does being part of a single GCSE D&T strengthen textiles?

Being a part of D&T could strengthen textiles for a number of reasons. There are clear references to textiles being a strong part of D&T across the curriculum at KS3, 4 and 5. These can be used to challenge decisions to exclude textiles from the curriculum. 

It will be less easy to call us a ‘soft’ subject because of the number of textiles materials that also come under the resistant materials heading and it will be easier for D&T colleagues to see these links. This wider understanding of what textiles is will give us a louder voice including from those who don’t currently understand what we do. If we can also use this greater understanding of textiles to break down gender stereotypes, with more boys engaging with textiles materials, and more male teachers promoting it in the classroom, there will be more understanding that textiles is not the soft ‘girly’ option it is sometimes seen as.

From a wider perspective textiles makes D&T stronger, which in turns means heads of department should be wary about losing the contribution textiles makes to D&T’s overall results. For 2015 textiles entries made up 12% of the total number of D&T entries. As textiles was also the second highest performing subject across the whole curriculum this has a very positive impact on A*-C results for D&T. It is therefore important for any department to consider whether this national pattern is reflected in their department, as moving textiles into art, for example, could immediately impact negatively on whole D&T results. 

If Design and Technology is not or cannot become the subject it purports to be - what is our justification for it to be valued and promoted?

Diana Choulerton, Ofsted National Lead for Design & Technology

Q5  Why does there have to be change when previous systems worked so well?

Although the 2009 curriculum worked well, there were flaws, in particular the focus on separate material areas doesn’t reflect real world design and restricts student opportunities as it divides materials into separate categories that don’t really exist. Over the last few years, in some schools there has been a gradual return to a more craft based D&T. Whilst these schools have introduced new technology and used new materials many place a heavy focus on making end products to take home rather than focusing on the wider place D&T plays in society.

There is also a belief that students currently specialise too early. In particular schools who follow a 3 year GCSE starting in year 9 are getting students to choose their options in year 8 when their experience of materials is very limited. The broader approach means students are more ‘grown up’ when they make the choice to specialise at post 16 level, and are therefore more able to consider career choices and the bigger picture. 

There are lots of cross overs between material areas, for example carbon fibre and polypropylene are both textiles fibres as well as being used in resistant materials (and both are in the A level Product Design Textiles specification). It is not an exaggeration to say that textiles materials are taking over from traditional ones, but both textiles and non textiles teachers are often unaware of this. A Formula 1 racing car, for example, should actually be classed as a textiles product because of the carbon fibre body and chassis, along with other textiles elements of the car. Many textiles and non textiles teachers unaware of this cross over and this lack of a broader understanding weakens our subject. Historically textiles has traditionally been linked to Food Technology but the reality is that these links are now weak and textiles has much more in common with other material areas. The difficulty is many teachers (including myself) have been forced down the stereotyped food and textiles route and haven’t therefore been able to build confidence in other material areas. 

Change is always difficult, but it is part of the core of what D&T is, and therefore what we signed up for when we chose to teach the subject. D&T is about new technologies, new ideas and moving forward so we should expect change to be constant. 

The changes are happening whether we like it or not and it may therefore be better for to use our energies to try and make things work the best they can rather than fighting something we have no influence over. The significant general changes in education such as the Ebacc and Progress 8, along with the focus on a so called academic curriculum, are also putting a lot of subjects under threat with D&T being one of them. As a subject the reality is we need to change in order to survive and by joining together more we become stronger. 

…it’s about what the students need to learn rather than about what I want to teach…

Dr Goswami, lecturer in Textile Technology, Leeds University

Q6  Will the new D&T GCSE be of less interest to students who want to focus on fashion and textiles?

There is no reason that students can’t focus on textiles in a similar way to what they have before particularly for the Non Examined Assessment.  They will be able to make the same types of products using the same techniques and materials with the bonus that where they choose to they can also investigate further into other materials which for many will open up exciting new opportunities. 

Students will need a broader knowledge of materials for the exam in particular, although much of this is likely to be little more than what they learn during a high quality KS3 course. The broader material knowledge is very relevant to how the real world of textiles works with many products mixing materials much more than in the past. Think about the trend for fashion garments sold with matching jewellery, or lighting that combines textiles and non textiles materials. 

