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Education: Design Subjects

Volume 782: debated on Wednesday 26 April 2017


Asked by

To ask Her Majesty’s Government what steps they intend to take to encourage the study of design subjects in schools.

My Lords, the Government believe that all pupils should have access to an excellent and well-rounded education. Art and design and design and technology are essential to that, and they are compulsory subjects in the national curriculum at key stages 1 to 3. We have reformed the D&T and art and design GCSEs and A-levels in response to feedback from experts such as the Royal Academy of Engineering and the James Dyson Foundation to make them more rigorous, contemporary and of greater appeal to students.

My Lords, does the Minister agree that skilled design is essential for our technical trades and creative industries? As the Government are correctly putting an emphasis on technical education, are they not concerned about the significant fall in take-up of GCSE and A-level design subjects, with a recent Association of School and College Leaders survey showing a drop of 44% over the past year alone in the number of schools offering GCSE design and technology? Will the Government address these concerns, and if so, how?

My Lords, the figures for pupil number decline in D&T GCSE have fallen less in the past six academic years than in the four previous academic years up until 2010, so we have arrested the decline. We have introduced computer science for the first time. The number interested in that subject last year along with a substantial increase in IT entries considerably more than make up for the decline in D&T. Of course, as the noble Earl has mentioned, I do not think that anyone can doubt our commitment to technical education given the passing in your Lordships’ House yesterday of the Technical and Further Education Bill. New courses will be based on groups of occupations within the 15 framework routes, which will include creative and design.

My Lords, a look at the Government’s website shows the importance of design to our economy, yet since it became a subject that is no longer compulsory in secondary schools we have seen a 50% reduction in the number of young people taking it. Added to that, there will be some 2,000 fewer teachers for the subject by this coming September and half the number of new trainee teachers that are needed for it. This is a real crisis. I agree with the Minister about the importance of this subject, but we need to fix these problems and make design part of a celebration in our education service.

I agree entirely on the importance of design, and of course we have a number of free schools that are particularly focused on this area. We offer a £12,000 bursary for new teachers coming into the sector to teach design and technology, and as I have said, we are making our D&T courses much more contemporary. Previously, they were very material focused, but now they are more context driven. We are particularly keen to reform them so that we can address the gender imbalance in D&T and attract more girls to study the appropriate STEM subjects. For instance, under the existing D&T syllabus, 96% of the participants in textiles are girls whereas only 7% are studying electronic products. We are keen to address this.

My Lords, there is a bigger picture here because design is one of the subjects that some head teachers will be unable to afford to provide if a Tory Government are re-elected and cuts to the schools budget are given free rein. The Minister and his department like to repeat the meaningless soundbite that more money than ever is going into schools. Of course it is, because there are more pupils than ever in our schools; the point is the funding per pupil. Last month the Education Policy Institute reported that by 2020 not a single school in England would be able to report that they had had no real cuts in funding per pupil. That is in direct contradiction of the 2015 Tory manifesto. Can the Minister assure the House that this year’s version of the manifesto will tell parents the truth about education funding plans?

I know that the noble Lord always likes to look at the bigger picture, but as we all know, and as the National Audit Office and the IFS have told us, the increase in funding per pupil between 2000 and 2020 is 50%. As I have said previously, particularly when I answered a Question and invited the noble Lord to visit the government website, it is quite clear that many of our best-performing schools are also the most efficient schools financially. We have a great deal of advice, toolkits and benchmarks available to advise schools on how to manage their finances more effectively.

My Lords, last July take-up of design and technology fell by 10% for the seventh year. That subject and others are being squeezed out of the curriculum as a result of the EBacc. Yet, the artistic, creative and technical side of our economy is worth £500 billion a year. Many companies are finding it quite impossible to employ youngsters leaving school at the age of 16 or 18 because they do not have the skills the industries want. This will get much worse after Brexit. There must be fundamental change to the EBacc to allow a broader curriculum to serve the British economy.

I pay tribute to my noble friend’s support for technical education. In fact, there is no evidence that the EBacc has had a direct effect on the number of pupils taking arts subjects. In fact, the number of pupils taking at least one arts subject has increased since the introduction of the EBacc. As I have already mentioned, it is quite clear that modern pupils, in addition to being interested in design, are also interested in things such as coding.

My Lords, will the Minister admit that it is shameful that the Government are wasting money on creating new free schools where school places are not needed and cutting the funding for pupils in adjacent schools where the money is needed? The Minister is presiding over a system that is depriving pupils in general because of his and his colleagues’ pet theory about independence.

I am delighted that the noble Baroness has given me the opportunity to answer that question. Since I have been a Minister for the last four and a half years, 93% of free schools have been created in areas where there is a recognised need for new places. We are spending our money far more efficiently than the previous Labour Government. Despite inflation, we are building schools at least a third more cheaply than Labour’s profligate Building Schools for the Future programme. I constantly face bills from schools built quite recently under that programme, where I have to spend millions rectifying their very poor design.

My Lords, drawing attention to my interest as chairman of the William Morris craft fellowships, can I ask what my noble friend can do to encourage young people in our schools to follow the traditional crafts and to have more, proper apprenticeships available to them thereafter?

My noble friend makes a very good point. We have a wide range of new apprenticeships. Employers will be at the heart of our design of these apprenticeships. We are keen that these lead to jobs. I will certainly take his point back and discuss what we are doing in this area.