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More creative subjects needed to deliver industrial strategy

A broader curriculum, including arts, design, and music as well as STEM subjects, will create more robust engineers, says IET

By Tony Ryan, CEO, Design and Technology Association and member of the IET’s Education Policy Panel

The uptake of students studying science and maths is welcome progress, but studying engineering is creative and should not be limited to only those who have taken these subjects.

The introduction of the Ebacc and school accountability and performance measures called Progress 8 has had an impact on the curriculum offered to students across schools nationally. Headteachers will understandably feel pressure to concentrate on the subjects that directly contribute to their Progress 8 score, and with continued austerity across school budgets, some tough decisions are being forced on school leaders, including the breadth of study they are able to offer their students.

Schools are increasingly being forced to reduce their arts and creative curriculum such as design and technology, art and design, and music. This could include seeing courses reduced in size, seeing a significant increase in class numbers (combining study) or in extreme cases, even being completely dropped from the curriculum offer.

The argument often cited is that these subjects can be picked up through extra-curricular activities. There is some truth in this with many students benefitting from such clubs, but we should not be reliant on optional activities to provide the engineers of the future.

The IET is calling for a more balanced curriculum across the nation’s schools. This will ensure young people have a rounded knowledge and the skills needed to pursue further education and careers in science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM).

We should not be reliant on optional activities to provide the engineers of the future.

STEM education is very important from an early age and it’s really positive to see an increase in more young people studying these subjects which could potentially open the door to an exciting and creative career as an engineer.

However, we need to look at the huge focus on maths and physics, as the role of an engineer is about solving creative challenges. It is important to harness students’ creativity and young people shouldn’t be discouraged from studying creative subjects such as design and technology and the arts too.

This is why a broad and balanced education for all young people is fundamental to the formation of future engineers, ensuring they have a rounded knowledge and skills required for engineering a better world for us all.

The introduction of the new GCSE syllabi last year, with an increased emphasis on content and knowledge is broadly welcomed. However, we do need to recognise that this has placed extra pressure on teachers and their students. Students can now realistically take eight or nine GCSEs maximum and with Ebacc increasingly taking up to eight of these slots, students often only have an outside chance of adding a creative subject.

The answer may come partly with the new Ofsted framework, due next year, which has hinted strongly at an increased emphasis on the breadth of curriculum offer. Schools failing to offer this breadth to their students would then be unable to achieve the highest ‘outstanding’ category. There is also a case for the DfE widening its definition of Ebacc subjects to include an arts/creative subject for all students. In practice, for many students this would require them having a choice between dropping a modern language or humanity in order to pick up this creative option.

The arts, design and technology, and other creative subjects have an important role to play in creating the engineers that we will need to deliver the industrial strategy, and it is vital they are not lost from our school curriculum.