Students might not find the broader material questions as interesting (and teachers might not enjoy teaching them) but this could also be said of the current exam papers. How relevant are the questions on the Edexcel 2015 paper on quilted oven gloves to a 21st Century textiles industry and a world where silicone oven gloves are the norm? 

….design thinking….that means not seeing materials as something limiting… we ask people in an ideal world what would you want?

Dr Goswami, lecturer in Textile Technology, Leeds University

Q7  What will be the impact on controlled assessment and the exam?

We know that controlled assessment will be called Non Examined Assessment and it will be worth 50% of the marks. It is likely to be very similar to how the current system works with students specialising in a material area designing and making projects similar to what they do now. 

The biggest difference is likely to be that students will respond to a contextual challenge and use this to write their own design brief. This means these types of skills will need to be developed at KS3. Having taught for 30 years much of my teaching career was spent working with students working this way and I actually saw the exam board written briefs introduced in 2009 as a massive backwards step. It is much easier to get students engaged if they have identified their own brief from the beginning and it develops the skills they need for A level and in the real design world. 

The exam is a bit more unknown and this is likely to be where textiles teachers will feel there is the biggest difference and where they will feel out of their comfort zone. There will be a lot of questions based on textiles as a material but students will also be examined on things that have never previously been part of the textiles curriculum, such as forces, mechanical devices and generating energy. Some of this new content will be easy for textiles teachers to pick up once they realise its relevance to textiles, but other things will seem less relevant, and be more linked to design and manufacture in general terms. This is where departments will need to think about what KS3 contributes to the new GCSE, along with how they might timetable staff at GCSE to meet these learning needs.

The exam will also test maths and science knowledge. We don’t know what this will consist of but questions might, for example, ask students to calculate amounts of materials used, or to interpret tables and graphs. Students are already used to doing e.g. costing charts, layplans. From a science perspective there won’t be a significant difference as many questions already focus on how things work. The focus on maths and science is a positive move as it shows that D&T is the practical application of these subjects. 

….to do applied science you don’t need to be a scientist….these people have a lot to contribute to science….

Dr Goswami, lecturer in Textile Technology, Leeds University

Q8  Doesn’t a written exam make D&T less creative, especially as many questions won’t focus on textiles at all?

Any written, theory based exam automatically limits creativity, and the fact that some questions will not be textiles based may lead many teachers to question the relevance of the exam. It could be argued that there are better methods of assessment but it is important to think of the bigger picture. The current focus in education is on the so called ‘academic’ subjects, and whilst that is the case, the exam gives added value and a perception of rigour in other people’s eyes. 

Given the current educational climate we are likely to be stronger if we are seen as academic, particularly if we are linked to science and maths. Although D&T is seen as being about designing and making, it is also important not to forget that it has a strong academic side - anyone who teaches the A level in particular will know this. Those on the outside often don’t recognise this and an academic style exam can help add value to what we do. 

As for the fact that there will be questions on the paper not directly linked to textiles, sadly (and incorrectly) textiles is perceived as ‘easy’ (more on that elsewhere on this page) and broader questions may be the only way for the success of textiles students to be valued. 

Q9  Will there be less opportunity to be creative?

The high tech content, and potential to focus on a wider set of materials, doesn’t mean we will lose the traditional side of textiles, nor does it mean we will lose its unique identity and the ability to be creative. How creative courses are will depend on the approach the teacher takes.

Students will still be able to use traditional textiles materials and techniques if they wish. They will also be able to approach D&T textiles in a very ‘arty’ way. There is no reason why using a technical fabric should be any less open to experimentation and innovation than more traditional textiles materials. 

Many art textiles and D&T textiles teachers do very creative projects where students melt carrier bags together to create a non woven fabric. Carrier bags are made of polyethylene and what allows them to melt together is the thermoforming properties of the polymer. There are lots of other examples, including manipulating Tyvek with heat, and heat setting shapes into polyester and nylon, all of which rely on thermoforming. This is one of the key words on the new GCSE curriculum and many textiles teachers are already teaching this area without realising it and doing it in a very ‘creative’ way. 

