How can we encourage young people to study design?

Last week, we reported on recent research showing there has been a 10% drop in school students taking design and technology at GCSE compared to last year. This follows a more long-term trend, with research from Warwick University revealing that between 2003 and 2013, there was a 50% drop in the number of pupils taking the subject.

As the EBacc qualification is also soon to be made compulsory, we ask – how can we encourage students to take on creative subjects?


Sir John Sorrell CBE, founder, The Sorrell Foundation
Sir John Sorrell CBE, founder, The Sorrell Foundation

“The reasons for this fall include the loss of D&T’s statutory status in 2004, and the introduction of the EBacc which does not include art, design or subjects such as music and drama. The 90% EBacc goal set by the Government seems likely to further reduce take-up rates for creative subjects. Perceptions of the value of studying creative subjects have been severely damaged.

So, what can be done?

1) Lobby Government to rethink – the Creative Industries Federation is on to this with their educational policy work.

2) Produce effective careers advice in schools which demonstrates to parents and teachers that young people can have successful careers in design.

3) Encourage all schools to use Creative Journey UK to help teachers, parents and pupils find out more about careers in the creative industries.

4) Help teachers with their professional development, particularly in keeping up to speed on the latest developments in the creative sector.

5) Help us develop the National Art&Design Saturday Club, which gives 13-16-year-old schoolchildren the opportunity to study art and design on Saturdays at their local university or college for free. The aim is to encourage them to go on to further and higher education, and careers in design and the creative industries.”

Eliza Easton, policy and research manager, Creative Industries Federation
Eliza Easton, policy and research manager, Creative Industries Federation

“We need to be in schools and academy chains highlighting the variety of jobs – in our sector and others – which require a high level of technical and creative (especially design) skills. There is also a need for better careers advice as part of a broader explanation to parents, teachers and students of the economic and social case for these subjects and how they can lead to very fulfilling careers.

The drop in the take-up of creative subjects demonstrates how damaging Government policy has been. It is unacceptable that it is now possible for academies to be Ofsted ‘outstanding’ without arts in the curriculum.”

Terry Tyrrell, chair, Design Council
Terry Tyrrell, chair, Design Council

“Unfortunately there are two problems: fewer students are choosing to take D&T, and fewer schools are offering it in the first place. I think as a sector we can tackle the first problem by changing perceptions. We know industry is desperate for designers: it’s a career where you can make a difference and get paid well (the average designer earns £635 per week, according to the Design Council’s Design Economy research, well over the national average of £385).

GCSE and A-level content has recently been rewritten to make it more robust, and I think we’ll see that have an impact. But we urgently need government to address the second problem. D&T is an expensive subject to run, and the EBacc will make it even less attractive to cash-strapped schools. The industrial strategy won’t succeed without designers, and championing D&T has to be on the new government’s agenda. Our forthcoming skills research will look at this in more detail.”

Paul McCombie, admissions tutor for Civil Engineering, University of Bath
Paul McCombie, admissions tutor for Civil Engineering, University of Bath

“I think the most important thing is to communicate an appreciation of the breadth of design, technology and engineering. What we do is the most fundamentally creative thing that anyone could do – above all, we create. To do this well, we need imagination and understanding, perseverance and rigour. To be doing the right thing, we must be motivated by the real needs of real people – physical, social, emotional, spiritual. Therefore, our professions allow a full and fulfilling expression of ourselves as individuals, through social, cultural, emotional and rigorously technical collaboration with colleagues and with the people we are working for.”

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  • Jason Bowers September 28, 2016 at 3:59 pm

    I was a 3D Design and Technology FE/HE for 10 years.
    18 months ago we decided we would try and address this problem in a more ‘hands-on’, freelance-designer way. The bit that creative sector students and graduates do not always have access to in the curriculum. We did a project last year that Design Week featured, so we feel we’re making our mark:

    Please can you let us know if and why you think that what we do is needed in today growing creative sector education. We’d love readers feedback.
    Thank you.
    Jason and Rebecca.

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