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National Curriculum

Developing personal, learning and thinking skills in design and technology


What are we trying to achieve?

The new secondary curriculum focuses on developing the skills and qualities that learners need to succeed in school and the broader community. The development of personal, learning and thinking skills (PLTS) is essential to meeting the three national curriculum aims of becoming successful learners, confident individuals and responsible citizens.

The individual subjects, which make up the curriculum, provide the essential range of activities, learning opportunities and contexts essential for the effective development of these skills (PLTS)

The framework comprises of six PLTS:

  • independent enquirers

  • creative thinkers

  • team workers

  • self-managers

  • effective participators

  • reflective learners.

PLTS underpin the whole curriculum and can transform young people’s engagement with learning. They support learners’ understanding of themselves as well as their relationship with others and the world around them. Effective development of PLTS can raise achievement and make a considerable impact on learners’ ability to succeed, both now and in adult life.


How do we develop PLTS?

The design and technology programme of study provides a rich and exciting range of opportunities to develop PLTS as an integral part of subject teaching and learning. Explicit and implicit opportunities are present in the key concepts, key processes, range and content, and curriculum opportunities.

Independent enquirers

Learners can develop as independent enquirers when they are provided with opportunities in design and technology to:

  • plan and carry out their own research to design products and determine the production processes

  • explore their own ideas to address design issues or problems

  • make informed choices, sifting information, judging its relevance and value to support reasoned conclusions, for example in selecting materials

  • work with increasing independence, and apply their competence in new and more challenging contexts.

Creative thinkers

Learners can develop as creative thinkers when they are provided with opportunities in design and technology to:

  • generate creative approaches to design issues, making links between good design, knowledge of technologies and existing solutions

  • try out alternative production processes to improve designs, for example using CAM/CAD facilities

  • use and adapt creative ways to communicate their ideas to a range of audiences, including new technologies, to investigate versions of work

  • take increasing responsibility for exploring and experimenting with imaginative ways of working.

Team workers

Learners can develop as team workers when they are provided with opportunities in design and technology to:

  • collaborate in order to achieve a common goal, for example discussing and agreeing possibilities for new designs

  • allocate roles and tasks, identifying their own strengths and those of others and taking responsibility for their own contributions

  • question their own and others’ assumptions in group design sessions to address problems and agree solutions

  • provide and respond to constructive feedback while resolving increasingly complex issues to achieve successful outcomes.


Learners can develop as self-managers when they are provided with opportunities in design and technology to:

  • take responsibility for organising their own time and resources to successfully complete tasks for example to shape, form, mix, assemble and finish materials, components and ingredients

  • initiate projects, demonstrating commitment and perseverance and the ability to prioritise their actions and work towards identified goals

  • anticipate and manage risks, responding positively to changing priorities and new challenges as production proceeds

Effective participators

Learners can develop as effective participators when they are provided with opportunities in design and technology to:

  • address issues, suggesting practical ways forward and breaking these down into manageable steps

  • play a full part in the life of their school and the wider community, identifying improvements that would benefit themselves and others

  • influence others in discussion, negotiating and balancing the diverse views of others to achieve successful outcomes

  •  engage with design and making in a range of different and increasingly complex contexts, including beyond the classroom.

Reflective learners

Learners can develop as reflective learners when they are provided with opportunities in design and technology to:

  • invite feedback from peers, teachers and others and deal positively with praise, setbacks and criticism concerning their product design

  • critically assess against criteria, their own performance and that of others for both process and product

  • adapt and refine their ideas as their work progresses, identifying opportunities for further development

  • use their skills to select relevant ways to communicate with different audiences as they assemble their design portfolio.


How do we plan for PLTS?

Effective planning for PLTS in design and technology needs to ensure that they are embedded into sequences of work, teaching approaches and learning outcomes. When this is done well, it will enrich the experiences of learners and support their progress in design and technology while increasing coherence across the curriculum.

The following are some questions we might ask to support the development of PLTS through design and technology.

  • Are there planned opportunities for learning and teaching, where the six PLTS can be taught, practised and reinforced in a range of contexts?

  • Are planned experiences sufficiently ‘open’ for learners to draw on personal experiences and set themselves personal challenges?

  • Do activities encourage learners to explore a range of settings, for example collaborative work, individual work, in the classroom, the school and events in the community?

  • Are learners encouraged to communicate in a variety of ways?

  • Are there opportunities to make coherent links to learning in other curriculum areas to effectively connect and enhance learners’ experiences?

  • Are e-technologies used effectively to enable and support such learning?


The teacher plans for the class to design a display of three products using materials from any of the product areas, with the theme based on the Olympics. The task encourages learners to develop team working, creative thinking and reflective participation skills, exploring how working together can help them to communicate their ideas in new and unexpected ways

In carrying out this activity, it is important for the learners to develop the skills to become increasingly independent, and take responsibility for solving problems and controlling the direction and format of their work.

Learners will work in small groups over several lessons and consider the various roles and responsibilities needed to ensure that each of them contributes effectively. They are taught ways of designing which they develop further for themselves. They will decide for themselves the theme and conclude with team presentations to share what they have done to the whole class. The team presentations will be evaluated by the class for product, process and creativity using criteria that they have designed and agreed themselves.

This activity involves learners in

  • selecting and agreeing on the design brief, priorities and timetable for their work and the allocation of roles (team workers, self-managers)

  • planning and carrying out research, appreciating the consequences of their decisions as they gather and develop evidence of things that influence the use and purpose of products (independent enquirers)

  • generating ideas and exploring possibilities as they make creative links between what they have learned about the principles of good design and what they have found out in their research (creative thinkers)

  • collaborating with others to work toward common goals as they share and manage the results of their research (team workers)

  • taking responsibility for preparing different aspects of the presentation and delivering the presentation (team workers, self-managers, creative thinkers)

  • evaluating their own performance against criteria, providing and receiving feedback, and identifying targets for improvement (effective participators, reflective learners)

  • working towards a common goal, showing perseverance in completing the project on time (team workers, self-managers).


Are we achieving our aims?

In planning for progression, it is important to develop a clear picture of how learners demonstrate PLTS in the context of teaching and learning in design and technology and how those skills can raise achievement in this subject. For example, learners may demonstrate that they are:

  • making more personal choices about materials and application of processes, and finding ways to improve their work, for example by identifying their own questions and planning their own enquiries

  • transferring and extending their skills and understanding, for example by exploring ideas, options and points of view, including their own, with more confidence and creativity using processes to produce increasingly complex products

  • engaging with and applying their knowledge and skills beyond school contexts for a specific purpose, for example in their homes or working in the community.

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