The bad news continues – what are we going to do about it?

The downward trend in GCSE numbers for D&T continues. In 2004 95% of young people studied GCSE D&T, now 12 years later its 28%. This can’t be blamed on the EBacc although this certainly hasn’t made it easier to reverse the trend. I’ve been in correspondence with Justine Greening about Michelle Donelan’s letter/petition to have D&T declared an EBacc subject. The initial reply from the civil servant Rachel Nelson (Ministerial and Public Communications Division) seemed to miss the point so this is what I’ve since submitted.

How might the minister increase the number of pupils studying GCSE design & technology? Reference number 2016-0037703

Dear Rachel

Thank you very much for your reply to my letter to Justine Greening. In your reply you give a thorough and correct description of design & technology, its educational benefits and its place in Progress 8 and Attainment 8. The good news for design & technology is that it counts as a high value academic qualification. The bad news for design & technology is that the way this plays out in the choices that schools offer pupils aged 14 is that the subject often finds itself in a single option column competing with subjects such as art, art and design, music, and drama. This minimizes if not rules out the possibility for those pupils studying three sciences of studying design & technology as well. I realize that the structure of option choices for pupils aged 14 is well below the level of detail usually considered by ministers but in this case we have a classic example of a good idea (the English Baccalaureate as a means of achieving social justice) having unintended consequences. That is why I would urge Justine Greening to consider the proposal from Michelle Donelan MP to have design & technology included in the suite of English Baccalaureate subjects. Those pupils taking three sciences would benefit considerably from studying design & technology in that this would enable them to consider the intellectual and practical applications of their science learning.

The news today is that currently only 28% of young people study GCSE design and technology. In 2004 it was 95%. So this is a situation that needs addressing.

I will post this question on my blog so that others know the question has been asked.

I look forward to hearing from you.

Given the positive quotes from James Dyson, Paul McCombie and Prof. Kel Fidler (University of Bath), and Steve Rutherford (Nottingham Trent University) concerning the benefits of the subject cited on the D&T Association website one has to wonder why schools aren’t overwhelmed with young people wanting to study it. So the minister’s response may well be that design & technology should up its game so that it becomes much more attractive and overcomes the obstacles of the options structure. What would we say to her then? As always comments welcome.