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.