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Design skills and the UK’s Industrial Strategy

On 1 October 2018, the All-Party Parliamentary Design and Innovation Group (APDIG), the Design and Technology Association (DATA) and the Design Business Association (DBA) launched a report that sets out recommendations for how design can be embedded within our education system to equip the next generation with the skills required to confidently face the challenges of the Fourth Industrial Revolution.

The report launched in Birmingham, to coincide with the Conservative party conference, with the event attended by delegates from across education and the design and technology sector; teachers, students, business owners from across the nation heard keynote speeches from the DBA’s Chief Executive Deborah Dawton, DATA Chief Executive Tony Ryan, as well as several panel discussions.

Discussion throughout the day was wide-ranging, with keynote speakers and panelists highlighting the tangible risks resulting from the current state of education policy. In her keynote address, Deborah Dawton cited cuts in schools’ funding, decline in student uptake of creative subjects, low morale amongst design and technology teachers, and significant gaps between the skills students are developing in learning and the skills required in junior staff by the industry.

And it’s not only the design, technology and creative industries affected by this policy. Tony Ryan, Chief Executive at DATA cited anecdotal evidence from the medical industry regarding concerning drops in manual dexterity skills evident in each new cohort of students entering medical school, a direct result of children not having had access to the art of making, gained from creative education.

The panel agreed that a core problem with the English Baccalaureate (EBacc) is that by defining one list of subjects as important, you automatically consign others as not as important. With Andrew Churchill of JJ Churchill posing to the panel that the EBacc is setting the Design and Technology world at odds with the academic.

Deborah Dawton agreed, highlighting a fatigue with the idea of pitting academia and design against each other.

“Why is it that academia is the first option, and students who don’t excel in that are filtered into creative subjects? In the economy and society of the future, creativity and creative skills will be the skills that aren’t automated. Let’s flip the argument on its head and give creativity the same footing as academia. The DBA is calling for equality of opportunity through a fair and equal education system where students have a fair choice of what they study.”

Jack Tindale, Manager of the APDIG, said “design doesn’t exist in isolation, it needs more integration between technical and academic qualifications.”

Andy Mitchell, ex-deputy chief executive, DATA, “While our education system supports the teaching of the natural world through science, we also live in a designed and made world and that same system is working hard to educate designing and making skills out of students.”

Solutions for how to close the widening gap between eduction and industry were discussed, with businesses such as DBA member Michon Creative actively working with schools and universities to secure their talent pool. Mark Fensom discussed Michon’s approach of actively engaging university placement students through student placement programmes and dialogue between lecturers and students to explain the commercial reality of what business needs from graduates.  Mark highlighted this “closer relationship with education” as vital to ensuring student talent has the skills industry needs.

Students from a range of schools were also in attendance, showcasing the creative digital and technical skills from CAD CAM through to robotics, 3D printing and examples of iterative design solutions, skills they’ve developed through their schools’ design and technology programmes.

Sixth form students from from Finham Park School in Coventry highlighted the value they have already derived from their design and technology classes, with students, Will and Taboor telling us “D&T gives me quite varied skills, and even helps with skills in different areas like English and Maths.”

“I enjoy it more than any other subject because it allows me the freedom to do what I want to do, rather than being told. For me, design and technology kind of binds it all together.”

With industry and the education sector so closely aligned to supporting the equality of opportunity through education, and for all young people to be able to access it, the next step is to more actively engage government and policy makers.

Next steps

We’ll continue to work closely with DATA and the APDIG to ensure the recommendations in the report are carried forward with the collaboration of industry and government.

We began this work over the Summer with the pilot programme, Teachers in Residence, together with the John Sorrell Foundation. The pilot saw teachers embedded into design studios across the country to gain a firsthand understanding of how the design industry of the 21st Century operates, and what it needs from its talent.

We’re looking at how to work to scale, to secure better working relationship between universities, schools and businesses, joining up teaching, learning and industry while continuing to engage government on the issues.