We want creative design with technology….

Jeremy Graham, Milliken Industrials Ltd

Q10  Won’t students become less skilled in textiles with the result that outcomes will be of a lower quality?

The exam boards are conscious of the need to build appropriate skills at KS4 ready for progression onto KS5, so the expectations is that this will be built into the new specifications. 

The development of skills will depend on how a school chooses to approach the teaching of the new qualification and there is no reason why specialists can’t continue to teach textiles as they currently do. If a department encourages students to use textiles materials and skills, but doesn’t have staff with specialist knowledge in this area, the knock on effect could potentially be a drop in skill levels and quality outcomes. This is therefore an area of concern so departments will therefore need to think carefully about how they will structure the delivery of lessons, how they will timetable staff and what support they will provide in order to make sure this doesn’t  happen. 

Q11  How will we timetable the new GCSE D&T?

This will vary from school to school depending on how each school chooses to approach the single D&T GCSE. It is important to note that the D&T GCSE specification says that students have to work ‘in at least one material area ….’ so whilst there will be a requirement for some broader knowledge working within one material area will still be acceptable. 

Some departments will approach the new D&T GCSE as a discrete qualification in textiles (or other material area), with students specialising in this area. Many will do the bare minimum in terms of considering broader knowledge of materials. It is also likely that the KS3 curriculum will cover most of this broader content.

Other schools will see this as an opportunity to develop their curriculum giving students the opportunity to combine materials if they wish. This might include a change in how KS3 is taught to build up knowledge or the use of a rota system with students working with a specialist for some of the time at KS4. Other options might be for team teaching to take place.

The biggest issue with a broader approach is likely to be access to equipment as many D&T departments are positioned away from each other, often with food and textiles being in a different part of the building to other areas of D&T. In these circumstances departments are unlikely to significantly change their approach to how they teach the curriculum. This type of department might want to consider how they might change their set up in the longer term in order to be able to offer the breadth of opportunity as the qualification grows and develops.

Departments should also see these changes as an opportunity to think creatively about timetabling. Vertical tutor groups, for example, are currently very popular, mixing different year groups, how might this approach benefit the teaching of D&T?

We need to teach our students something new…something cutting edge

Dr Goswami, lecturer in Textile Technology, Leeds University

Q12  Don’t we need to become experts in all material areas?

D&T teachers have always needed to be flexible and able to teach outside their specialism. This will continue but the status of experts in each material area will still be important. Most schools are likely to continue to divide student groups into specialisms with a specialist teacher. These schools will then deal with the broader subject content as listed in the previous answer. 

If schools choose to go down a more adventurous route where students are using a range of materials in a lesson this doesn’t necessarily mean that teachers need to become experts in other material areas Instead they need to become more aware of who they can use to support a student and how they can work with that person to facilitate learning. It should be noted that the person doing the supporting doesn’t have to be another teacher, but could be technician support, or even a programme of post 16 mentors that support lessons. 

Something that departments and teachers might want to consider when moving forward is the traditional link between food and textiles. This has its origins in tradition and for some years now the modern textiles curriculum has been much more aligned to other material areas in D&T. 

Over time our knowledge outside of our specialist areas will grow, and whilst this is a challenge in the meantime, the growing cross overs between the material areas in the real world will help this process. 

Impactful research comes from interdisciplinary collaboration …..designers and technologists under one roof is critical to interdisciplinary work’ (Dr Goswami)

Q13  But don’t students have to have a broader knowledge of materials with the new GCSE including non textiles materials?

Yes, although this isn’t necessarily as complex as it sounds. There are many materials that traditionally we see as non textiles but which actually come under the textiles heading as well. Materials like carbon fibre and glass fibre, for example, are woven fabrics that come on rolls the same way a dressmaking fabric does. Many processes are also the same such as pattern making, lay planning and cutting. The difference is a resin is often applied to create a composite making the soft material into a hard one. 

