Big bang for Maths and Science, Damp Squib for Design and Technology

Published 3rd December 2015

David Cameron's announcement that £67m of Government funding to increase the number of secondary maths and science teachers was yet more evidence of the Government’s willful neglect of another vital STEM subject – design and technology.

Design and Technology in England is facing severe challenges. The Government’s prioritisation of Ebacc subjects in secondary schools is threatening to marginalise or, in some cases, kill off D&T. Richard Green, Chief Executive of the Design and Technology Association, said, “Schools are gaming the system. The Progress 8 accountability measure is intended to ensure a broad and balanced curriculum, but schools are running scared of not meeting Ebacc targets and so they are making children take additional Ebacc subjects as an insurance policy, at the expense of creative and technical options.”

Three more University Technical Colleges (UTC) also announced by Cameron are not the answer to the problem. There are now 60 UTCs accounting for less than 2% of the post-14 cohort. Green continued, “Most UTCs are doing a good job but what about the other 98% of students who cannot study at a UTC?”

A survey currently running on the Association’s website shows that 85% of respondents say D&T curriculum time in their school is being cut in 2015-16 and a similar percentage say that numbers taking the subject at GCSE starting in September will decrease. Green continued, “Until 2014 D&T was always the most popular optional GCSE subject, but over the last 10 years we have seen a decrease in the entry from just under 450,000 a year to just under 250,000. This is now less than a third of the annual cohort. As a result business and industry is missing out on the vital skills that D&T helps to develop.”

The decline at GCSE, combined with previous uncertainty about the status of the subject within the National Curriculum, has also seen a dramatic reduction in the numbers of recruits to Initial Teacher Training (ITT) courses. Green said, “In 2013 and 2014 recruitment was below 50% of target and this means that in September this year we will be at least 1,000 new teachers short in the system. Yet the Government refuses to even mention the subject in announcements about the importance of STEM, never mind support it and sufficiently incentivise graduates to train to teach it.”

The irony is that the Prime Minister made his announcement at the Big Bang Science and Engineering fair being held at the NEC, Birmingham, where the majority of the National Engineering competition entries are the work of D&T students and teachers. An even bigger irony is that the D&T Association is this week hosting a visit of Chinese educationalists, including teacher trainers, who are desperate to learn about how D&T promotes innovation and creative responses to design problems – aspects which are missing from the Chinese curriculum. Today the Chinese visitors are at the Big Bang learning from student competitors that D&T is the subject where design, engineering and practical STEM learning takes place.

Green concluded, “It is scandalous that UK education’s excellence in D&T teaching is better regarded in the Far East than by our own Government. Our industrial competitors can see the real value of a subject that develops design, practical and technical knowledge and skills. They can obviously see something that David Cameron and Nicky Morgan cannot. If our ministers keep their eyes closed to the problem, by the time they open them it will be too late and a subject that we were the first in the world to introduce will have been decimated by ignorance and inaction.”

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