Spielman: 'Red herring' to blame plunge in D&T numbers solely on EBacc

Ofsted’s chief inspector has defended the English Baccalaureate (EBacc) as being the main driver of plunging pupil numbers for subjects such as design and technology.

Amanda Spielman said today that between 2003 and 2017, the number of design and technology GCSEs taken by 16-year-olds in England “plummeted” by nearly two-thirds, from 420,000 pupils to just over 150,000. She added that it is the biggest drop, along with modern foreign languages.

Provisional exam entries data published by Ofqual in May showed that entries to engineering and design technology GCSEs slumped by 36 per cent and 22 per cent respectively this year, while almost all EBacc subjects saw a rise.

But the chief inspector said it would be a “mistake” and a “red herring” to attribute the decline in pupil numbers to the EBacc and Progress 8, which was introduced in 2016 to capture the progress a pupil makes from the end of primary school to the end of secondary school.

Speaking at the V&A Innovate Conference on Wednesday, Spielman said: “First EBacc, and then Progress 8 set design and technology alongside other non-EBacc subjects.

“And EBacc is of course defined only on a limited set of core academic subjects. This has certainly done nothing to stem the drift away from design and technology. But it would be a mistake to attribute the decline too much to the Ebacc and Progress 8.”

Spielman told the conference that the number of children studying design and technology at Key Stage 4, either as a GCSE or alternative qualification, was in a “long term decline”, with figures making for “stark reading”.

Discussing why there has been such a drop in pupil numbers, Spielman said design and technology education had faced a “perfect storm” in the past 20 years.

In 2000, it stopped being a compulsory subject in Key Stage 4 and four years later BTECs and other vocational qualifications were given equivalence to GCSEs in performance tables.

“This led to dramatic shifts in the mix of subjects taken at Key Stage 4. The main winners in this realignment have been vocational qualifications like ICT, and Religious Studies GCSE,” Spielman said.

The chief inspector admitted that Ofsted has not “done as much as we should have done to help”, adding: “The new framework recognises that we moved too far away from curriculum and what is taught.”

Spielman also acknowledged that budgets were a “very real concern” for many schools, with schools having to “make difficult choices to balance their budgets”.

The government has consistently failed to meet its teacher recruitment target for design and technology since 2013, with a shortfall of nearly 900 trainee teachers in the subject in 2018, according to the Initial Teacher Training census.

Spielman said that Ofsted’s inspections of primary schools have been “disappointing”, pointing to a lack of subject expertise and a preference for teaching cross-curricular topics hampering topics such as design and technology.