D&T GCSE entries down yet again

219,931 in 2013, 213,629 in 2014 and 204,788 this year!

The DfE are trumpeting GCSE entry rises in the STEM subjects: mathematics (up 3.4%), computer science (up 111.1%), science (up 5.5%), engineering (up 37.4% but still very low absolute numbers) but remain silent about the fate of D&T – not even a mention. In line with the trend over the past many years the number of D&T entries has fallen yet again. So why is it that D&T is significantly on the wane? One reason must be its change in statutory status. In 2004 D&T ceased to be a compulsory subject at KS4. Schools were obliged to offer the subject to pupils but they were not required to take the subject. However more recently there have been other factors at work. Many claim that it is pressure from the EBacc accountability measure that is a contributory factor but other subjects have not suffered a decline. RE almost 300,000 entries, the highest level since 2002, art & design subjects up by 1.7% to almost 200,000 and music up by 2.2% to almost 50,000. So this won’t do as an explanation. Why isn’t the government concerned that D&T numbers are down given that organisations such as the Royal Academy of Engineers and the James Dyson Foundation see the subject as a key part of the STEM family of subjects? I think the perception of SLT and parents is a key factor. What are they to make of the highly fragmented nature of the subject with its focused area based GCSEs – food, textiles, graphic products, resistant materials, product design, electronic products, system and control etc. Just what is the subject about – cooking, dressmaking, engineering, designing? When SLT are deciding what to offer pupils in the option system and parents are judging the worth of possible GCSEs for their children it’s easy to see this uncertainty as a cause for concern and a reason for marginalizing the subject. This must be compounded by the patchy nature of the KS3 curriculum that many pupils experience – a circus arrangement with the short sections of study being little more than a pitch for the KS4 course teachers hopes to teach. Hence there is little overall coherence across year 7 to 9. Is there any light at the end of the tunnel?

The newly proposed single title GCSE for D&T points to a possible solution. It provides the opportunity to lose the fragmented focus area bases of the current offerings. If it is to be successful it will need to:

  • Embrace the requirements of being a STEM subject which means significant use of mathematics and science within the subject.
  • Pupils’ designing will need to informed by a clearly defined, taught and examined knowledge base. Remember the Expert Panel was highly critical of the lack of an agreed knowledge base for the subject.

This will require significant changes to both the content of the course and the way it is taught. We need to see the secondary school learning journey to GCSE D&T as a 5 year coherent course of study starting at the beginning of year 7. A BIG ask but one that we should not shy away from. Maintaining the current situation will surely only lead to a lingering demise.


2 thoughts on “D&T GCSE entries down yet again

  1. Numbers are indeed down at GCSE and A-Level…a worryingly continuing trend in the UK (although bizarrely ‘Design’ at MYP and DT at Diploma within the IBO programmes has seen significant growth). Why is this?

    My thoughts are firstly that yes, there is confusion.

    Firstly, there are too many ‘Design’ subjects crowding out an already constrained curriculum. Even though food, drink and textiles are still the dominant wealth creation industries in much of the world, and we all love are latest bit of cool tech or funky gadget, it does not feature in the mindset of parents and SLT in schools.

    Secondly, regarding workshop-based activity it is as crass as this; when many parents were at school some were sent directed/sent down the classics or science route whilst ‘creatives’ (or those considered to be not academic….sic) were sent to design and art studios/workshops. I think the stigma still remains. Funnily enough, I’ve met many parents who recall with fondness the manufactured item they made at school…the ‘non-classroom’ based fun time.

    Thirdly, schools know that Design costs money. Qualified teaching staff, dedicated facilities and equipment, risk assessments/H&S and floor space (classroom acreage) are expensive for a school and many vote with their feet if numbers are slowing.

    Lastly, I am not sure that the teacher training agencies are doing our profession any favours. Graduates who know how to use a laser cutter and some CAD program only is not good enough. Many can not differentiate between a thermoset or thermoplastic, have no clue what Bauhaus was or indeed can’t work a lathe, weld or know the difference between lathe and a milling machine. All of these folk I have had in front of me at interviews to work in my faculties or departments and it is really astounding how many could not teach an A-Level course let alone GCSE.

    As for manufacture, pushing a button on a laser or 3D printer just does not cut it sadly. The UK is faced with a shortage of teachers who can teach DT to the standards we need. Some can code and use CAD very well BUT sketching ideas on paper, making products at a bench and teaching core theory to students is also a pre-requisite and sadly tertiary education is selling the subject short in the training of teachers who can deliver the standards of Design and Technology that we need.

    Put all the above together and you can see our dilemma…..


  2. Yes couldn’t agree more David. I offered to the very same press release yesterday when commenting on the news on our website: https://www.data.org.uk/news/2015-gcse-results-announced/
    The overall entry for the subject is now down to 30% – which is hard to take when it is only a couple of years or so ago that D&T had the single largest entry after the cores subjects, and we could boast it as being the ‘most popular subject.’ I still think in many schools it still is, but that is not enough to ensure that students take it. Unfortunately at age 14, few have the resolve to stand up to the advice that is being given to them which does not include studying D&T for reasons that are nothing to do with education. I think I used the words ‘morally wrong’ yesterday. So it is incumbent on us all to make sure that we demonstrate just how valuable the subject is and use tactics that involve making links to core subjects as you comment on. We have to accept that the one thing the subject has never mangled to achieve is widespread understanding outside of the ranks of those who teach/support it. So we have to use persuasive tactics that extend beyond simply the justification of the subject on the grounds of the importance of designing and making – however unfair though that may be. Mathematician’s will never I suspect have to justify their existence. We will always need to.

    Certainly the new GCSEs provide an opportunity. Change generally does. But it is incumbent on all to take it and run with it. The subject has to gain some status and the statistics as you point out simply indicate an ongoing downward trend from 2004 which at some point (soon) will bottom out and the lingering demise end. But how many of us will be left if that is allowed to happen? Interpreted correctly and with enthusiasm by Awarding Organisations, D&T teachers and those providing support, I am confident that we could give the subject a real lift and have something that is once again the envy of the world. This could provide your light at the end of the tunnel but the community has to step up to the plate.


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