Things go from bad to worse for design and technology

28th October 2011 at 01:00
First it was hit by the EBac, and now its compulsory status is at risk

It is the most popular non-statutory subject at GCSE, has been a compulsory part of the national curriculum since its inception and, its advocates say, is essential to Britain's economic growth. But the future of design and technology (DT) is now under threat, according to a high-profile group of campaigners, including inventor Sir James Dyson, fashion designer Sir Paul Smith and yachtswoman Dame Ellen MacArthur.

They fear the subject - currently compulsory between the ages of five and 14 - could be relegated to an optional part of the national curriculum under the Government's review, and that too few schools recognise its value.

The Design and Technology Association (DATA), which recruited the stars to its "Believe in DT" campaign, says the English Baccalaureate has already damaged the subject. The league table measure, which requires GCSEs in English, science, maths, languages, and history or geography, is leading to job losses among DT teachers, according to the association's research.

A survey of 170 members this summer found that 46 per cent said their schools had plans to reduce the number of DT teachers or technicians. Three-quarters said they would have fewer pupils than the year before. The DATA also noted that there were no DT jobs advertised in TES a fortnight ago - a situation it describes as "unprecedented".

Now it fears the new national curriculum could make things even worse by taking away the subject's compulsory status in favour of more "academic" options.

"For Britain, being better than our global competitors in the long term demands a generation of problem-solving, academically minded young people who are ready to use their hands and brains," Sir James said. But, depending on the forthcoming curriculum review, Britain risks being a less inventive place.

"To our economic detriment, DT is under threat. DT is the most popular optional subject. It mustn't be sidelined."

The curriculum review is facing lobbying from a variety of directions, with supporters of citizenship and ICT also fighting for their subjects' inclusion in the compulsory curriculum. But a strong campaign from RE supporters this year failed to get the subject added to the EBac alongside geography and history.

The DATA believes the UK's current economic problems give its case particular weight. It argues that DT must remain compulsory if chancellor George Osborne is to give substance to his "made in Britain, created in Britain, designed in Britain and invented in Britain" rhetoric.

"DT is about much more than woodwork and needlework," said DATA chief executive Richard Green. "It covers a wide range of knowledge and skills, including product design, electronics, computer programming, textiles, graphic design, as well as encouraging innovation and enterprise, which are all skills our economy clearly needs.

"The views of business leaders are clear. Removing it as a statutory subject will seriously undermine the country's economic prospects now and in the future."

A Department for Education spokesman said: "The EBac is not compulsory and is only one measure of success - pupils should study what is right for them. It makes up just five subjects, so there is plenty of time left for further study."

What is DT?

In 1989, when DT was created, England and Wales became the first countries in the world to have a compulsory technology curriculum.

Its roots are in craft subjects like woodwork and needlework. But today it also includes modern processes such as computer-aided design and manufacturing, and aims to encourage innovation and enterprise across science, engineering and technology.

The Design and Technology Association says it is the most popular subject at GCSE and the "least truanted" in the curriculum.

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