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.



3 thoughts on “The bad news continues – what are we going to do about it?

  1. GCSE and A Level stats
    It is especially hard this year to compare with previous years. Two useful articles explain: Schoolsweek – Guardian –

    Alongside, the 16/18 year old UK cohort numbers are hard to pin down. JCQ has not recently published cohort numbers in its GCSE press releases but reports a percentage fall every year from 2008 to 2016 (bar 2013 where no comment made). However, ONS publish mid-year UK population estimates for each age (most recent mid-2015). JCQ reported percentage falls are not totally consistent with the ONS data (perhaps because ONS is estimated numbers?).

    According to ONS estimates, the UK 16 year old cohort started to fall from a peak at around 1981. From 1993 it picked up again until 2007 when it started to gradually fall again.

    Looking at the ONS 16 year old (UK) data and D&T number sat (all UK) provides (roughly) the percentage of age 16s who sat D&T each year:

    2001: 57.40
    2002: 57.31
    2003: 57.50
    2004: 55.80
    2005: 51.10
    2006: 47.40
    2007: 43.94
    2008: 41.70
    2009: 39.11
    2010: 36.61
    2011: 33.03
    2012: 31.29
    2013: 28.47
    2014: 28.27
    2015: 27.28

    So, yes, the 2004 removal of D&T from the National Curriculum had, no doubt, major impact. However the decline had already begun – with disapplication of some pupils (from 2000?) and schools pre-empting the 2004 change.

    The revised National Curriculum Order was published in 1995. According to this site: – 349,971 were graded A*-U in D&T in 1995 (and 33,037 in CDT, 54,736 in Home Economics). According to ONS the estimated 16 year old population in mid-1995 was 712,032. Taking D&T, CDT and Home Economics together, around 61.5% of 16 year olds took these subjects at GCSE in 1995. The peak in D&T (alone) appears to be 2000 when around 58.4% of the 16 year old cohort sat D&T. The ‘low’ appears to be 32% in 1997 (before the revised NC worked through?).

    If my figures are anywhere near the mark (may not be, please do check and let me know if not!) maybe the golden years of D&T for all didn’t really exist? Anecdotally we all knew of schools which didn’t enforce D&T at KS4.

    On the brighter side – this could mean that the ‘decline’ has ‘only’ been from c. 58% (2000) to c. 27% (2015) – and it may have been as low as 32% in 1997 so maybe we’ve been here before and survived!

    Also on a positive side, D&T GCSE is now attracting a similar number of entries to Art & Design and D&T 2013 entries onwards look relatively flat in relation to the cohort size.
    This may indicate that it has settled into ‘options outside the EBacc’ mode.

    Process and capability
    Yes, I was particularly heartened to see Prof. Kel Fidler once again emphasizing that “engineering is not simply a body of knowledge, but is a process – a process that incorporates creativity, design and innovation in providing solutions to the challenges and needs of society”. Kel Fidler echoes the view of ‘Universe of Engineering’ (the ‘Malpas Report’ 2000) and that of Malcolm Shirley (Director General of the Engineering Council). In his foreword to ‘Design & Technology in a Knowledge Economy’ (Kimbell & Perry 2001). Malcolm Shirley writes: “… the importance of engineering process, which has received less consideration than engineering knowledge over the years. In describing engineering process, it [Universe of Engineering] used very similar terms to those used here [D&T in a K E] to describe design and technology – using different domains of knowledge, managing uncertainty and risk, value-laden activities, and so on. The two papers make clear why design and technology has to be important for all those concerned with engineering.” He goes on to emphasise that “however, design and technology is about far more than career preparation. More than any other area of the curriculum, it is about capability for all.”

    So – process (not just a body of knowledge) and capability for all – thanks to Kel for the reminder.


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