Matt James

Lewis Girls’ School, Ystrad Mynach, Wales

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My name is Matt James. I am a Senior leader of learning and Head of Design Technology at Lewis Girls’ School in Ystrad Mynach, Wales. The school is local authority maintained and is all girls’ at key stages 3 and 4 with a mixed 6th form comprised of a number of schools via a consortium arrangement. We offer courses at both key stage 4 and 5, which over time have been both GCSE, AS/A Level as well as level 2 and 3 vocational options.

Our department is situated in its own block, which we share with Art and have a number of well-equipped rooms including mixed materials workshops, Textiles, Food and a STEM lab. We make use of Google education for all our projects and have been, for a number of years now, using digital work booklets with pupils. Designing and sketch work as well as prototyping and modelling photos are then uploaded into these digital work booklets upon completion.

Picture of Matt James

I have been teaching DT for seventeen years, twelve of which I have been Head of Technology at Lewis Girls’. During my time at the school, I have been a head of faculty, lead on the digital competency framework and am now a senior leader of learning.

I also work with the regional advisory service the EAS. As part of this, I provide training for both secondary as well as primary staff in a number of areas relating to DT provision including the development of new resources for the school to make use of as well as helping departments develop their own curriculum as the Welsh curriculum has, and continues to develop.

In 2019 I was runner up in the Professional Teaching Awards Cymru for ‘Best use of digital technology’ and in 2020 was lucky enough to win the Pearson National Teaching Awards category of ‘Digital innovator of the year’ for the work that I have done with our pupils as well as work with other schools via the EAS.

School & Achievements

Since joining the school I have led the department in setting up all of our new offerings at KS4 as well as the implementation of our KS5 courses. DT Product Design, as well as Textiles, have been popular subjects both running at GCSE and AS/A level for the past 12 and 11 years respectively having a 5 year A*-C percentage of over 82%. I am lucky enough to work with a fantastic team of teachers all of whom take responsibility for developing new ideas and projects across the key stages and subject areas.

Many of our A-Level students go on to universities to study subjects ranging from Textiles and fashion design, Product Design, Architecture, Interior design and even DT teacher training! As a senior leader of learning my position also involves oversight of STEM.

A large part of this is the development of a standalone subject area called STEM, which we now teach to all of KS3. This new subject has been created from scratch and links to the schools’ approach to the recent developments in the Welsh curriculum. The aims of the lessons are to bring aspects of all of the STEM subject areas together into authentic learning experiences and project-based learning as we have done in DT for so many years.

I am also the schools Digital Competency Framework co-ordinator, an area of the Welsh curriculum that aims to develop students’ digital skills across all subject areas preparing them for a ‘digital future’.

Special Projects

Two projects that I am particularly fond of came from pre-COVID-19 and the resulting school closures. They are from GCSE as well as A level Product Design classes.

The A-Level project was a multi-functional piece of furniture aimed at students living in small rooms in shared housing. The inspiration for the project came from the student’s sister that had moved into a tiny room in a shared student house.

Further inspiration came from the TV programme ‘George Clarks amazing spaces’. As part of the show, an old static caravan was being transformed into a multi-functional holiday space. Combining these two sources of information the student designed a small chest of draws which could transform into a work table, dressing table as well as incorporating the seating for the unit, all of which were housed in the original chest of draws. The project was prototyped to scale using laser cut models before being sent to an outside company to have the parts be CNC routed full size which she then assembled.

Another project was the jewellery range and box inspired by a pupil’s breakfast! The ‘Krusty Toast’ GCSE project involved a number of different designs for various items some of which were produced as final concepts while others were left at a final idea drawing stage for future manufacture. I had reservations when the student told me that she wanted to design her GCSE based on her choice of breakfast but I think that the novel individual nature of the designs came out well and have proven to be a popular part of our previous projects display with younger pupils.