The Engineering Council has expressed "grave concerns" over the government's failure to address a severe shortage of teacher trainees in design and technology and its plans to "considerably dilute" the subject in the national curriculum.
In a letter to education secretary David Blunkett, Alan Rudge, the council's chairman, says the plight of the subject has set "alarm bells ringing" throughout the engineering profession. He charges the government with "apparently ignoring" the recruitment shortage in the subject.
Dr Rudge says that, while bursaries were available to meet similar acute shortages in science and mathematics, the government has failed to provide such incentives in design and technology.
Citing figures from the Teacher Training Agency, the council says a huge advertising campaign and bursaries have meant recruitment in mathematics has risen by 31 per cent and in science by 17 per cent in the past year. Design and technology intake, by contrast, has risen just 5 per cent. The council welcomes the small increase, but believes the government will still miss its recruitment targets for the subject this year.
Ruth Wright, the council's education officer, said teacher trainee intake for design and technology last year was 1,840. But with just 300 trainees recruited so far, this year's target of 3,053 looks "extremely ambitious", she said.
Dr Rudge says: "Universities tell us that post-16 qualifications in design and technology are a useful grounding for engineering courses. We are therefore particularly concerned that lack of school or college-based staff expertise and resources will reduce the growing numbers taking A levels and GNVQ in the subject."
The council also warns of an irreversible decline in the status of the subject because of proposed changes in the National Curriculum. The government wants to "increase flexibility to meet the diversity of pupils' needs" at Key Stage 4. But Dr Rudge fears this could lead to a "dilution" of the subject's statutory requirement and undermine efforts over the past decade to raise its status in the National Curriculum.