Why poor teaching is losing designers for the nation, by Wayne Hemingway

“When our eldest son, Jack, was studying D&T at school, he designed a shed. He called it ‘ShedQuarters’, and prepared an illustration using elements cut and pasted from the back of Sunday supplements. It was cool. It was punk. And it was brilliantly well designed. But his teacher wasn’t impressed. We – his parents – were dragged into school to be told he was ‘taking the mickey’, that his work was childish and lazy. In vain, we argued his case, mentioning Will Alsop style presentations to a totally blank face. He got marked a D for this

By the time Jack was 18, ShedQuarters was for sale in B&Q. It’s still available now, and has earned something like £70K or £80K in commissions. Jack’s a talented designer in his own right, but he’s also lucky enough to have parents who could spot the worth of what he was doing when his educators couldn’t. What worries me is how many ‘Jacks’ there are out there who believe the teacher when their work is rubbished, and are lost to the design industry as a result.

Design is by its nature a very fast-moving business. It’s not like teaching history, where (give or take some revision) the facts are there to be explored, but unchanging in themselves. Help is needed, either in terms of teachers getting out into the real world and keeping up with what is happening, or bringing someone in from the industry to be part of the team.

The other aspect that needs addressing is that schools aren’t always brilliant at spotting the difference between a mind that questions the status quo out of a creative urge to improve things… and one that is simply being arsey for the sake of it. When I was at school, the kids who weren’t ‘bright enough’ got put in the art class, and I’m not sure that attitude has gone away.

We are a leading design nation, and everyone knows it – but we were once world leaders in manufacturing, and look what’s happened now. Competing powers are investing massively in design; China is opening design training institutions at a frightening rate. We could easily lose our edge, especially if we are so busy focusing on bumping the league tables with academic results that we dismiss every non-conformist as a troublemaker to be crushed, rather than a creator to be cherished.”