A new analysis by the Baker Dearing Educational Trust has revealed that design and technology student numbers have fallen by up to 71 per cent since the Conservative Party came to power.
The trust, which supports around 50 University Technical Colleges (UTCs) delivering technical and academic options, is now concerned that fewer young people will progress to apprenticeships and T-levels if they can’t experience technical subjects at school. It has called for the government to ‘stop obsessing about academic subjects and significantly increase the number of degree apprenticeships for young people’.
The analysis was based on new statistics released by exams regulator Ofqual to coincide with GCSE and level 2 results day. The statistics showed that 77,530 candidates took GCSE design and technology this year. This represents a dramatic fall of 71 per cent from the 270,400 candidates who took the course in 2010 and adds to findings by the Education Policy Institute (EPI) in March that take-up of design and technology at GCSE level had halved between 2011 and 2022.
Figures released by Ofqual also showed that in 2010, there were 16,520 students sitting assessments for an A-level in design and technology, which can include subjects such as engineering, fashion and textiles, and product design. In the 2022 exam series, just 9,620 students sat those assessments – a drop of 41 per cent.
Design and technology did see the largest bump in entries this year, up 14.3 per cent, demonstrating students’ interest and enthusiasm for studying technical subjects.
According to Ofqual, female participation in IT has also been dwindling since the government scrapped the ICT A-level in 2017. While 3,335 female students took the ICT A-level in 2010, more than 1,000 fewer young women took A-level computing exams – which replaced the ICT course – this summer.
According to Baker Dearing, UTCs are seeing the benefits of offering technical options at GCSE-level: 69 per cent of GCSE students at UTC Lincoln achieved top grades in the UTC’s specialisms of engineering and the three separate sciences this summer. Significant numbers of UTC leavers have also progressed from A-levels to degree apprenticeships this year. However, degree apprenticeships are rarer than places at Oxbridge, meaning that not as many students will be able to take advantage of these opportunities as would want to.
The March EPI report raised concerns that students are far less inclined to pursue design and technolgy subjects at a higher level of education without the option or encouragement to study it at an early age. One element that has held down technical subjects in schools, Baker Dearing argued, is the English Baccalaureate (Ebacc), first introduced by Michael Gove, in which schools are measured on their performance in traditional subjects such as geography and languages. This has meant that schools’ focus on design and technology and IT has bled away as they focus on their Ebacc numbers.
The gradual defunding of BTECs and the fact that the new T-level qualifications have yet to reach critical have meant that students face a declining range of opportunities to ‘try before they buy’ when it comes to technical subjects.
‘The national curriculum in schools is just eight subjects. This was imposed by Michael Gove and as a result, we’ve done nothing for disadvantaged pupils, which are at the same number now as they were in 2010,’ former education secretary and Baker Dearing’s founder, Lord Baker, told GB News. ‘The only way we’re going to be a successful country is if we have better training in skills.’
Following the release of results for A-level, GCSE and vocational qualifications, Baker Dearing called on the government and employers to implement a number of recommendations: scrap the English Baccalaureate; significantly increase the number of degree apprenticeships so that they become a viable option for more young people; increase funding to schools to pay for equipment and capital facilities to run design and technology courses at GCSE and A-level; and encourage schools to work with technical-education providers such as UTCs, which can advise them on how to attract students to technical courses and disseminate best practice for delivering them.
‘Students need to have the opportunity to experience technical education before they get to the stage where they will be choosing what discipline they want to pursue for their education and their career,’ said Baker Dearing Educational Trust chief executive Simon Connell. ‘After ten years of the UTC programme, where we offer a blended academic and technical curriculum, we know that students are interested in learning subjects such as engineering and product as well as traditional subjects such as geography and English.
‘Teaching young people these technical subjects offers tangible results for both them and the economy,’ he continued. ‘We have seen so many of our Year 13 leavers progress onto degree apprenticeships in industry, helping fill key skill shortages. Young people across the country deserve the same chances and opportunities as our UTC pupils. Government must act to revive design and technology and computing, and UTC staff are happy to help any school or college looking to bring more technical education into their offering.’