Ebacc is to blame for the decline of D&T

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 producing 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.

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  1. I would just like to clarify the headline – DT examination entries have been in decline, long before EBacc. Now the EBacc is proposed, it has got worse. The 90% measure – if imposed – will see the end of the subject if DfE do not listen to consultation.

  2. Rebecca

    I’ve had this exact argument with my daughters school. She wants to do health and social care, they insist she takes French because of the ebac, we’ve taken it to governors, their response was she was too intelligent to not do the ebac pathway. This has been to the detriment of her mental health and well-being.

    • THis is a disgraceful situation and I feel sorely for your clever daughter who can so obviously contribute her skills and passion to her personal expertise, ie. health and social care. Ebac is a school performance measure, not a personal achievement for a child. Let her take the choices that suit her career. She can learn conversational French at evening school, on holiday, or with a penpal, or take a dipolma in a language along with her A levels.

  3. Anonymous

    Couldn’t agree more… Some really bright kids even end up not following their creative dreams as a result… As if D&T is beneath them… Their is no democracy in our schools, no freedom of speech…. Ebacc, thanks to Mr Gove has ruined our education.

    • Design and Technology should be at the top focus of our curriculum as it covers so many skills useful in taking our country forward – fashion and textiles, 3D CAD in medicine and health, useful materials design to save packaging and waste, design of 21st Century streets and towns, products to address global climate change – it is the most global of subjects – let’s exchange ideas with African countries. America is embracing it – it’s not STEM now – it’s STEAM: Science/Techology/Engineering/Art and Design/Mathematics. The greatest and most useful brains in history have been creative and artistic.

  4. John Connor

    As I complete my 41st year in education in a variety of roles, I should, as a modern linguist, be celebrating the EBacc as the saviour of my subject, which has been in decline since it was made optional at KS4 in 2004. Instead, I contemplate the cultural wasteland that the EBacc has wrought. Yes, I want my subject to thrive, but not at the expense of a “broad and balanced curriculum” (remember that?) which produces well-rounded individuals. The myopic focus of Gove on “facilitating” subjects (a myth in any case) and the blind insistence on a one-size-fits-all approach to curriculum development and assessment has left us in a position where the arts ares seen as an irritating irrelevance and anything more vocationally oriented is swept aside by a tsunami of academic “rigour”. The architect of all this chaos and misery is, of course, beyond any means of recourse. The only slight consolation is that his Machiavellian machinations have seen him rightly consigned to the dustbin of history. This is of scant comfort to the children of this year’s Y6 who have been traumatised by an ineptly implemented SATs régime, and to the many skilled an dedicated teachers who are now considering abandoning the profession. The hapless Nicky Morgan has done little to alleviate the situation. She should resign forthwith, but I have deep concerns about who might replace her.

  5. Lewis Sewter

    I’m HoD for Science and we constantly have pupils taken out for Maths and English intervention, PE coursework catch up. Pupils always miss our designated revision night because Art has offered open catch up sessions. The list is long. My department is paired with D&T to make a faculty, so I am aware of the issues but I think all subjects are being squeezed and pupils are pressured by creative subjects to go to their catch up. At least in my experience

    • K eagles

      As a parent of a now year 11 student. We are actively encouraging our child to concentrate this year solely on maths and english as this new c grade issue is going to be of great concern. It’s like any child who does not gain a c grade is on the scrap heap. I will even approach the school to see if we can remove out child out of lessons to have extra maths and english. It’s not something I want to do or agree with. But as the student and parent all focus is now on maths and english grades. Regardless of if the student has other interests they can’t afford to waste time else where.

    • The future of our education system is STEAM: Science (Physics, Chemistry, Biology)/Technology/Engineering/Art and Design/Mathematics. This core framework will educate our children to interact economically, culturally and ethically on a global scale.

  6. As long as creative subjects are taught as a mixed ability classes & children are allowed to mess about many more academic children will not get their parents to fight the EBAC to take them. This is very sad because Art kept my elder daughter sane through GCSE&A2, but her younger sister wasn’t interested, in part because DT/textiles had been such a shambles

  7. pinkity pink

    this is very true. I am quite puzzled that these politicians and advisers who are often the product of private fee paying schools do not give state schools the chance to let children flourish in creative subjects with their a-c targets. in addition to this it results in lower end students being a bit neglected ie, cs out of kids who can get cs are more important than getting a kid from u to f or e.

    my last permanent school didnt let more academic students pick creative subjects at key stage 4. i have just finished doing supply in a school with the narrowest key stage 4 curriculum i have ever seen. No creative subjects, not even history or geography. very strange considering the school has 30 hours of teaching a week in addition to after school “intervention” . it doesn’t work. These students are very let down. The lack of opportunities for creativity really shows. I teach science which requires some creative thought. Unfortunately parents seem to back this model because many are deluded that more and more of the same study is beneficial.

    Also, its quite funny, ever since i can remember, there has been a shortage of science teachers. so what do the government do? Increase the hours of science at key stage 4 even tho theres no one to teach it….then they can continue to hammer schools and teachers for poor achievement in science.

    The state system was very clearly built broken…and now it is being totally dismantled for the benefit of business mates who run academy chains alongside the training.

    • Science should be offered as the separate disciplines – and creativity and observation is at the very heart of science. The very greatest scientific minds of history belonged to the artistic and creative genius, and those that could make imaginative leaps beyond the bounds of factual information and constraints of human institutional thought.