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Call to scrap English Baccalaureate to boost STEM skills

The Government should do away with the English Baccalaureate (Ebacc) and place renewed emphasis on Design & Technology (D&T) in schools in order to help develop more young people to fill STEM skills gaps, a new report urges.

Manufacturers’ association Make UK and engineering skills body Semta highlight a significant reduction in the number of pupils studying D&T over the last decade in their report Making Design & Technology manufacturers’ business.

At GCSE level, D&T students fell by almost two-thirds between 2008 and 2018 – a drop from 330,000 to just 127,000. The proportion of students taking D&T as a percentage of all subjects has fallen from 5.9% to 2.3% in the same period.

Meanwhile at A-level the number of students taking D&T fell from approximately 18,000 to 11,000. Falling numbers of D&T students at both GCSE and A-level are especially pronounced for female students, the report adds.

To help reverse this trend the organisations recommend scrapping the Ebacc policy, which they say has had a detrimental impact on the take up of creative subjects and led to the status of D&T being downgraded.

The English Baccalaureate, though not a qualification in itself, is a measure of success in “core” or traditional academic subjects at GCSE level, specifically English, mathematics, history or geography, the sciences and a language. Its rationale is that these are the subjects most likely to be required or preferred for entry to degree courses and they were thus considered to keep the most options open for students’ further study and careers. The Ebacc also aimed to reverse the long-term drift away from subjects such as history, geography, and modern languages.

With the decision not to include D&T, the report says, the Ebacc “signalled a clear shift away from building a modern broad curriculum towards a return to a more traditional purely academic focused curriculum”.

“The world of work will be very different in the future and the education system has to adapt to reflect this,” said Make UK director of employment and skills policy Tim Thomas. “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 world around us, the Government must rethink its strategy towards the teaching of these subjects as a matter of urgency.” 

The report also calls for D&T to be renamed Design, Technology & Engineering (DTE), and for schools to be offered incentives to invest in DTE equipment and capital, which costs significantly more compared with more traditional academic subjects.

Similar incentives should exist for them to work collaboratively with local employers as well as colleges and training providers which have staff and equipment that could be shared, it adds.

In addition it emphasises a need to address the shortage of specialist teachers, recommending that the Government should encourage more people in industry to retrain and become teachers as part of the new recruitment and retention campaign.

Ann Watson

Semta chief executive Ann Watson said: “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.

“It is crucial for the future prosperity of the sector that we revisit the STEM based school curriculum and raise the profile and economic importance of design and technology as a route to a career in engineering and manufacturing.”

The report is available at www.makeuk.org/Insights/Reports/2019/04/26/Making-design-and-technology-manufacturers-business