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Design and Technology

Volume 615: debated on Monday 10 October 2016

8. If she will set out her response to the letter to her of July 2016 from hon. Members on the inclusion of design and technology in the EBacc. (906521)

As I said in my letter to my hon. Friend, the Government believe that all students should study a broad and balanced curriculum. Design and technology is an important and valued subject, which is why we are doing a huge amount to promote the importance of D and T, and why we have reformed and improved the curriculum, working with the James Dyson Foundation and other experts to raise the quality and rigour of the design and technology GCSE. D and T is a very popular GCSE choice, with 185,000 entries this year.

We have an annual shortage of 69,000 trained engineers in the UK, with only 6% of that workforce being female. Those shortages are much more severe than in computer science. As the Minister has pointed out, the new design and technology GCSE has the same academic rigour as the other subjects in the EBacc, so will he explain to the House why he felt that computer science was more worthy of EBacc status than design and technology?

The EBacc is about a small number of core academic subjects, focused on those subjects that keep options open. I am confident that the new, reformed design and technology GCSE will lead to even more young people wanting to take this qualification in future years, once the new curriculum is in place. However, our policy objective is for more students, particularly those taking design and technology, to study the traditional sciences.

Will the Minister take seriously the role of technical education in our schools? Design and technology has been peripheralised in the opinion of many people. On the day that the Royal Greenwich University Technical College is to close, with university technical colleges closing up and down the country, there is something rotten at the heart of Government policy.

No. We have engaged in a huge reform to improve the quality of technical qualifications. That is what the Alison Wolf review did in 2011, by removing from performance tables the qualifications for which students were entered but that were not valued in the workplace. Technical qualifications taken by young people now have real value and provide proper jobs. We have also improved the quality of the apprenticeship scheme, which the Minister of State, Department for Education, my right hon. Friend the Member for Harlow (Robert Halfon), talked about earlier.

Will the Minister join me in welcoming UTC Oxfordshire, based in Didcot in my constituency, which opened this time last year. In fact, it was opened by Brian Cox, no less. Thanks to this Government, children across Oxfordshire can now enjoy a first-class technical education, supported by companies such as BMW Mini, the United Kingdom Atomic Energy Authority and RM Education. I hope he will find time to visit it in the coming months.

I would welcome the opportunity to visit my right hon. Friend’s UTC. The UTC programme is another example of how, with our academies programme and our free schools programme, we are providing diverse types of specific and specialist education for every child in this country.

The Minister will recall from the meeting he held with me and some excellent headteachers in Slough to discuss our teacher shortage problem that two outstanding grammar schools with excellent GCSE and A-level results are not meeting his demands on EBacc levels because they have chosen, confidently, to provide subjects—such as design and technology, art and design, and drama—they felt their students would benefit from and needed. Why cannot schools without such confidence make choices for the future of their pupils, rather than to satisfy the Minister?

It is not to satisfy the Minister; it is to ensure that young people have the widest possible opportunities available to them. We kept the EBacc combination of core academic GCSEs small enough, at either seven or eight, to allow sufficient time in the curriculum for pupils to study those subjects that interest them. That is why I have resisted calls for more subjects to be added to the EBacc.