Ebacc is to blame for the decline of D&T – Schools Week

The numbers of teachers of creative subjects are declining, while design and technology is in its death throes. Ross McGill knows who to blame.

The Department for Education (DfE) forces teachers to work like Mr Benn, the cartoon character from the 70s. Every day, he leaves his house and arrives at a fancy-dress shop where he is invited to try on a particular outfit. He then leaves through a magic door at the back of the changing room and enters a world appropriate to his costume, where he has a magical adventure before returning to his normal life.

This is very much like education. We go on a whistle-stop adventure of character education, “outstanding” hoop-jumping, rapid progress, acting on feedback and use of textbooks. Only to be told a few years later that Ofsted preferences and DfE claims lacked any substantial evidence that any of it actually improved standards. I wonder how many schools and teachers feel like Mr. Benn wearing the latest DfE costume? The English Baccalaureate (EBacc) policy is a significant and serious distraction from other far more important issues in education and will impact on the life chances of students in every school.

If you think the EBacc curriculum is a good thing, there’s a high chance you’ve never been involved in the teaching or direct management of a creative subject in a school.
An EBacc curriculum, specifically a 90 per cent compulsory measure, will choke creativity out of every school across the country.

Creativity will be choked out of every school in the country, you only need to speak to any teacher who teaches a non-EBacc subject and ask how often students have been taken out of their subjects to complete English and Maths interventions, tutoring, revision or mock exams to ensure they achieve their grade-C pass. This is an outcome of schools punished by unreliable Ofsted inspections, DfE league tables and politicians fascinated with ideas discovered on their tours to countries such as Finland, China and the US.

Recent reforms have had little time to embed as the new Progress 8 measure comes into place; it is evident on the frontline that government policy affects the work we do.

Progress 8 will be overwhelmed by the EBacc before it has had a chance to prove its worth. The pace of change has become so intense in education that the government is increasingly replacing its own initiatives before they have even been fully implemented.”

(Russell Hobby, NAHT)

I support high academic performance, students being challenged and schools achieving the best results that they can. Who wouldn’t? But as soon as the government imposes its measures, determining how schools are to be judged and directing schools to promote particular subjects over others, this impacts on the entire concept and purpose of education.

Between November 2011 and November 2014, the number of teachers of creative subjects declined 13.1 per cent. With further funding cuts, creative subjects are already being squeezed out as schools look to make savings to survive.

As for design and technology (D&T), recruitment is at breaking point. Only 41 per cent of initial teacher training places in the subject were filled this year. Examination entries have been steadily in decline and departments are getting smaller by the year.

In November 2015, Nick Gibb announced a new a new, gold-standard D&T GCSE to “inspire the next top designers”, and that would give students the chance to develop their own design briefs, projects which could lead them to produce anything from furniture for people with disabilities to computer-controlled robots. Wait a minute, Mr Benn! This is not revolutionary – it was very much the same 20 years ago!

The D&T GCSE has just registered the lowest exam entries in a decade. This is nothing to do with the syllabus – which was already robust – but everything to do with the EBacc and the low status assigned to D&T by the DfE.

It’s time Mr. Benn stopped walking through that magic door and triggering any more adventures to the detriment of our students.