Many regenerated textiles fibres have the starting point of wood pulp, just in the same way that MDF does, and materials such as bamboo are also used as a hard material as well being a fibre. Polypropylene and polyethylene are other examples, as although they are often known for the hard materials they are made into, both are also used as a textiles fibre. 

In the non examined assessment students are likely to be able to choose to use a range of materials if they wish, or to use materials as they currently do, and how this is approached will be very similar to what we do now. The potential to use non textiles materials could be an exciting addition for those that choose that route.

The main area where students will need to understand about a broader range of materials is likely to be in the exam. I can’t promise the exam is going to be plain sailing as there’s likely to be a learning curve for most of us but this needs to be seen as part of a bigger picture with the broadening of what textiles is in the real world. I think textiles teachers will need to have a strong voice in feeding back to the exam boards on how the broader knowledge is tested so that things are pitched right. It is important that questions are written and mark schemes produced, for example, that allow for textiles based responses even if the actual question isn’t about specifically about textiles. 

To enable education in England to keep pace with global technological change, new approaches are needed to teaching pupils how to apply electronics in combination with new materials and how to apply control systems in all aspects of the subject    

Diana Choulerton, Ofsted National Lead for Design & Technology

Q14  Why do we need to look at a broader range of materials?

Textiles (or any other material area in D&T) no longer fits neatly into a tightly defined category. In order to reflect the real world it is important that students are aware of new developments and textiles in particular is changing dramatically. 

Textiles materials now compete with traditional woods, metals and plastics for strength, durability and a range of other properties, often making them the first choice. Materials that were once only recognised as hard materials are also now used as textiles fibres e.g. polypropylene. Career opportunities are also much more diverse and beyond the narrow well known areas such as fashion and interior design. 

I often joke to students that textiles is taking over the world but this is actually very true. It is important that D&T textiles exists in order to help students understand this area and the opportunities it offers them. Professor Dias, from Nottingham Trent University, even describes textiles as being at the forefront of what he calls the second industrial revolution because of how textiles materials are developing (click here for more information)


Take look at the article I wrote for the CLEAPSS newsletter titled ‘Textiles but Not as We Know it'

We are now going through the second industrial revolution …

Professor Dilak, lecturer in Fashion, Knitwear and Textile Design, Nottingham Trent University

Q15  I’m worried things will be biased against textiles, will this happen?

Textiles is often the poor relation in D&T, and many see it as easy (more about this elsewhere on this page). If I am honest, I think there is a possibility of a bias against textiles in the exam, and I also think many departments will potentially approach timetabling and staffing with a bias (I will be delighted to be proven wrong on both these points!). Textiles is much misunderstood, even within the D&T community itself, so there is a tendency for others to go down a stereotyped route. 

It is up to us as a textiles community to challenge these things if they happen as there is no reasons why this bias should exist. We need to have a strong voice and feedback to exam boards and schools who don’t fully understand what textiles is. We also need to be seen to embrace the changes with our feedback aiming to improve the quality of student experience rather than just being about having a good moan or about not wanting to change.

In particular we may need to feedback to exam boards on how questions and mark schemes are worded to ensure they are fully inclusive of textiles. Polypropylene is a good example as this is a textiles fibre as well as a hard material but many teachers (textiles and non textiles) aren’t aware of this. A question and mark scheme might therefore include a non textiles example when a textiles one might be just as relevant.

Q16  Why isn’t textiles valued in education?

For all of my 30 years in education I have fought against the perception that textiles is ‘soft option’. People have told me, including other D&T colleagues, that textiles is easy for a whole variety of reasons; ‘you teach all girls’, ‘it’s just sewing’, ‘you get all the most able students’ are just a small number of the comments I have repeatedly heard.  In fact my interest in how boys learn came about because I was told early in my career that I was only successful because I taught all girls. Needless to say I took that as a challenge and much of my career has been shaped by the work I have done engaging boys in textiles, as well as working with boys across the curriculum generally.

Textiles teachers all know the real challenges of teaching the subject. Far from being easy and a soft option it is a challenging and academic subject that requires the same higher order thinking as history, science and other so called academic subjects. The A level Product Design Textiles qualification is an excellent example of this and I often recommend to teachers that they show their science, IT and Business Studies departments the books we use and exam questions to educate others about how academic textiles is and that it is much more than just fashion and sewing.  

