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Work / Opinion

Design education is in crisis, but could Brexit help?

Chief executive at the Design and Technology Association, Richard Green, tells how design education in Britain is in dangerous waters, but there could be hope post-Brexit.

In the wake of Brexit the design community has woken up to the realisation of its dependence on European and international talent, and that the UK’s education system is failing the needs of the creative, design and tech sectors. Leading figures are calling for action. 

To say that this is a positive outcome may sound crass, but for those of us in creative, artistic and technical subject associations, the awareness and support of the creative community comes at the eleventh hour. 

Having championed design and technology in education since its introduction in 1989, I celebrated “Cool Britannia”, the overwhelming design success of the London 2012 Olympics, and more recently the Great Britain campaign with mixed feelings. Behind the scenes, the politicians claiming credit for UK plc were sanctioning education policies that would cut investment to the very subject areas that these initiatives celebrated. 

Today the success of the UK’s creative, design, technology, engineering and manufacturing industries leave them with profound skills shortages, which the government should, in theory, be eager to mitigate. 

Yet there is a frustrating disconnect between industrial and education policies. The D&T Association helped develop new, rigorous and challenging national curriculum design and technology courses for ages five to 14 and new GCSE and A-level qualifications to be taught for the first time in 2017. Developed in collaboration with professional institutions and industry, as well as with education experts, these new courses meet real industry needs. Yet the government’s continued prioritisation and promotion of academic EBacc subjects sees an increasing number of schools and academies marginalising or dropping Design Technology from the GCSE curriculum altogether. 

As a result, take up of Design Technology at GCSE has more than halved over the last ten years to an all-time low. A grave shortage of DT teachers, with the numbers qualifying over the last three years being less than 50% of the required target, compounds the crisis.

So what now? We urgently need the government to come to the same realisation the design industry has; hence the petition that led to the recent Parliamentary debate, Michelle Donelan MP’s campaign to bring design and technology into the Ebacc, and our own #DandTHeroes social media campaign which aims to raise awareness of the importance of design for/to both the public and pupils. 

The creative community can maximise the impact by coming together with one voice, to champion the economic, social and cultural value of high quality design technology education in schools that will ensure a pipeline of talent for our most successful industries.