Lords committee finds restrictive curriculum has reduced opportunities for creative learning and led to collapse in students studying design subjects


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The number of students taking design and technology for GCSE has halved between 2009 and 2020

A report published by the House of Lords’ Education for 11–16 Year Olds Committee has called for ”urgent action” to broaden the curriculum, and help address the recent decline in pupils studying creative subjects, including design.

The report, titled Requires improvement: urgent change for 11–16 education, observes that “creativity is increasingly valued by employers across all sectors of the economy” and that prior to the pandemic, “the creative industries contributed £116 billion to the UK economy gross value added and grew faster than the economy as a whole”.

But it goes on to say that there has been a “general decline in opportunities to develop creativity across secondary education”, with “some academies… using the flexibility they have over their curricula to drop national curriculum arts subjects, such as art and design”.

The Lords committee, which included former Tory education secretary Kenneth Baker and former minister for Universities, Science, Research and Innovation, Jo Johnson, highlighted a range of issues that it believes are preventing schools from teaching creativity and design.

These included an emphasis on “a restricted programme of academic learning, delivered through a narrow set of subjects and teaching styles” and an approach to education and teaching that “fails to take account of wider societal and economic shifts”.

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The report also highlighted how the rapidly evolving demands of the UK labour market, specifically in relation to technology and net zero, were not being addressed by the education system.

A cultural difference was identified between the state and private sectors, with private schools continuing to put emphasis on creativity in the classroom. In evidence to the committee, the National Education Union noted that “This divergence between public and private leads to increased inequalities in terms of access to a broad educational experience.”

The committee’s recommendations include moving away from an over-emphasis on “traditionally academic study” at the expense of “creative learning”, and reducing the emphasis on the government’s “knowledge-rich” approach, which the report argues has resulted in “an overburdened curriculum that necessitates narrow teaching methods such as rote learning and ‘cramming’ subject knowledge”.

The Lords report follows research undertaken by the Education Policy Institute in 2022, which highlighted a reduction by half in the number students taking design and technology at GCSE between 2009 and 2020, from 44 percent of all pupils, to 22 percent.

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