The importance of design and technology to Made in Britain

Posted on 22 Nov 2015 by The Manufacturer

The importance of Design & Technology has never been more paramount, yet the subject now faces an unprecedented threat as a consequence of neglect and error by Britain’s leaders, warns Richard Green, chief executive of the Design & Technology Association.

Design and Technology (D&T) is a widely misunderstood and misrepresented subject. For too many people – including ministers, employers and parents – it is still perceived as the subject they probably studied when they were at school, i.e. woodwork or metalwork.

Richard Green MA, Chief Executive of the Design & Technology Association
Richard Green, chief executive, Design & Technology Association.

In reality, it’s the subject which can put the T and E into STEM, and does so within curriculum time, not as part of extra-curricula, enhancement and enrichment activities.

But we have a problem, or rather we have a series of problems.

Firstly, the subject is often invisible. Ministers never refer to it when talking about STEM. When they do talk about ‘Technology’ they usually mean computing.

Secondly, uncertainty about the future of the subject during the recent national curriculum review has discouraged potential secondary D&T teachers from applying for Initial Teacher Training (ITT) courses.

Come next September there will be at least 2,000 fewer teachers in the system than are needed – a vacancy in two out of every three secondary schools.

Finally, Government policies and accountability measures work against a broad and balanced curriculum to meet all pupils’ needs and interests.

For example, 61% of secondary schools and 15% of primary schools are now Academies or Free schools and do not have to teach the national curriculum. Therefore their pupils’ entitlement to D&T education is not guaranteed.

Primary schools are judged on pupils’ performance in English and mathematics, which consequently take more than 50% of teaching time, compared with 5% or less for D&T.

Designed and Made in Britain…?

Re-balancing the education system equals re-balancing the economy.

D&TA’s is hoping to bring together some of the brightest minds in British design and manufacture to join its campaign, including:

  • Dick Powell – founder, Seymourpowell
  • Will Butler-Adams – CEO, Brompton
  • Dinah Casson – founder,Casson Mann and RSA Royal Designer for Industry,
  • Rhys Morgan – director of engineering education, Royal Academy of Engineering
  • David Anderson – headteacher, Queen Elizabeth’s Grammar School

For more information about the Designed and Made in Britain …? campaign, email: [email protected] or visit

Secondary schools are judged on pupils’ GCSE grades in English Baccalaureate (EBacc) subjects – English, mathematics, history or geography, science and a language. There is no incentive for pupils to study D&T.

Until 2004 D&T was a compulsory GCSE subject, but the loss of statutory status and current accountability measures have resulted in a 50% fall in D&T GCSE entries between 2003 and 2014.

This has been further compounded by the recent proposal that no school will be considered as ‘Outstanding’ by Ofsted from September 2015 unless all pupils study EBacc GCSEs – a further disincentive to study D&T.

Consequently D&T is increasingly marginalised in many schools and, in a few, is cut from the curriculum completely.

The irony is that this is happening as China, South Korea and other South East Asian countries are visiting the UK to learn how D&T is taught in schools here.

They recognise that their curricula lack the design and creative problem solving, linked to technical knowledge and practical making skills, which D&T provides.

How do we counter this perfect storm of problems? On October 7 the Design and Technology Association launched a campaign, Designed and Made in Britain …?, to raise awareness of these challenges and to propose actions to address them.

We believe the Government must:

  • change its accountability measures to include a creative/technical subject for all pupils at Key Stage 4
  • address D&T teacher shortages through increased bursary incentives to attract the best entrants into ITT
  • promote wider understanding of D&T, its contribution to STEM and to career paths in engineering and the creative industries

Employers can play a significant role too by:

  • helping to highlight D&T’s value to Government departments through their companies and professional institutions
  • collaborating in developing real-life and relevant D&T activities and resources
  • helping D&T teachers engage with professional practice through work experience, internships and apprenticeships.

The D&T community also has a part to play by:

  • ensuring the subject is modern, relevant and fit for the 21st century
  • providing CPD that improves and extends teachers’ subject knowledge
  • taking every opportunity to publicise D&T and related careers to parents, school management (including governors) and employers

Unless we can achieve these changes, too many pupils will lose out on a design and technological education which is essential for life in an advanced technological society, and too many will miss out on the opportunity to have their interest in design, manufacturing and engineering careers awoken through practical designing and making activities.

There is a lot to lose!