Education, the Economy and D&T
What are the pressures?
The UK’s emergence from economic difficulty is revealing significant areas of weakness, particularly relating to skills shortages. It comes as no surprise therefore, that many associations and organisations in engineering and the creative industries are engaged in campaigns to raise awareness about the shortfall in the availability of suitably qualified workers. Pressures on the school curriculum, alongside outdated perceptions of these areas of activity, are preventing young people from making subject choices that can lead to a wide range of engaging careers.
Reducing creative and technical education threatens the UK’s recovery from economic downturn. The consequences go beyond pure economics in terms of the well-being of individuals and society. Many of the shortfalls centre around skills shortages in engineering, manufacturing and the creative industries, which are predicted to grow strongly and contribute billions of pounds to the UK’s economy. Estimates are that the UK will need:
- 1.82 million new engineers in the decade up to 2022 (Engineering UK, 2015)
- One million new creative jobs by 2030 (Nesta, 2015)
By contrast, the number of 18 year-olds available to progress into Further and Higher Education will decrease (by 8.9%) in the decade up to 2022 (Department for Business, Innovation & Skills, 2011). Additionally, employers consistently state that current curriculum and qualifications systems are not delivering the skill sets they look for in young people entering employment (Confederation of British Industry, 2015).
D&T: status and marginalisation
D&T is nearing a point where the decline in participation threatens its critical mass and thereby endangers its future. Growing evidence from secondary schools shows that D&T is often sidelined and, in some schools, is being cut from the curriculum altogether. In primary schools D&T has been on the margins for some years and the ever-increasing focus on English and mathematics leaves less time for other subject learning. More than a third of secondary schools responded to a D&T Association survey in March this year.
The following points emerged from the schools’ responses:
- 89% agreed that Progress 8 and EBacc measures are influencing option choices and result in lower D&T GCSE numbers.
- 83% agreed that changes in curriculum time allocation and numbers taught are likely to reduce D&T staffing.
- 35% indicated that compared with last year, D&T curriculum time at Key Stage 3 (Years 7 to 9) will be reduced from September 2015.
Schools reported that D&T is consistently being undervalued by comparison with EBacc subjects. In the most extreme cases students are actively discouraged from opting for D&T, or prevented from doing so through the restricted curriculum choices on offer.
Many referred to more able students being persuaded not to choose D&T, in favour of additional EBacc subjects. Given these pressures, numbers will inevitably decline and the full ability range will not be represented across the GCSE entry.
Modernising the D&T curriculum
The pace of technological change over the past 26 years has brought many additional demands to the D&T curriculum, in terms of areas of learning to be included such as digital design and manufacture (CAD/CAM).
During this same period a lack of funding for resources and restricted access to Continuing Professional Development for teachers has limited the continuing review and development required to ensure that the curriculum on offer remains up-to-date and serves both pupils’ and employers’ needs.
Initial Teacher Training (ITT)
Most newly qualified primary teachers start their careers with insufficient subject expertise to teach D&T well. In the secondary sector take-up by ITT applicants is the lowest of any subject, leading to a chronic shortage of qualified teachers. Bursaries provided to incentivise the study of shortage subjects are imbalanced (up to £25,000 for mathematics, physics, chemistry, computing and languages; up to just £12,000 for D&T).
Only 2 undergraduate ITT programmes remain in England. The majority of training is delivered through school-based routes, linked to universities with little knowledge of D&T education. Many schools report difficulty in filling teacher vacancies – increasing the likelihood of the subject being marginalised.
What does D&T offer?
Given its breadth and depth D&T has much to offer across a wide range of career paths in engineering, manufacturing and the creative industries. In addition to learning about designing and making processes, materials technology and programmable systems and control, D&T contributes to the development of important life skills and personal qualities such as team working, risk taking and enterprise.
All learning is best secured by the successful application of knowledge, skills and understanding in different contexts. The D&T curriculum provides many opportunities for literacy, numeracy, computing and scientific knowledge and understanding to be practically applied across all stages of education.
Through modern and developing technologies we exert an ever-greater influence on our surroundings by making improvements to housing, transport, communications and the everyday objects we use, at work and in leisure. D&T helps to develop the knowledge, skills and understanding which makes this possible. It also prepares young people to meet the future challenges of sustainability, in the face of increasing world population, climate change and finite resources, and to continue the development and control of technological advances.
The rigorous process that underpins designing and making activity demands both creative speculation and logical decision making to arrive at valid, and better, solutions. The essential core of D&T lies within the balances between: creativity and control; and thought and action. These thinking and practical skills are invaluable to each and every individual.
Evaluation of products and services
Industry and consumerism are now integral parts of our culture and everyone needs to be equipped to play their part, be it through contribution or response. D&T helps pupils express preference and exercise influence on their spending decisions and in doing so challenge manufacturers’ and suppliers’ assumptions about the quality or suitability of products and services – especially important when safety or well-being are at stake.
Skills for life
Through engaging with designing and making activities in D&T young people develop a range of skills and personal qualities which will support them through life – and are valued by employers. These skills include independence, team working, resilience, resourcefulness, risk taking and entrepreneurship.
It is D&T that supports the development of a wide range of capabilities, within and beyond immediate subject content, which forms an essential part of education and preparation for life for all young people. For some this will be the start-point of graduate, technician or craft level careers in the creative, engineering and manufacturing sectors. But, D&T is for all and it must also be right that decision makers at a public level, including county councillors, politicians and company executives, have the skills, knowledge and understanding to take actions that best promote quality of life, protect security and preserve the environment.
We therefore owe it to all young people in education now, the generations to come, the well-being of society and the UK’s future success to do whatever we can to retain and develop D&T education...while we can and before it’s too late!
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Design and Technology (D&T) is the inspiring, rigorous and practical subject which prepares all young people to live and work in the designed and made world.
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