It is, however, vital to understand that how we are perceived as a subject is just as important as the reality we know to be true. 

An article in the TES (February 2016 Grading shake up could lead to ‘big drop’ in passes) sums up the inaccurate perceptions of our subject. The article included the table below which  lists the 5 ‘easiest’ and ‘hardest’ subjects, with both D&T textiles and art textiles coming under the ‘easy’ heading (along with art itself being ‘easy’). 

L IMG 3618

The way this is assessed is fundamentally flawed as the judgement isn’t made by comparing the difficulty of subject content. Instead the subjects in which students tend to achieve low grades compared with their grades elsewhere are rated as ‘hard’, whilst those subjects where pupils tend to achieve high grades compared to their other subjects are rated as ‘easy’. This means that all of those students I taught over the years who were failing elsewhere, but who I dedicated my time to, and used every trick in the book to get them through their textiles exam, were only successful because my subject is easy! That couldn’t be further from the truth and I know that all of my headteachers would agree with me. 

Perception is, however, very powerful and it is important not to just dismiss this table as being inaccurate (even though it is). Perceptions matter and can have greater influence than reality. The move to one D&T GCSE qualification could help change this perception of D&T textiles as it will be less easy for it to be targeted because it is part of a wider subject.  

Both D&T textiles and art textiles are listed as ‘easy’ at GCSE and there is an irony that many D&T textiles teachers are giving the reason for moving to art textiles as being ‘because it’s easier’ and ‘because there’s no written exam’. It's very sad that textiles are choosing to put down their own subject in this way, reinforcing the negative perception that others have. 

There has also been a resurgence of more traditional ‘craft’ projects in the classroom, such as aprons, needle books and pin cushions and these just reinforce negative perceptions. Textiles in the classroom needs to focus on the modern textiles industry, its links to science, along with the wide range of skills it needs, in addition to the traditional elements of the subject, if we are to change how textiles in schools is perceived.

It’s not just all about fashion …if you catch a plane the filter was made in Leeds

Dr Hewitt, Non Wovens Innovation & Research Institute

Q17  What’s wrong with aprons, needle books and pin cushions?

My problem with traditional projects such as aprons, pin cushions, needle books etc. is that they reinforce every stereotype others have about our subject. People look into our classrooms and see a bunch of girls sewing aprons to use in ‘cookery’ lessons. Whilst I whole heartedly agree that an apron can have many challenging skills this is not what others see. They see a girly, traditional product and this reinforces their belief that textiles is just a hobby subject that lacks academic rigour. 

I made these types of projects 40 years ago at school and I also made blue knickers because that's what we had to wear for PE! My career in education has been all about moving on from these traditional projects to create a dynamic and modern subject, so for me it is disappointing to see teachers returning to traditional ‘craft’ projects. 

We have to educate others that textiles is much more than about aprons through projects that are high tech and a little bit different.  We need to showcase projects that show our subject has moved forward from aprons and blue knickers or we run a very real risk of disappearing off the curriculum.

Textiles is no longer the eiderdown your mum gave you or the knitwear in M&S

Lorna Fitzsimons, New Economy

Q18  So what sort of projects should we be doing?

There is no right and wrong answer to this question. Traditional skills are important and should not be lost, but it is also important to consider the modern high tech element of the textiles industry. Teaching and learning must therefore reflect this in terms of discussions, experiences and opportunities so that students understand the breadth of the industry, and the variety of careers it offers, beyond it’s traditional craft heritage. 

Students should understand about smart and modern materials as much as traditional ones, and they should understand industrial production alongside more traditional craft production. Teachers should consider ‘projects’ less and focus more on design briefs and solving real problems that exist. They should also consider whether a finished product is needed as an outcome for all modules. In some cases experimental work, research and iterative design may be more beneficial. This doesn’t mean students shouldn’t make products at all, just that there may be better ways of doing things. 

