Daily Telegraph Headline “Design and technology GCSE axed from nearly half of schools, survey finds”


We were pleased that the Daily Telegraph reported on the problems facing our subject. So, of course, we wrote to the Telegraph about it. We were less pleased when the letters’ editor told us, “Sorry there isn’t room on the letters page.” So here is an extended version of our letter explaining what a tragedy it is that the government has ignored the contribution design & technology can make to the general education of all pupils whatever their intended careers. Feel free to forward to all who might be able to use it for the good of the subject.

The recent piece in the Daily Telegraph newspaper (10-3-17) on the imminent demise of design & technology GCSE merits an urgent response. Amongst the factors that have contributed to the decline in numbers taking GCSE design & technology, we think two are key; the role of the EBacc and the DfE’s inability to effectively plan for a supply of new teachers into the profession. Unfortunately, the effects of these interact to create the dire situation reported. As far as teacher supply is concerned, UCAS reports that applications to train to become a design and technology teacher have dropped by 34% since last year (a year in which recruitment was already low, following a pattern of year-on-year decline), yet the government insists “…we do not consider that there is compelling evidence of a shortage of DT teachers.” The Telegraph’s article provides a clear explanation for this apparent paradox; in the face of recruitment difficulty, school leaders are simply not replacing design & technology teachers as they leave and instead are shrinking and closing design & technology departments. The financial pressure on schools gives an added incentive to take this path as does the EBacc, to which we now turn.

Our recent Working Paper ‘Re-Building Design & Technology’ has detailed the way that design & technology sits outside the EBacc, which inevitably puts it down the pecking order when it comes to student choices for GCSE. This means that there needs to be considerable clarity about the contribution design & technology makes to young people’s learning, particularly regarding its uniqueness (i.e., the learning it provides that is not offered by any other subject) and its rigour (both practical and intellectual). It seems to us that a high level of clarity about design & technology’s role in developing fully rounded young people is not always present (in schools or amongst parents and students) when discussions about GCSE options are taking place. Therefore, we would like to offer four arguments that emphasise design & technology’s importance in the curriculum.

An economic argument

A steady supply of people who have studied design & technology is essential to maintain and develop the kind of society we value. Design & technology is central to the innovation on which our future economic success as a nation depends. For those young people who achieve a design & technology qualification at school the experience may well predispose some of them to consider a technical career. This is important as our country faces a “STEM skills” gap.

A personal argument

The learning achieved through studying design & technology at school is useful in everyday situations, as it enables young people to deploy design skills and technical problem solving to address and solve practical problems at both the personal and community levels.

A social argument

In their communities, their workplaces, and through the media, people encounter questions and disputes that have matters of design and/or technology at their core. Often these matters are contentious. Significant understanding of design and of technology is needed to reach an informed view on such matters and engage in discussion and debate. For example, students designing and making robots in design & technology have to engage with both hardware and software design issues; these provide rich opportunities for them to consider some of the wider implications of robots in society such as their roles in elder care, in warfare and in displacing human jobs.

A cultural argument

Technologies and the design thinking behind them are major achievements of our culture. Everyone should be helped to appreciate these, in much the same way that we teach pupils to appreciate literature, art and music.

The sentences below have their origins in the writings of Jacob Bronowski’s seminal work, The Ascent of Man. We think they provide a powerful justification for teaching the subject that touches on all four of the arguments noted previously (economic, personal, social, cultural).

Envisaging what might exist in the future and using tools and materials to create and critique that future is a unique human ability, which has led to the development of successive civilisations across history. It embodies some of the best of what it means to be human.Through teaching young people design & technology, schools introduce pupils to this field of human endeavour and empower them to become people who see the world as a place of opportunity where they and others can, through their own thoughts and actions, improve their situation.

The implications are that design & technology requires young people to be imaginative, develop practical skills, be thoughtful and develop intellectual skills, develop a positive attitude towards confronting problems, be both reflective and active, make judgements as to what is worth doing and understand the ways that design & technology underpins cultural and social structures.

If taken seriously, the arguments given above provide compelling reasons for teaching design & technology to all young people, whatever their career intentions might be, as part of a rounded, general education. We are utterly mystified that the government continues to marginalise the subject both through the EBacc and through its inattention to teacher supply.

 

As always comments welcome.

 

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2 thoughts on “Daily Telegraph Headline “Design and technology GCSE axed from nearly half of schools, survey finds”

  1. As you were David, I was dismayed – or rather angry when I read the piece last week in the Telegraph. I was abroad on leave at the time but got involved from afar, via the office. One of our Secondary Working Group members had forwarded me the link and then after some discussion on a Facebook page, he took it up with the journalist. The original sub-headline text was making a claim that teenagers no longer had an interest in making things anymore, implying that this was a reasons why the numbers studying at KS4 had dropped. Fortunately that got changed and I believe she accepted the error.

    You are of course correct that the demise such as it is, is a direct consequence of a confluence of factors, the two you cite; performance measures and teacher supply being two of the most significant.

    Without returning to the article however, I do recall that apart from it being a poor piece of journalism, I followed up on the research that had been conducted by ASCL.
    Did the survey (as far as I can see restricted to teacher members of ASCL) collect secure data to evidence the assertion? The stats in the tables in the findings relating to cuts in D&T need further scrutiny and questioning. I’d like to see the methodology and the data myself. Its not that simple to ask ‘which course had been removed’ particularly in a year where there is substantial curriculum and examination change! That is not to say I don’t believe my own albeit anecdotal evidence, suggesting that cuts in school are impacting negatively on D&T provision and take up. Of course they are. But I’m not sure we have the data to claim with any degree of confidence that D&T has been axed form nearly half of all secondary schools.

    But the point you raise about teacher recruitment is concerning. I had not looked at UCAS figures for a little while. I am also aware of the MAC report, based on figures that are produced on a demand led basis.

    As always, clarity with respect to what the subject offers is vitally important and the justifications you provide are indeed clear and helpful. Politically, what will be necessary in forthcoming months is to make the link between the importance of studying D&T pre-16, in preparation for post 16 related courses that inform Government’s new Industrial Strategy. It seems to me that outside of the EBacc subjects, the big emphasis and where the money will be spent is on developing level 3 Technical education – T levels etc. Of course what we must not allow to happen, is the for D&T to be viewed first and foremost as preparation for this – a part it can most certainly take. The much broader role it continues to play as an essential component of a broad and balanced curriculum for all and its value, much heralded throughout its history must be upheld.

    Simply we will have to sing to (at least) two tunes if the poor state of affairs D&T (and related activity) is to reverse the trend. Crucial to this has to be schools getting behind the new GCSE and embracing the opportunities it provides. Those that can, should also embrace other technical qualifications as part of their portfolio but only to be used as ‘complementary’ to the main stream D&T provision.

    It will always be the case I believe, that D&T and associated courses can provide an irresistible offer to many young people. But it will be for schools to provide the relevant experiences, activities and challenges to ensure young people vote with their feet. But D&T departments will also need the support from those who control the resources in their schools for it to happen.

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  2. What a disaster. Other counties are going the other way. Italy is now adding Maker Spaces in all schools. They have probably seen the positive effect of their Arduino and want to follow this up for all. A step change is needed to include business, coding and open ended imagination using tech.

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