Students taking D&T fell by half from 2012

A new report from the Education Policy Institute (EPI) finds that student entries into Design and Technology (D&T) at GCSE have fallen by a half over the last decade.

The research, which is the first study to comprehensively examine trends in the subject over the last ten years, shows that just over 1 in 5 students take D&T as a subject at GCSE today, compared to over 2 in 5 a decade ago.

Entries for students at A level have also declined over the same period, as more students now opt for vocational engineering qualifications.

The EPI analysis finds that GCSE students attending free schools and sponsored academies are less likely to enter D&T, while at A level, students in independent schools are most likely to enter the subject.

The report also uncovers significant local and regional variation in D&T take up, with entries in local authorities ranging from nearly 40 per cent of pupils taking D&T at GCSE in Herefordshire, to just 4 per cent of pupils taking the subject at GCSE in Middlesbrough.

Choosing D&T as a subject at GCSE level is shown to be particularly critical to continuing study in the subject at 16-19 level. Of those who did not study D&T at GCSE, less than 2 per cent opted to take up the subject at the next stage of education.

This shows that without the option or encouragement to begin studying D&T an early age, students are far less inclined to pursue D&T subjects at a higher level of education.

The study’s authors identify several developments that have coincided with the considerable decline in take up. Between 2011 and 2020, the number of D&T teachers fell by half from 14,800 to 7,300, with the government failing to meet its D&T teacher recruitment targets.

Significant school accountability reforms such as the EBacc and Progress 8, and qualifications reforms, such as the introduction of new GCSEs, also occurred during this period.

The new findings on the state of D&T come as the government continues to roll out a series of major reforms to vocational education in England, including the introduction of T levels, apprenticeship reforms, and Institutes of Technology.

Researchers call on the government to consider whether the decline in D&T entries at GCSE may adversely affect plans to boost take up in vocational education, and as well as plans to ensure that young people are equipped with the right skills to succeed in careers such as engineering and design.