Subject Leader

5. Pedagogy as decision-making: Subject Knowledge

We have already noted that our approach to pedagogy requires good subject knowledge, which Rachael and Chris both demonstrate. So, how can we think about different elements of a technical subject and what teachers need to know? 

Lucas and his colleagues in their publication How to Teach Vocational Education: A theory of vocational pedagogy set out some ways of categorising technical subjects. One of these is adapted below. Using this triangle, a version of which you can download as a pdf document here, Lucas and his colleagues set out a way of analysing and categorising technical subjects. ‘Physical materials’, ‘People’ and ‘Symbols’ are at the points of the triangle and Lucas et al encourage you to think about where within that triangle different subjects might sit in relation to those three elements.  This encourages consideration of different elements of a technical subject and what teachers need to know. 

Some subjects will emphasise one element over others:

  1. 1. Physical materials – for example, construction, hairdressing
  2. 2. People – for example, childcare, hospitality. 
  3. 3. Symbols (words, numbers and images) – for example,   journalism, graphic design, accountancy.

Nevertheless, all technical subjects will include all three elements. 


Where would you place these subjects within the triangle to show the relative importance of these elements? For example, childcare might be close to people.

Plumbing / Electrical installation / Hairdressing / Accountancy / Information Technology

Download PDF Triangle

Where would you place your own subject?

To see where Lucas and his colleagues placed various subjects look at page 35 and 36 of their report, which you can download here. 

Download Report

How does this inform the decisions you make about the curriculum design of your course?