GCSE art, design and technology students down by 27,000

The UK’s GCSE results for 2017 have been released, and show a drop in the number of students taking design, but a slight improvement in grades.

Latest statistics released alongside GCSE results day have revealed that 26,800 fewer students took up art, design and technology subjects in 2017 compared to last year.

The results are published every year by the Joint Council for Qualifications (JCQ), which totals GCSE results across the UK based on individual results from the six different examining boards.

The JCQ splits art, design and technology into two subject categories; art and design, and design and technology.

Design and technology students down by 10.5% in 2017

Design and technology took the biggest hit, reporting a 10.5% drop – 19,500 – in students taking the subject, down from 185,300 in 2016 to 165,800 this year.

Art and design also reported a 4% drop of 7,300 students taking the subject, down from 183,100 in 2016 to 175,800 this year.

More A grades

But, while the number of students sitting GCSEs are down, grades are slightly higher across the board, with more A-grade qualifications.

Across design and technology, 17.9% got an A compared to 17.6% last year, while 23.4% got an A in art and design compared to 23% last year.

The ratio of boys to girls across both subjects has stayed relatively the same, with more female students taking art and design, and more male students taking design and technology.

67% of art and design GCSE students were female, while 61% of design and technology students were male.

The drop in uptake follows a trend that has been ongoing since 2000, according to the Design and Technology Association (DATA), when design and technology stopped being a compulsory GCSE.

Government focus on STEM and EBacc

Design academics have attributed the drop in students to the Conservative Government’s focus on STEM (science, technology, engineering and maths) subjects and skills, alongside the roll-out of the English Baccalaureate (EBacc) qualification.

This makes it compulsory for the majority of state school children to take either seven or eight GCSEs in English, science, maths, a language and a humanity, leaving only two spaces for optional creative subjects.

D&T “expensive to run”

Peter Higgins, creative director at Land Design Studio and an external examiner in undergraduate interior design, told Design Week in February: “The pressures of tuition fees are kicking in. Students seem more inclined to study STEM subjects at university as they have more tangible, predictable career options, whereas art and design courses have a less predictable outcome.”

Others have put the drop down to a reduction in school budgets. Alison Hardy, senior lecturer at Nottingham Trent University and member of DATA, said in 2015 that the “materials, machines and equipment” schools need to run design and technology make it an “expensive subject”, and therefore “an easy target for cuts”.

Drop in university students taking art and design

The trend follows through to A-levels and university, with a recent July report from UCAS showing that 14,000 fewer students applied for art and design university courses this year compared to 2016, a 5% drop.

Tim Bolton, vice principal at Plymouth College of Art, told Design Week at the time: “The Government’s fixation on targets and accountability around EBacc subjects are resulting in art and design being relegated in our national curriculum.”

“Often students who want to continue with the arts can only select one subject due to schools wanting to maximise their ‘academic’ results,” he continued. “Most young people won’t aspire towards career paths or degree-level study of subjects they haven’t been exposed to in school.”

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  • David August 25, 2017 at 10:06 am

    For the last few years there have been too many art and design students graduating chasing after just a few vacancies, surely this is a good thing…Also, having to complete numerous unpaid placements without the guarantee of a job at the end, doesn’t exactly make the industry that attractive any more.

    • Clive Grinyer August 30, 2017 at 11:01 am

      We need a hell of a lot more designers, not less. Just seeing the purpose of design and tech education as filling agencies is an often made mistake. The “over production” of designers has filled our companies and created many entrepreneurs who have the soft skills and emotional empathy with markets and customers to make our companies more successful. Loosing 10% of students is a national embarrassment and a structural weakness which post Brexit is damaging to our long term future.

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