Many teachers say that students want to take an end product home, and whilst I don’t dispute this is the case for many students, it isn’t always the case, as is illustrated by the number of teachers who also tell me they have cupboards full of uncollected work at the end of a term, Students also tell me they have no interest in many of the products they are making

Why would I want another speaker for my phone when I’ve already got one? I don’t see the point in what we do. You just make what the teacher says. 

Millie, Year 8 student

Q19  Isn’t textiles a dying industry?

No! This is one of the myths that is constantly perpetuated when the evidence shows otherwise. Take a look at The Alliance Report which outlines how the industry is growing, particularly in terms of technical textiles. 

We have real problems finding young people with the talent and work ethic we need to fill vacancies at all levels of the business

Jeremy Graham, Milliken Industrials Ltd

Q20  But why do students need to know about industry? All they want to do is make something and be creative. 

It is important that young people have a wider understanding about how the world works. Making something from a craft perspective has many merits and is important, but 21st Century education has to do more than this by helping students see how things happen in the real world. 

The purpose of education is to prepare young people to go out in to the world of work and the textiles industry is a major employer. It is therefore essential that young people understand the breadth of opportunities available to them and the skills they need to develop in order to enter that career area.

There is no reason why knowledge about the industry can’t be taught in a creative and practical way. It’s also important not to assume that all students just want to make something as just as many are interested in how things work in the real world.

We are desperate for textiles designers that want to be creative even though we are a technical manufacturer

Jeremy Graham, Milliken Industrials Ltd

Q21  What does industry & higher education want from students?

On a visit to De Montfort University’s textiles department they stressed the importance of students having a strong understanding of fibres and fabrics and their performance as being the key to success in the industry. They also stressed the wide range of careers in textiles beyond the traditional fashion designer and how students should be aware of newer technologies and developments in materials. They felt a D&T textiles background was now preferred for many of their courses.

A similar visit to Manchester Met emphasised how important it was for students to be given open starting points which they independently researched. They expressed no preference for art textiles or D&T textiles, expressing concern that both qualifications needed to focus more on being less teacher led with less prescriptive briefs. They felt students needed to be taught to be creative and that this was an area for improvement for both art textiles and D&T textiles students. 

Employability, rather than just an enjoyment for making things, was a key word both universities used, and this is something echoed by industrial links I have. Industry links  regularly tell me that they can’t get employees with the types of skills they need and in particular they talk about quality practical skills and a focus on new technologies. 

Feedback from industry and universities indicates that the following are essential key skills young people going into the industry will need. Note that these don’t necessarily have to be examined as part of a qualification and might be evident through interview, sketchbooks, and portfolio work:

  • A combination of understanding a range of traditional materials and techniques along side high tech ones 
  • The use of traditional materials and techniques in new ways (including textiles materials being used to replace non textiles materials)
  • The use of non traditional materials & techniques in textiles 
  • An understanding that the world is constantly changing and that developments such as new ways of doing things, new materials, and things like electronics in textiles are key areas in the development of fashion and textiles
  • High profile of IT whether it be for designing & manufacturing or in any other format
  • An understanding of how the industry works  
  • Sustainable approaches
  • The development of a different type of consumer & market place within a global context
  • An ability to be creative, think differently and solve problems
  • A broad approach to creativity rather than a focus on a narrow area of interest
  • Independent learning skills and a self motivated and inquisitive approach
  • Flexible work ethic & receptive to change within an industry that is constantly changing

Click here for more on careers in textiles 

Take a look at The Alliance Report which outlines how the industry is growing, particularly in terms of technical textiles.

We need to communicate to students what industry wants

Dr Goswami, lecturer in textile technology, Leeds University

Q22  What do I say at option evenings when we don’t know the full details of the new single D&T GCSE?

This is a difficult one because we don’t know the full details of the new GCSE for some time so we can’t give specific information, show the specification or exam papers, or pieces of examined work. It could be quite unsettling for parents knowing we are in a state of change without knowing what direction we will be heading in. 

Because of this it is important for teachers to be positive about the future as if our own worries and doubts are shown this will undermine the subject and make parents have doubts. Teachers need to be honest that things are changing but reassuringly confident about D&T still being the same great subject to study. 

