2016 GCSE results day: as we predicted, the trend continues

Published 25th August 2016

GCSE results for the 2016 entry were published today. The results for all examinations taken in the UK can be found on the Joint Council for Qualifications (JCQ) website. 

The D&T Association congratulates all those students who have received their results today and particularly those who have been successful in achieving a GCSE design and technology (D&T). Achieving success at this level is very challenging and we know how much hard work students put in to be successful. We also know how hard D&T teachers will have worked to enable these results and they are a credit to the profession. 

However, the results for 2016 do not represent good news for the subject as a whole. Once again they continue to show a decline in entry numbers, revealing a dramatic 9.5% drop in the number of students in the UK taking D&T. 

According to DfE, despite a fall in the 16 year old population of 3.1% from 2015, overall GCSE entries for 16 year olds are up 0.3% to 4,556,099. But the situation regarding D&T does not reflect this, with the total entry for D&T now representing just 28% of the cohort! 

Richard Green, Chief Executive of the Design and Technology Association, said, “The drop in GCSE entries continues the UK wide decline which has seen numbers decrease nationally from 440,000 in 2004 to 185,279 this year. This decline started with the removal of the requirement for all pupils to study D&T GCSE in 2004 and has continued, particularly over the last 4 years, as the Government has prioritised traditional, English Baccalaureate (Ebacc), subjects over creative, artistic and technical subjects” 

The negative impact of this decline on subsequent Design & Technology A-level uptake becomes all the more significant now that new figures show that D&T is a key contributing subject for success at University level engineering disciplines. 

Figures freshly compiled by Paul McCombie, Admissions Tutor and Deputy Head of Department at the Department of Architecture and Civil Engineering at University of Bath, indicate that D&T is one of the top three factors underpinning graduate successBased on an internal analysis of 200 graduates of Civil Engineering, 2013 to 2016, the figures correlate A-level subjects to degree performance. 

While local to University of Bath, these figures echo the experience of many in engineering and design education, as Prof. Kel Fidler comments, “There is a growing realisation in the UK, and indeed within international engineering higher education, 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. The significance of the background provided by the designing skills inculcated through an A level Design & Technology course is manifest”. 

The impact will also be felt on undergraduate design courses. In the words of Steve Rutherford at Nottingham Trent University School of Architecture Design and the Built Environment (Steve is also a product design consultant, and editor of 'The Design Student's Handbook’)"The significant drop in the number of those studying GCSE Design and Technology is of real concern to the higher education sector. This is affecting the number of students going on to study A level D&T prior to a course in higher education. Not only are they less well equipped to embark on design based courses but, more importantly, many young people are now completely unaware of the massive career opportunities available in design, creative and manufacturing industries that open up as a direct consequence of studying design at school. This has serious consequences for British industry over the next 5 years. As with nurses, doctors and teachers, we will have to look abroad to fill design vacancies”. 

In recognition of Design and Technology's importance to industry, Michelle Donelan MP is campaigning to have D&T included within the Ebacc lschool league table measure, with the support of, among others, Sir James Dyson, who says, “Design and Technology is the only subject which directly prepares young people for a career in engineering. At a time when the UK is being hamstrung by a significant shortage of engineers, the need to champion D&T has never been more apparent. It is imperative that Government prevents this pivotally important subject from being side-lined by declaring, now, that the reformed D&T GCSE will be an Ebacc subject. This is the only way to send a clear signal that all young people – including the best and brightest – should be encouraged to pursue D&T.” 

The results will cause further concern to those with responsibility for the subject and its status in individual schools 

As Andy Mitchell (Deputy Chief Executive) said last week responding to the A level results: 

“Once again the decline in the entry for [A level] D&T indicates a cause for concern. Emphasis on traditional ‘academic’ subjects is having a pernicious and damaging effect on the status of the D&T and reflects trends emerging in the provision of D&T in UK schools. 

He added today: 

“The losers here are the country, business and industry but most importantly, future generations of young people. With the decline, we are seeing severely limited opportunity in many schools, to pursue design and technological work, as we move to a ‘one size fits all curriculum.’ In the worst cases, D&T is being completely removed from the key stage 4 curriculum. It is ethically wrong, that students with interests and ambitions, as I had whilst at school, are prevented from pursuing them in the way I was actively encouraged to do. 

The D&T Association will shortly be making available free to its members, a breakdown and analysis of the national results.  

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