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CEO Interviews: Tony Ryan, Design Technology Association

Posted on 30/04/2018 by Rob Hayter

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How would you describe your current role?

I am the recently appointed Chief Executive of the Design and Technology Association. We have 11,000 members nationally and, in a nutshell, the job is one of looking after the interests of members across schools in both the private and state sector, covering primary and secondary schools, while at the same time lobbying to try and keep the subject of design and technology on the curriculum in schools across the country.

What is your favourite part of the role?

My favourite part of this role is meeting positive minded people that are making a difference. There are a lot of teachers and school leaders who are making a real impact despite the difficult climate. This morning is a good example, where I met a lot of people who are working really hard to improve students’ lives, enriching them by providing experiences for them both inside and outside of school.

We need to be careful to protect the school system. At present, the educational emphasis is very narrow and it’s all about the acquisition of knowledge. If students come out of school with straight A’s and B’s you could sit back as a school leader and consider that to be a success - which, of course it is. However, education in its true sense is wider than that - and there is a much bigger remit for school leaders; that being to prepare students for jobs that have yet to be invented, to equip them to play an active role in society, to be happy and in control of the lives that they lead and tolerant of others who may lead very different existences.

This remit involves preparing students with life skills such as grit, determination, independence and preparing them to be able to tackle what life throws at them, including a healthy knowledge and associated actions to protect their well-being and mental health.

I believe that the subject that I have the privilege to champion, takes aspects of learning from other subjects on the curriculum, applies it and allows students to put knowledge to work within any given context. I think design and technology is an essential part of the curriculum but in the current educational climate, it is in danger of slipping off.

What do the Design and Technology Association do?

We are member driven. It can be quite a lonely job if you are teaching in a school and you don’t have much contact with other DT teachers. We also join up schools with the needs of business and industry - which requires students with certain skills, knowledge and attributes, hopefully there is a synergy between the two and we can bring them together to make good projects happen to the benefit of both parties. 

At the same time, we are trying to establish the subject as an essential part of the curriculum. There is a huge threat hanging over it at the moment created by the EBacc, a narrow field of subjects including English, Maths, Science, Computer Science, Geography, History and languages. These are important subjects and ones that every child should be encouraged to study, but we cannot deliver these only, marginalising the creative subjects that offer so much to a student’s development. The arts are suffering, music, drama, PE and design and technology; for me, a full education encompasses all of these.

What did you want to be when you were growing up?

I didn't enjoy school much at all and aged 16 went on to pursue my desire to be a motor vehicle mechanic. I am in my current role as, although I left school at 16 feeling that I wasn't’t particularly bright, I then went on to discover how education could work for me in a different context.

With an engine in front of me, I was able to make sense of it in a way that I never had with anything while at school - all of the science and maths that I struggled with suddenly made sense. I discovered learning and loved it - I couldn't get enough and searched out courses to bring me from one level to the next. This eventually allowed me to find my way into education and teaching, and finally led to becoming a head teacher and now to the job that I currently hold.

What do you like to do in your spare time if you have any?

I have got three wonderful kids and a wife that fully understands me and supports me in everything that I do, which is important.

I spend a lot of time working in the week but try to have as much time off as possible at the weekends. I love football and watch it with my boys who are 23 and 18 - I have got them into supporting the same team as me too!

My daughter is hugely into dance and whenever I can, I watch her. Overall, I love spending time with my family and read quite a bit. I like to do things which are separate from work - as I believe it is important to switch off as much as possible at the weekends.

How did you come into your current role?

I left after 12 years as a head teacher just over a year and a half ago. During the intervening time, I was self- employed, enjoying the freedom that working for myself brought.

A friend brought the job advert from TPP to my attention, knowing that DT was where I started in teaching and aware that I would be tempted by the role. The more I researched the position, the more I was drawn to it.

I worked with TPP, who I had not come across before, but I found the experience really good. There was someone there at the end of the line if needed. There was also a lot of support in my research around the post and it was important to fully understand what was needed coming into the role.

What did you study at university?

I took a range of technical qualifications up to management level within the motor industry. That then allowed me to take my first degree in design and technology teaching, to qualify as a DT teacher. About nine or ten years later, I found myself using more IT in school within the subject- and so decided to study a Masters in the educational use of IT. My first degree was at Greenwich University and the Masters was taken at Roehampton University.

What advice would you give to someone looking to become a Chief Executive?

It’s different to anything that I have done previously. It’s multi-faceted and there is a very wide community around the subject.

You have really got to adapt from your previous role. The transition from head teacher to CEO has been one that I have had to work to understand. It’s important to keep the main goal in mind as it’s easy to get distracted by other peripheral issues.

Can you tell me how you felt we helped your recent job search in any way?

TPP definitely helped my search. The information was there as well as someone to speak to. They sent a pack out which informed me of all the information I needed to go out and research this position and related industries deeper. There was good communication from the team, even a with a follow up checking on progress. That is something you don’t get with a lot of agencies!

Describe TPP in one word?

Efficient

Anything else to add?

I love what I am doing. It’s a real challenge but I came into it informed and knew what I was taking on - so there were no surprises. We have a lot of work to do, but I am enjoying the challenge and the experience.