GCSEs: Design and Technology take up has halved in a decade | #education | #technology | #training


GCSE design and technology (D&T) entries have halved over the last decade, new research shows.

The proportion of students taking the subject at GCSE fell from 44 per cent in 2009 to 22 per cent in 2020.

Entries for students at A level have also declined over the same period, as more students now opt for vocational engineering qualifications, a report published today by the Education Policy Institute has found.

It concludes there is an “unclear picture” on the reasons for the subject’s decline, but warns that “without specific changes to encourage take-up, the long-term declining trend is showing no sign of reversing”.

The EPI analysis finds that GCSE students attending free schools and sponsored academies are less likely to enter D&T, while at A level, students in independent schools are most likely to enter the subject. 

The report also uncovers significant local and regional variation in D&T take-up. Entries in local authority areas range from nearly 40 per cent of GCSE pupils in Herefordshire to just 4 per cent in Middlesbrough. 

The EPI highlights how the number of D&T teachers in secondary schools has been declining since 2011, accounting for 3 per cent of all teachers nationally by 2020.

And it warns that initial teacher training (ITT) recruitment has continually fallen short of targets for the subject, with actual recruitment accounting for just 23 per cent of the target in 2021-22.

Sam Tuckett, report author and senior researcher at the EPI, said: “It is clear that, without specific policy changes from the government to encourage pupil take-up, the future of D&T as a subject will remain highly uncertain.

“If the government intends to support D&T and arrest the decline in student entries, supporting take-up of the subject by younger students at GCSE level will be particularly critical.”

Non-EBacc subjects ‘driven to the fringes’

Reacting to the report, headteachers’ leaders have blamed the government’s creation of the English Baccalaureate (EBacc) for contributing to the subject’s decline.

The performance measure was introduced by the Department for Education to encourage schools to ensure pupils took what were regarded as core academic subjects at GCSE.

Geoff Barton, the general secretary of the Association of School and College Leaders, said: “The government talks a lot about its plans for a ‘skills revolution’ but has unfathomably not only neglected the importance of design and technology but actively devalued the subject. 

“As this report highlights, there are a number of factors that have contributed to the decline in students entering these qualifications.

“However, it did not help that the government decided to prioritise a set of traditional academic subjects in its English Baccalaureate suite of subjects – which underpin school performance tables – at the expense of other subjects, such as design and technology and the creative arts.

“This has had the inevitable effect of driving non-EBacc subjects to the fringes of the curriculum.”

The EPI report notes the introduction of the EBacc, but it also says that the decline in D&T predates these reforms.

Effects of curriculum and qualification reform

In 2001, DfE statistics show that almost 70 per cent of pupils were entered for a D&T GCSE.

D&T was a compulsory GCSE subject until 2000, when it became optional.

In a speech in 2019, Ofsted chief inspector Amanda Spielman said that this change – along with competition from BTEC qualifications in the early 2000s – had left the subject facing a “perfect storm”.

The EPI report also highlights how the qualification has been reformed.

It says that previously pupils had the option of entering separate qualifications such as D&T: product design, or D&T: graphic products.

However, from 2017 onwards – with the first awards in 2019 – these syllabuses were discontinued and replaced with an overall design and technology GCSE, graded on the reformed 9-1 scale.

The report said: “The interaction of teacher numbers, accountability, curriculum and qualification reforms, alongside potential capital restraints some schools may face, make for an unclear picture as to why entries have declined so persistently.

“However, what is clear is that without specific changes to encourage take-up, the long-term declining trend is showing no sign of reversing.”

The DfE was contacted for comment.



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