Education, Skills and the next generation of Designers

Published 9th May 2018

Education, Skills and the Next Generation of Designers

Discussion held on Wednesday 16th May 2018 at House of Commons

An event by the All-Party Parliamentary Design and Innovation Group, D&T Association and Design Business Association - Chaired by John Howell MP: Member of Parliament for Henley and Co-Chair of the All Party Parliamentary Design and Innovation Group

'A roundtable discussion on the present state of design education in secondary schools, universities and the impact that it is having on the design industry'

The discussion brought together 18 leaders from across the sector to discuss three broad areas regarding how design and technology is taught in schools, how schools can work more closely with universities and businesses to ensure that young people are entering the job market with the right skills, and the wider benefits of design education on the wider economy.

It was a wide-ranging and focused discussion within which the main challenges facing D&T in schools were clear to all these being:

  • The EBacc effect (resulting in the almost accidental decline in the Arts subjects and D&T in schools)
  • The perception that D&T is an expensive subject to deliver effectively in a time of continued school austerity
  • The negative effect on the subject of Progress 8 and the school accountability structures
  • A severe lack of suitably qualified teachers and the continued decline in ITT places and take up nationally
  • A lack of widely agreed clarity on the importance and very nature of the subject

The group unanimously agreed on the need to change perceptions around the subject, and it was   suggested that there were three areas of work to be tackled:

  • Conceptual - Information and a shared agreement of what the subject actually is and its value as part of a balanced curriculum offer
  • Programmatic - The act of getting on and doing...bringing a greater degree of direction and consistency to D&T teaching nationally       
  • Structural - Assisting policymakers at DCMS, DfE, DTI and others to understand the systematic
  • opportunities that we are denying students and how cutting off this stream of inspiration
  • can be detrimental to the skill sets acquired by students, to the economy and to student’s

It was agreed that D&T is not an art strand. It is a discipline transcending STEM and other curriculum subjects providing context for students to solve ‘real life’ problems.

STEM is a well-established entity in schools but is often centered on Mathematics and Science with Engineering often struggling to make an impact and Technology often forgotten from the conversation. Design can be completely absent from STEM activities, this is the very essence of our subject and therefore a number of STEM projects leave the very integrity of D&T compromised from the start. One also has to ask where innovation and entrepreneurship fit into STEM activities, these are also key attributes of Design & Technology activity and are often absent from STEM projects.

We discussed the place and importance of skills alongside knowledge acquisition. Good Design & Technology activity teaches, promotes and develops:

  • Resilience (Grit)
  • Problem solving
  • Emotional intelligence
  • Initiative
  • The ability to work alone and in teams
  • A broader perspective on the world and how they, as students and as individuals have a lead role to play in how society functions

The group touched on the last bullet point above and the need for students to have a broader understanding of their world and how it is changing in order to develop a sense of purpose and well-being. This is increasingly important in a society that can feel impersonal and appears to require constant change and adaptation. Our biggest challenge as educators is to help our students to understand their world, to understand and like the person that looks back at them from the mirror and to approach life with confidence and positivity.

There was discussion around the task of linking schools and industry/business. In industry there appears to be a very healthy appetite for this as employers work hard to attract suitable students to their workforce and to improve the quality and depth of careers provision. The Design & Technology Association has a lead role to play here as the conduit between schools and school leaders and industry...this is a growing area of work for the Association.

T-Levels will play an important role in joining up these conversations and providing alternative routes to employment. There was a discussion around the need to pitch these appropriately; they provide an opportunity to place technical education on a par with established A Levels, a goal that we appear never to have successfully accomplished. It was stated that the requirement for an extended period of work-placement as part of this qualification would be unmanageable and may act as a deterrent for some employers.


There followed a short conversation on the role of apprenticeships and breadth of opportunity now available through this route. It was suggested that a number of companies were struggling to spend the levy appropriately with funds returning to the chancellor’s coffers. It might be appropriate for government to allow these funds to be used to assist structured programmes joining schools with business/industry and on improving the quality of careers education and guidance?

The group discussed the staffing crisis across teaching but specific to design & technology. We have never experienced a crisis at this level and this requires intervention at government level if we are to successfully address it.


The world is changing fast. Education will need to shift its pace and focus if we are to adequately prepare students to confidently face the future, their future!

Our main challenge is to change perceptions around the subject, its value on the curriculum and the need for it as part of a broad and balanced educational experience. At a time when ‘Design Thinking’ is fast making headway in business education circles, we need to convince school leaders, politicians and policy makers of the need for our subject, not just to deliver the Industrial Strategy (although that is important) but for what it offers all students in their journey from child into well-informed, happy adults.

The meeting closed with an agreed set of actions to follow on from this discussion; the next stage is to arrange a broader meeting in London for the summer and to bring the discussion on a much larger scale to Birmingham in early October to coincide with the Conservative Party Conference.

Round-table Attendee List

  • John Howell MP (Chair) -  Chair, APDIG House of Commons
  • David Anderson-  Headteacher Queen Elizabeth's Grammar School, Faversham
  • Andrew Churchill - Managing Director of JJ Churchill Ltd
  • Guy Bilgorri - Senior Policy Advisor Design Council
  • Eileen Budd - Project Manager V&A Institute
  • Mark Burey - Head of External Relations University of the Arts London
  • Helen Charman - Director of Learning and National Programmes, Victoria and Albert Museum
  • Deborah Dawton - Chief Executive Design Business Association
  • Adam Fennelow - Head of Services Design Business Association
  • David McGravie - Head of School of Arts University of Derby
  • Tony Ryan - Chief Executive Design and Technology Association
  • Andy Thompson - Director of Design Technology and Engineering, Highgate school, London
  • Jack Tindale - Manager, Design and Innovation Policy Connect
  • Anna Brown - Media and Communications Manager Falmouth University
  • Nicky Dewar - Head of Learning and Talent Development, Crafts Council
  • Kara Kane - Community Manager for User Centred Design, Government Digital Service
  • Dan Sibert - Senior Partner, Foster & Partners
  • Kay Sables - Emeritus Professor of Design Education, Goldsmiths, University of London
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