By Orna Herr, Communications Officer (Education) at the British Science Association


Back in November 2022, we explored the decline in students choosing to study design & technology (D&T) at GCSE, and why this might be happening.

Between 2010 and 2022, the number of students who earned a D&T GCSE fell by an astonishing 71%. In 2023, the figure had climbed a little compared to 2022, but it’s still a long way off the halcyon days of 2010.    

Our research uncovered several reasons why this is happening. Along with a lack of funding and specialist teachers, a crucial issue is that students often aren’t actively engaged with the subject from a young age, meaning when they come to make their GCSE choices, D&T doesn’t hold much appeal.

These issues and more are something Matt James, a D&T teacher at Lewis Girls’ School in the South Wales, knows only too well about. We spoke to Matt about the decline in D&T, why it matters, and how he’s been using the British Science Association’s CREST Awards scheme (investigative, student-led STEM* projects from ages 5-19) to help bring the subject to life for younger students.

Modern design & technology

“[D&T] sets up the pupils with problem-solving, technical skills, resilience and creativity skills, and those are skills that are increasingly required by, not just jobs that people would associate with D&T, but by all jobs”, Matt told us. D&T gives students the vital opportunity “to think outside the box, [achieve] a degree of independence and not be afraid to fail while developing so many skills needed in the modern world.”

However, students are choosing to study D&T for GCSE in very low numbers across the country, meaning very few students are then able to progress to A Level, degrees or careers in D&T-related areas.

Timetable space is an issue, Matt tells us – students don’t have much of a chance to engage with a subject they only study for one or two hours a week depending on their schools timetable – as well as a misconceptions by parents and even some senior leadership teams in schools about what D&T actually is. Of course, this is not the case at Lewis Girls' School, where the senior leadership team embrace D&T and its integration with STEM!

I think a lot of people have still got this assumption that in D&T you make a spice rack or something similar, but the reality is that modern D&T covers…problem solving, critical thinking, creativity, computer aided design and manufacturing, coding and robotics.

Modern D&T teaching is about running projects that link to the real world; a crucial element in engaging students. This is something Matt has been particularly effective at, with the help of CREST Awards resources.

CREST helps design and technology take off

At Lewis Girls’ School, the Key Stage 3 (Years 7, 8 and 9) curriculum** is centred around a different ‘big question’ each year; sustaining planet Earth, living on planet Earth, then leaving planet Earth.

In line with this arc, Matt’s Year 9 students were working on designing and making rockets that could ‘reach Mars’, should humans need to make this intragalactic move. This is something students could relate to, as they see reports on the news and online about space agencies around the world who are aiming to achieve the same.  

Matt knew of the Bronze CREST project ‘How do rockets work?’, and noticed that a lot of the questions in the booklet were very similar to those in the workbook his students were using for their rocket project. He then replaced the original questions with the CREST questions.

The CREST wording is intended to be slightly more scientific…it helps make a stronger connection between D&T and science.

Matt lightly adapted a project his class was already working to ensure their work was eligible for a CREST Award.

This is a fantastic way to utilise our resources; you don’t have to stick to the projects we offer in our CREST resource library – with a little guidance, many projects your students are working on as part of the curriculum could tick the boxes to earn them an Award. Matt said:

If you were to look at a lot of the projects that your department was already delivering and then you looked at what you needed to do to get a CREST Award, you would probably be quite surprised by how close you were.

The photo to the left shows a rocket one of Matt's students made, about to launch!

After Matt integrated Bronze CREST into lesson time this way for his Year 9 class, he looked into how younger students could benefit and discovered Discovery.

Using CREST across multiple age groups

Discovery Awards are group projects typically completed by 10-14 year olds, making them perfect for Year 7 students. To fit the curriculum topic of sustaining planet Earth, Matt’s Year 7 class explored how we could feed the growing population by building towers in which vegetables can be grown over several floors in a process of vertical farming, utilising hydroponics.    

Again, we realised that we’d already come up with a project, and when I saw the Discovery CREST Awards, I realised that it was prolonged research & design, an iterative process that fits into a certain time frame.

And so, the hydroponics project became a CREST project for year 7. Matt repeated the technique of taking questions from the Discovery CREST workbook and applying them to his students’ work.

CREST Awards aren’t just for secondary school students – the British Science Association also provides SuperStar activity collections for ages 7-11. Matt told us that the science and D&T departments (linked through the Area of Learning Experience ) made use of this with Year 6 pupils from nine feeder primary schools who came to Lewis Girls’ School for a transition day. The pupils then built on this when they joined the secondary school, to meet the requirements for a SuperStar Award - marking the start of their D&T CREST journey.

Instilling pride and confidence

So if your students are already working on a project as part of the curriculum, what is the benefit of submitting their work for CREST Awards?

Students who earn a CREST Award receive a certificate – an achievement that is recognised across the UK which they can add to UCAS forms or job applications. A CREST Award helps students stand out and demonstrate their aptitude to future university admissions boards and/or employers. Matt reiterated this point to his class.

"You're doing a project to learn and to develop skills”, Matt told them, “but this project will also give you something tangible when you leave [school] and start university or a new job."

Receiving a certificate also imbues young people with a sense of confidence and pride in their achievement, and gives them something to take home and show their parents/carers.

Instilling these feelings in children around STEM subjects from a young age could help build a strong foundation that they can keep working on throughout their education. A CREST Award earned for a D&T project in Year 7 may lead to choosing D&T when GCSE options come around.

“It’s a useful tool to run as part of your curriculum. It gives the pupils that extra bit of authenticity to their project, creating an invaluable learning experience” said Matt. “It works.”

Read part 2 of this blog here

Check out the press coverage of this story:

Herald Wales

South Wales Chronicle 

Other blogs and links you may be interested in:

CREST resource library

Building girls' confidence in STEM with CREST Awards

How CREST can help schools achieve the four purposes of the new Curriculum for Wales

How CREST Awards can boost UCAS applications and university admission interviews

To stay up to date with all our latest blogs and CREST news, sign up to our monthly education newsletter.

Sign up here

* STEM is an acronym for science, technology, engineering and maths

** Developed by The Science and Technology Area of Learning Experience within the Curriculum for Wales