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Design Cast Podcast 36 - Tony Ryan

TONY RYAN - Chief Executive Design & Technology Association



Very briefly: Spectacularly unsuccessful school life, I was smart enough but there was no attempt at personal connection. I left school at 16 and started training as a motor vehicle mechanic - loved it and over the next five years I took every qualification available; with an engine in front of me all the maths and physics that meant nothing at school suddenly made sense...I found out that I was not as daft as school had made me think!
This ran its course, I needed another challenge and there was no route in motor vehicle. The idea was to get a sponsored degree as a teacher and then jump back to the motor industry, the first time I took a class solo I knew this was what I was meant to do. I trained in design & technology (or CDT as it was then) and loved it. Head of Department in my second year of teaching and went on to successfully run three departments in three London schools. I started using more and more IT in my lessons and found myself in charge of D&T and IT...
A move to the outskirts of London when my first son arrived coincided with my first step into school leadership as Deputy Headteacher. I had one more role as Deputy before taking my first role as Principal; a job that I was completely absorbed in. After almost five years as Principal I moved school to take on my second Headship...a tough school that had been struggling for years. I worked night and day alongside some very good staff and we made huge progress. In my last two years of headship I found myself fighting to implement a government vision for education that did not align with my beliefs and values, students matter and knowledge acquisition is only one part of a complex jigsaw.
I finally decided that I had enough and resigned to run my own business as a consultant. I did this successfully for a year and re-found my educational mojo. The approach to run the Design & Technology Association was not expected and at first I resisted as self-employment had its advantages (golf when I fancied being one of them)! I finally allowed my heart to rule my head and here I am three years on running a professional association representing pushing 20,000 teacher members. Full circle!

Can you elaborate on your experiences that lead up to you becoming an educator?

It has been described as a healthy chip on my shoulder, I don’t want any student to feel the way that I did about school. Learning should be a joyous and relevant experience for all students, it isn’t always! I have spent my professional life trying to turn a negative experience (that I experienced) into a series of positive experiences for others...I haven’t always succeeded but it’s not through lack of trying!

Can you please give me an overview or introduction to DATA as an organization?

The Association has been around since 1989. We were formed to support the subject delivery nationally, we are a member organisation and once upon a very different time received a lot of our funding from government sources. I took over its leadership three years ago. The Association that I took over was part way through changing its identity and finding new funding sources. We have concentrated on making the Association more relevant for our members, I hope we are doing the right things to get closer to our members (we have doubled membership in the last 18 months which is encouraging). We are also focusing more on linking education with industry and business...we need to be showing and inspiring students around the exciting careers that are emerging in the design/tech sectors. Blueprint1000 is our formal drive to connect 1000 businesses and schools over the next five years.

What is your vision for DATA?

The ultimate goal is to have a member or members in every school in England/Wales and NI (Scotland have a very different delivery option). For the Association to support high quality delivery across these schools, for business and industry to get behind the subject as we try to convince decision makers in government and elsewhere of the relevance, need and joy of our subject.

What have been some challenges? How have you addressed these challenges?

Adequately funding the Association is a constant challenge. We are a not for profit charity but to achieve our ambitions we need to draw funding. We have increased our membership base which helps and have been successful in bringing in outside funding from industry and other charities, to achieve our ambitions we need to grow this. COVID has been really challenging but has forced us alongside so many other organisations and businesses to think differently. Face to face teacher training is almost impossible at the moment so we are building a comprehensive online learning suite for the subject in record time, I am delighted at the quality of what we have produced so far and there is more to come!

How do you connect with DATA members due to COVID measures?

Webinars have been amazing, we have set up a number of these free events and they have almost all booked out in days. It has been so good to talk with so many teachers nationally and has been a real positive to come from COVID.

What are you really excited about at the moment?

We are about to launch a new initiative with a major design agency in London. Club.House will post live briefs from some of the worlds biggest brands that students can respond to and upload online. This is an entirely new initiative for us that launches next month...we have been planning this for ages and I cannot wait to launch this.
What is one EdTech Tool you cannot live without? Twitter - I have used it for inspiration and connectivity for years @DesTechRyan
What book would you recommend that everyone read right now? I am currently reading The shock doctrine by Naomi Klein, I am only part way through but I am already shocked and scared in equal measure.
Where do you go to get inspiration? Everywhere! I read a lot and The Design Museum in London along with regular visits to the V&A are a must. I was inspired by a William Morris quote on a toilet wall last week “Look on everything as if you are seeing it for the very first time, or the last”. I have been really staring at everything since!

How can people connect with you?

Twitter: @DesTechRyan
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