The Inception and Implementation of Design and Technology in the English School Curriculum,1988-2012
: A Design History Perspective

  • Jane Shepard

Student thesis: Doctoral Thesis


The Education Reform Act of 1988 was a pivotal piece of legislation, defining a national standard of basic education and identifying a suite of subjects that would be taught in all state-funded schools in England.

Design was formally recognised as a facet of the National Curriculum Design and Technology (D&T) syllabus. Although D&T’s initial integration into mainstream education was tumultuous, subsequent policy reforms, investment, research and new classroom resources, helped to enhance the subject’s status. This period of stability, however, was short-lived. By 2012, after just twenty-five years of design curriculum development, D&T’s position as part of the National Curriculum appeared to be under threat, and questions were raised about the future of the subject.

Drawing on a range of primary source material and increasingly obsolete vernacular literatures, this study presents new knowledge about the educational, political and social ambitions of key protagonists who were involved in design curriculum development. The investigation shows that the inclusion of design within D&T allowed the subject to flex according to the ideological affiliation of incumbent governments, individuals, and organisations with a vested interest in the field. The different meanings associated with design helped to facilitate D&T’s rapid expansion, but also contributed to its dramatic decline. Thus, further complicating design’s translation into a stable category of teaching in English schools.

This study is distinctive because it considers the rationale for D&T from a design history perspective, foregrounding the social ambitions of design educators over the economic imperatives associated with training professional designers. Surprisingly, the development design-related school subjects in general education contexts rarely feature in design historical discourse. In response to this lacuna, this thesis presents a nuanced re-reading of D&T as an exemplar of the democratisation of design through general education.
Date of Award2022
Original languageEnglish
Awarding Institution
  • University of Brighton
SupervisorLesley Whitworth (Supervisor), Avril Loveless (Supervisor) & Darren Newbury (Supervisor)

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