All of the points listed on this page about students still being able to study textiles as a specialist area doing similar projects they have always done are things that you can say to reassure parents. The broader materials focus can be played up as an advantage, or played down, depending on how your school is aiming to approach this. Again other information on this page will help with that. Don’t get bogged down in the broader materials aspect, particularly if this concerns you, as you will be projecting your worries when we don’t actually know exactly what this means yet (particularly as current feedback suggests that KS3 teaching will actually cover most of this anyway). 

How schools organise the curriculum will vary from school to school (see question on timetabling the new curriculum for more on this).

Current projects can be used as example work as although Non Examined Assessment from 2017 may well use slightly different criteria and perhaps a slightly different format designing and making is essentially the same no matter how it is assessed. 

My recommendation is that you sell textiles as you have always done; as a fantastic creative subject. Keep conversations positive and upbeat and don’t forget to flag up the growing industry and career opportunities in textiles (you can download an A4 copy of The Alliance Report with statistics for the industry here and there are careers links on this page as well).

Q23  Should I change from D&T textiles to art textiles?

There isn’t a simple answer to this question! So much so that a fuller answer is included on a separate page on its own. Click here 

By being a part of a wider team textiles is stronger. For some this team will be art, and for others it will be D&T. This decision will depend on the individual and their qualifications and experience and what they feel is right for their students. 

I have tried to be objective when answering the questions on this page but for this particular question I feel it is important to declare that I have a bias towards D&T textiles. I feel it is important to be objective, but I also don’t want to sit on the fence. My work on this website is very D&T focused, as are the courses and resources I produce. I have taught art textiles at different times throughout my career, and teach D&T textiles using art textiles as a key component, but during my career I have made a conscious decision to focus more on D&T textiles. 

There is more information on why this is the case on the separate page about choosing the art textiles or D&T textiles route. I would stress that just because this was the right career move for me doesn’t mean that I am advocating it for everyone. The key thing is for individual teachers to make sure they have all of the facts before making a decision to avoid a ‘frying pan to the fire’ scenario. 

It is also important for teachers to think about the world that young people are going into and the skills they will need. Art textiles is an excellent qualification but it’s important it isn’t offered just because D&T is perceived as too hard or not ‘textilesy' enough. D&T textiles and art textiles are two different qualifications that offer students different things and it’s important we still have students who have both sets of skills. Decisions should not be made based on what the teacher likes, and their experiences, but about what is right for the young people they are working with. Times are changing in the industry and we have to see the bigger picture in terms of careers and what the industry needs. Look at the skills students need to have listed in the question 'What does industry & higher education want from students?’ as these should be what influences any decision you make. For me, and the students I have worked with these points are ticked off more by D&T textiles as is proven by the high percentage of my ex students who now work in the industry. Find out more about why I have focused more on D&T textiles than art textiles in my career

(see more about my D&T journey here)

‘…a lot of scientists are becoming designers through the nature of the materials they are working with’

Helene Jones, PhD student at the University of Bristol specialising in composites

Q24  What about the Technical Awards - are they an alternative qualification?

Just like the single GCSE we only know limited information about this at the moment. It will be counted as part of Progress 8 and from the limited information available it may be more focused on the material areas in a similar way to the current GCSE. The coursework and exam split will also be similar to what we currently have. 

The biggest issue is that, although in theory the technical awards will count as a GCSE, they won’t actually have the GCSE title. There is therefore a question as to whether they will be valued in the same way by schools, parents and students, particularly with the current focus on so called academic qualifications. Unfortunately vocational qualifications have long been viewed as having less value so they may be viewed as more of a ‘craft’ qualification which would be a significant step backwards for D&T.

It is also unclear at the moment how the technical awards will lead on to progression at Post 16. 

Just like the GCSE, all we can do is remain open minded and wait until we have more information.  

You might also be interested in the following: 

Q&A page on D&T textiles and art textiles

The Textiles Ten (a set of principles for maintaining a positive approach to teaching and learning in D&T Textiles at secondary level)

 Textiles but Not as We Know it article I wrote for the CLEAPSS newsletter

How textiles revolutionised human technology - article about the importance of textiles in the past and the future

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