Passnotes – Design and the English Baccalaureate

The Government’s proposed reforms to the GCSE system, which would exclude design, have rarely been out of the headlines recently. Here, Design Week clarifies some of the issues and looks at what could happen next.


Source: BSFinHull


What is the English Baccalaureate?

There are two terms to clarify here. The English Baccalaureate (known as EBacc) is a performance measure that has been in use since 2011 and ranks schools based on the attainment of GCSEs in selected subjects. It is based around five ‘pillars’ – maths, English, languages, humanities and science – and excludes creative subjects including design.

The English Baccalaureate Certificate (EBC), meanwhile, is a proposed series of qualifications that could replace GCSEs in England and Wales. Exams will be offered in the same five ‘pillar’ areas (again excluding design) and will count towards a full English Baccalaureate qualification.

When will the EBC be introduced?

Education Secretary Michael Gove announced plans for the EBC in September 2012, and plans to fully implement the new system in 2017. While Government says Ebacc and the EBCs won’t be mandatory for schools, they will be encouraged to follow the system.

Where does design sit in all this?

Nowhere. And that, for critics, is the problem. Neither the Ebacc performance measure nor the proposed EBCs recognise design, art and other creative subjects. The Government has said, ‘The style of assessment envisaged for EBCs – with a particular emphasis on end-of-course examinations – is not obviously suitable for subjects such as dance, design, art and music.’

How does the Government propose design be taught?

Art and design subjects will remain in the National Curriculum until the end of Key Stage 3 – when children are 14. After that, Government appears to suggest that design teaching ought to take place outside the curriculum, at the discretion of individual schools.

What has been the reaction from the design industry?

Outrage, predictably. The influential #IncludeDesign campaign (which is supported by Design Week) has organised protests and lobbying around this issue. Critics have pointed out the value of the design industry to the UK economy (some £23 billion is spent annually on design in the UK, according to Nesta) and the catastrophic affect that reforms to design education could have on this. Beyond design, the EBC plans have come under fire from the wider creative sector (in the Bacc for the Future campaign), and lobby groups from other sectors such as sport. Teachers’ groups and national media commentators have attacked the plans, and this week an influential group of MPs in the Education Select Committee slammed the proposed reforms, saying that they were changing ‘too much, too fast’.

What happens next?

Nobody, including the Department for Education, seems entirely sure. Public consultation on the EBC plans closed in December, and a Government response is awaited. However, the DfE refuses to be more specific than to say that a response will come ‘in due course’. Meanwhile #IncludeDesign and other protesters are keeping up their criticism of the plans, and will be buoyed by the recent news that Computer Science will now be included in the EBacc assessment, following lobbying from technology firms.

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  • David Hughes November 30, -0001 at 12:00 am

    It would be worth noting the additional fact that within the last 24 months Ofsted produced a lengthy report into the teaching of design, stating, again, the importance of design education to the future prosperity of the country. It drew zero comment from Gove or the DfE at the time and has clearly been ignored.

  • Stephen Morgan November 30, -0001 at 12:00 am

    Cant believe the Ofsted report would have been so blatantly ignored!! Would be interested in reading the report if anyone knows where it may be ? @David Hughes

  • David Hughes November 30, -0001 at 12:00 am

    I believe I am going to have to perhaps backtrack a little, can’t find the particular reference I was thinking of.

    I was thinking of ‘Meeting Technological Challenges’ but this does not contain the statement I was thinking of, I may have referred to a supporting statement made by Ofsted at the time. I’m sure I have more saved somewhere, will keep looking, will post more if I can find it.

    There was a comment supporting the report made by TATA: ‘Commenting on the publication of the report, Andrew Renouf, talent resourcing manager for the multinational industrial group TATA, said: “The world faces a huge shortage of engineers with hands-on experience designing, making and using modern tools such as CAD/CAM, electronics and control systems. In terms of teaching and developing talent in our young people, we can’t always do what we have done and remain competitive. Exciting and imaginative D&T teaching in school will be crucial for our future success.”

    As a note, the recommendations set out in that report, for government to support the drive for 21st century technology in design education, have still been ignored.

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