The recommendations

Recommendations for the report came from valuable roundtables held with DBA members over the summer period that discussed education at all levels and the impact of a skills deficit on the industry. Thank you to those DBA members that took part.

Recommendations for Government

Alongside the Apprenticeship Levy, the government should allow firms that engage with universities and colleges – by providing speakers, guest lecturers and work placements – to claim tax relief

This would help firms in the sector to expand, increasing employment and allowing for the provision of more apprenticeships and Year-in-Industry courses.


Introduce a design-focused research and development tax credit to encourage investment in design and design skills

Trial and error is a fundamental aspect to the design process, but the cost is a barrier. The government should extend the remit of the successful Research and Development Tax Credit to all firms that use design to achieve productivity increases and workforce expansion.

Recommendations for Government and the education sector

Incorporate design thinking into other subjects

Design is a way of looking at problems and finding solutions; the Government should incorporate it into all other subjects – ranging from programming to ethics.


Include creative subjects as a core subject in the English Baccalaureate

The government needs to acknowledge the importance of design and technology to the wider skills pipeline. The EBacc should require a creative subject, to ensure that all children are introduced to humanities, natural sciences and creativity.


Increase the diversity of the workforce by promoting design education amongst minority and underrepresented groups

The exclusion of creative subjects from the EBacc has reversed years of improved participation by under-represented and low-income students in the design industry.

Government and educational establishments should work to improve the attractiveness of the sector to minority groups to ensure that design exploits the creativity of our diverse Britain.


Encourage access to design and craft training through training programmes and careers information, guidance and advice

Design thinking and craft is vital across all professions. Training programmes and careers information, guidance and advice should incorporate these to a far greater extent.


Ensure that T-Levels meet the standards required by industry

T-Levels have the potential to transform how people enter the design sector, increasing participation from under-represented and low-income students. However, as design and manufacturing becomes increasingly focused on new and emerging technologies, it is vital that vocational qualifications are treated as equal partners to traditional A-Levels. Students embarking on this pathway must be given the training and education required to achieve the careers they aspire to.

Recommendations for industry and the education sector

Promote training and knowledge sharing between higher education, further education and industry bodies

Design is an industry of collaboration – however, many academics and industry members agreed there is disconnect between the demands of industry and the content of university courses. The sectors should develop better links, engagement and figureheads/case studies to give students a clearer pathway into industry. 


Offer summer placements to design firms for teachers

Teachers benefit from practical observations of how the design sector works. Firms could showcase new and emerging developments in industry to schools, helping to inspire lesson plans that include the most recent developments in the sector. The Sorrell Foundation has trialled the benefits of this in the summer of 2018 with a small pilot, supported by the Design Business Association and Design and Technology Association.


Develop a task force of design advocates to promote the value of design across the country

Designers play a central role in the manufacturing and digital sectors but their contribution is ignored by both the mass media and policy makers. The industry should create a network of designers to inform the wider community of the importance of design, raising the profile of the sector and its attractiveness as a career.


Read the report in full here.

Further reading

Radio 4 Front Row podcast: The current state of arts education, Wednesday 14th November

“In the last decade the number of GCSE’s taken in creative subjects have declined across Northern Ireland, Wales and England by 20%.”

Stig Abell chairs a live discussion at Soar Valley College secondary school in Leicester, with leading figures in arts and education.

Discussion features Deborah Annetts, Chief Executive of Incorporated Society of Musicians, Trina Haldar, graduate in chemistry and engineering, and director and founder of Mashi Theatre, Leicester, Branwyn Jeffreys, BBC’s Education Editor, Mark Lehain, interim head of the New Schools Network, Julie Robinson, headteacher of Soar Valley College and Carl Ward, Chief Exec of City Learning Trust.

Listen to the podcast.

Towards a twenty-first century education system: Edge future learning

“Decimation of arts subjects in schools is impacting on science and and medicine – trainee surgeons can’t sew!”

The Edge foundation’s report, launched in October, explores the impact of squeezing arts education out of core study, and how this not only impacts the creative industries, but also vital industries such as the sciences. The report argues that creativity should be at the heart of all learning.

Read the report.



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