From education to employment

Designing for the Future: New report presents expert views on reversing the decline of D&T

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An expert group representing the design, engineering and education sectors has shared its perspective on a new, future-focused design and technology (D&T) syllabus at A level – with an emphasis on embedding social responsibility for all students. 

Brought together by Pearson, the world’s leading digital media learning company, the views of experts from across the sector have been published today, as widespread discussions around the decline and future of D&T at GCSE and A level continue. The report, Rethinking D&T – shifting design education toward social responsibility, offers a new chapter in sector-wide discussions, collating the views of more than 20 leading experts from several British universities, as well as the Design Council, The Royal Academy of Engineering, the Design & Technology Association and many more. 

The report follows a variety of survey data that shows around 50% of secondary teachers and leaders believe that modernising D&T will benefit the wider school curriculum, 40% of schools are already exploring environmental solutions, and 86% of students say being prepared for their future in a global world is important to them.

United at a specialist roundtable event hosted by Pearson in June 2023, the expert group debated what they would like to see embedded in a reformed D&T A level qualification, opting for elements including “real people and real problems,” “validating and testing ideas,” and “ethics, inclusion and culture.” At the same time, group members recommended that future A levels in D&T should be carried out in the context of the following areas:

  • Carbon net zero or net positive
  • Embodied energy and carbon footprint
  • Business/commercial strategy
  • Global responsibility and citizenship
  • Frugal innovation
  • Social justice

Focusing on a collective desire to reverse the long-term decline of D&T uptake for post-14 students, the resulting report aims to rethink the pathways between secondary education and further employment at a time when the subject is gravely under threat, with research from the Education Policy Institute (EPI) finding that just 10,430 students entered a D&T A level in 2020; more than half the number who took the subject in 2009.

Approaches to tackling the decline outlined by roundtable attendees included: “developing an adaptive mindset – not just fixated on the now, (but) resilience, agency, iterative design approach, global citizenship”; “retaining curiosity and inspiring teachers”, and a change to how universities themselves view design at A level. As quoted Director of Sixth Form John White said, “Why is D&T not required by universities for courses? (That) makes it a very difficult sell for departments.”

Speaking about today’s publication, Phil Holton, Senior Qualifications Manager, from Pearson said:

“The expert views and national data presented in the Rethinking D&T report are the newest instalment of Pearson’s ongoing conversations with the sector and communities. Together we are focusing on what students, educators and industry really want from design at secondary level, and the answer is coming to us loud and clear: schools and organisations alike want a D&T curriculum that truly equips all learners to thrive as they aim to embark on specialist degree courses and fully sustainable careers in design, engineering and production.

“While the downward trend in D&T uptake is a concern across the sector, we are heartened by the passion, commitment and far-sightedness of our roundtable contributors, as we, and others like D&TA, take proactive steps to change this trajectory. Design affects every one of us, and we each have a part to play in shaping its future for the benefit of us all. My thanks to everyone whose views have informed and empowered this report.”

Further information on Pearson’s commitment to a future-proofed design curriculum, including a specialist Design Perspectives series from industry leaders, can be found here.

The full PDF report of Rethinking D&T – shifting design education toward social responsibility can be downloaded now here.

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