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


“In the Curriculum for Wales, you’ve got the four purposes and the D&T department will tick all of them with their eyes closed.”

This is Matt James, a design & technology (D&T) teacher at Lewis’ Girls School in South Wales, talking to us about his subject and why it’s so important to get students in Wales engaged and excited by it.

Despite being a dynamic, hands-on subject, teaching skills that can be applied to multitude of careers, uptake in D&T GCSE has fallen dramatically over the last decade – dropping by around half, from 11,703 students taking the exam in Wales in 2010, to just 5,479 in 2023.

In a blog published in December, Matt spoke to us about the reasons why students might not be choosing D&T, and how he’s used CREST in his lessons to help bring projects to life. (The British Science Association’s CREST Awards scheme allows 5-19-year-olds to complete open-ended, investigative STEM projects for which they receive a recognised certificate.)

Now, we explore Matt’s experience of how D&T meets the four purposes of the new Curriculum for Wales, and why including CREST projects in lesson time opens up opportunities to students from all backgrounds.

CREST and the four purposes of the Curriculum for Wales

In summer, we spoke to a primary school teacher in Wales, Rachael Mackay, about how using CREST projects in primary science lessons can help teachers achieve the four purposes of the new Curriculum for Wales.

Matt explained how this is also true of secondary D&T. In our first blog with Matt, he detailed the projects his class have worked on, and how applying the CREST structure helped to connect D&T to science. The Year 7-9 D&T curriculum he delivers is very much grounded in the real world – students explore sustaining planet Earth, living on planet Earth and leaving planet Earth.

These topics align with the  four purposes, Matt said, ‘in a really natural way’. The four purposes are to support students to become ambitious, capable learners, ready to learn throughout their lives; enterprising, creative contributors, ready to play a full part in life and work; ethical, informed citizens of Wales and the world; healthy, confident individuals, ready to lead fulfilling lives as valued members of society.

Looking at the world through the lens of D&T, using the CREST structure, ensures students are achieving these purposes. The open-ended, investigative nature of CREST D&T projects allows students to apply their ambition and capabilities to the project; it can be whatever they make it. This also facilitates them to be enterprising, creative contributors, especially as CREST projects, Discovery projects in particular, are often completed as a group.

Their D&T curriculum is focused on life on planet Earth, how we make it sustainable and better for everyone - this ties in closely with the purpose of students becoming ethical and informed citizens. One project Matt spoke to us about was the students thinking about accommodation for refugees. He explained that this project is cross-curricular as it also makes use of maths skills.

“They're learning how to calculate the area of a shipping container home that they're designing for refugees, and they’re 3D printing over here in design & technology.”

The trial and improvement nature of CREST projects also boosted students’ confidence, as they overcome obstacles and problem-solve along the way.

Boosting student confidence

Using CREST projects in D&T lessons can also help to improve the science capital and confidence of students from less affluent backgrounds.

Matt runs CREST as part of the curriculum to ensure that every student in the class takes part, as after-school STEM clubs – while a fantastic opportunity for particularly interested students to pursue their interest – aren’t always accessible to all students.

“Anybody that wants to come [to STEM club] can join in with it, but there are some people who can't get home because they missed the school bus. Being up in the valleys it's not walking distance, so if you miss your school bus you can't get home.”

It also allowed students who might not self-select to join a STEM club enjoy the benefits of CREST.

“The more you can get students thinking that [CREST Awards] are something that anybody can tackle, and that it's not just for the super academic students, the more engagement you're going to get.”

Lewis’ Girls School, in the valleys in South Wales, is not in a highly affluent area; around 30% of the students are eligible for free school meals, Matt explained.

Students may not have immediate family members or other role models in their lives who work in STEM industries, which can affect students’ ability to see themselves in those kinds of roles in the future. Working on CREST projects and earning Awards can help students realise their full potential.

“We're quite lucky as we have Cardiff one side of us and Swansea on the other side, you've got an awful lot of quite high tech industries in and around our area, but it's about trying to give the students the confidence that they can enter into those industries.

“Hopefully the recognition of earning a CREST Award will build that confidence that, as they're gaining these outside recognised certificates and qualifications, they could go into those industries.”

Running CREST projects in Wales is free to all primary and secondary students. CREST only aligns with the curriculum, but can help students meet the four purposes of education. Using CREST in D&T classes, as Matt has found, can help students from lower socio-economic backgrounds who might not see themselves as future scientists engage, feel proud of their achievements and hopefully feel confident to develop and pursue a passion for STEM.

Read part 1 of this blog: CREST Awards and design and technology - perfect bedfellows

Check out the press coverage of this story:

Herald Wales

South Wales Chronicle

More blogs you might be interested in:

CREST in Wales - all you need to know

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