Call for Ebacc to be scrapped as number of D&T students nosedives

The government is being urged to scrap the English Baccalaureate (Ebacc) and rebrand Design & Technology currently taught in schools as part of a massive effort to boost vocational education take-up and develop more young people with the skills and knowledge required to fill STEM skills gaps.

Ebacc - Schoolchildren Programming Robot Together Stem Educational Class - image courtesy of Depositphotos.
The number of students taking D&T at GCSE fell by 62% between 2008 and 2018 – image courtesy of Depositphotos.

The number of pupils studying Design & Technology (D&T) has plummeted over the past decade, compounded by an increasing shortage of specialist teachers in the subject and investment in the equipment required to deliver it.

According to analysis of official data the number of students taking D&T at GCSE fell by almost two-thirds (62%) between 2008 and 2018, down from 330,000 students to just 127,000.

This is reflected in the proportion of students taking D&T, as a percentage of all subjects, which has fallen by more than half from 5.9% to 2.3% in the same period.

A similar trend, while not quite as pronounced, exists at A Level where the number of students taking D&T fell from approximately 18,000 to 11,000 in the same period.

The fall for both GCSE and A Level is especially pronounced in the number of female students at a time when the UK already has the lowest percentage of female engineers in Europe.

The figures are analysed in a new report – Making Design & Technology manufacturers’ business – published by Make UK and Semta.

The fall can be attributed to several factors, according to the report, but particularly the introduction of the Ebacc which marked a return to a more traditional, purely academic focused curriculum.

A renewed emphasis on D&T in schools is essential not just to fill current skills gaps but to fuel the pipeline of future students taking STEM subjects. This will be essential if the government is to meet its target as part of the ‘people’ element of its Industrial Strategy.

The Manufacturer’s Nick Peters recently sat down with Ian Green, Senior Controller of the Nissan Skills Foundation. 

Ian Green celebrating National Apprenticeship Day at the House of Lords with (L-R) Eden McGlen from Unipres, and Rachel Whitworth, Charlotte Parks and Emma Coulson from Nissan.
Ian Green celebrating National Apprenticeship Day at the House of Lords with (L-R) Eden McGlen, Rachel Whitworth, Charlotte Parks and Emma Coulson.

A former engineering apprentice, Ian became a trainer after a serious road accident meant he had to give up his job on the shop floor.

Since then, Ian Green has made the Foundation a model of its kind and engaged with tens of thousands of schoolchildren.

He is equally critical of the Ebacc and its affects on STEM subjects. You can read Ian’s concerns here

Director of Employment & Skills Policy at Make UK, Tim Thomas commented: “The government’s Industrial Strategy is a critical blueprint in shaping the future of the UK economy, and how we address fundamental challenges we face as a society. The world of work will be very different in the future and, as a result, the education system has to adapt to reflect this.

“However, far from fuelling the future talent pipeline with new skills in new technologies, the introduction of the English Baccalaureate has had a negative effect on the numbers of students studying Design & Technology in schools today.

“Given the pace of technological change, and the influence of design in all aspects of the rapidly changing world around us, government must re-think its strategy towards the teaching of these vital STEM-based subjects as a matter of urgency.”

Ann Watson, CEO of Semta, added: “With the requirement for 60,000 new entrants into the engineering and manufacturing sector each year, it is of paramount importance that we look to address how we can support and introduce young people into engineering, while providing inspiration, for them to realise the breadth of opportunity that the sector can provide.”

In response, Make UK and Semta have made the following recommendations:

  1. Scrap the Ebacc policy
  2. Rename D&T to Design, Technology & Engineering (DTE), to reflect a modern, future-focused, curriculum and the growing importance of practical skills in the world of work.
  3. Offer schools incentives to invest in DTE equipment and capital. Equipment for practical-based subjects costs significantly more compared to academically based subjects. Similar incentives should exist for them to work collaboratively with local employers, colleges and training providers who have staff and equipment which could be shared.
  4. Government should encourage more people in industry to retrain and become teachers as part of a new recruitment and retention campaign.