High hopes for Design Engineer Construct! as it bids for “alternative academic qualification” status

Pioneering learning programme celebrates tenth birthday in the House of Lords, amid calls for greater support from ministers, industry and universities 

The creator of Design Engineer Construct! (DEC), an innovative and successful learning programme which builds a professional talent pipeline into the construction industry, is today appealing for its qualifications to be recognised as a key academic subject for university entrance in England.

Tomorrow (Wednesday, July 5th), Class Of Your Own, the social enterprise established to support delivery of the DEC programme, celebrates ten years of nurturing young talent at an event hosted by former education minister, Lord Knight, in the House of Lords.

Although the DEC programme was launched in 2013, a number of UK universities still don’t accept it as a facilitating subject for entry into architecture, engineering and construction degree courses, despite a growing skills gap.

Alison Watson

Alison Watson, creator of DEC and founder and Chief Executive of Class Of Your Own, says: “It’s ten years since the Construction 2025 strategy set out a vision to promote the success of the UK construction sector as a sector of choice for young people.

“The strategy recommended early engagement in schools that should be consistently applied right through to further and higher education. DEC was cited as an effective solution, and it still remains one of the most respected through-school programmes a decade later, despite an ever-changing secondary education landscape.”


If all universities accepted DEC as a facilitating subject, thousands more young people could look forward to a bright future in an industry that desperately needs such professionals.


Watson adds: “The students coming through the DEC programme are outstanding. They’re seeing incredible success at university and in advanced, higher and degree apprenticeships.

“Despite the lack of consistent support and investment from governments, universities and industry, they are delivering the skills needed to exceed our country’s ambitions for a digital, zero-carbon, climate-resilient, construction industry.”


Thirty students will attend the House of Lords event tomorrow, each of whom represents a major DEC success story and each reinforces the need to deliver applied academic subjects in school from an early age, particularly given the focus on ‘leveling up’ educational opportunities for all children.


John Haylett is one of DEC’s star students. John’s background typifies those of “disadvantaged working class” pupils and especially those in coastal towns referenced in a number of recent reports. He not only excelled in his DEC studies but now works for global consultancy Atkins, was a finalist for two years running in the RICS Young Surveyor of the Year and just last month was awarded a first-class degree in Building Surveying from Anglia Ruskin University.


John Haylett said: “If all students were given the chances I was given, then the construction industry would have a much bigger pipeline of young people. DEC provided me not only with a future successful career but with a foundation in the job and industry that I love.”


A recent study by the charity Engineering UK reports that a “staggering” increase in the number of girls studying maths and physics at A level is needed to bridge engineering’s gender gap.

Graduate civil engineer Lauren Cunningham has just achieved a first through her degree apprenticeship with global engineering consultancy Sweco at Liverpool John Moores University.

Heriot-Watt University civil engineering graduate Alizah Mughal has also achieved a first in her Masters degree. Both Lauren and Alizah studied DEC at school and cite the subject as the inspiration for their careers.

Three DEC success stories from three different students from the South East and North West of England, and Scotland, with so many more across the UK and around the world.

DEC has risen above the challenges of the Department for Education’s past review of qualifications for students aged 16 and above. It was retained on the ‘high value course’ premium list to encourage delivery of subjects that are “crucial for the labour market, lead to higher wage returns and a more productive economy”.

Furthermore, DEC was spared the recent cull of Level 3 qualifications that ‘overlap’ with the government’s new T-level programmes.

DEC’s organisers hope that with the next cycle of government reforms taking shape, a new hope is on the horizon for this dynamic qualification.

From 2025, only qualifications that are “necessary, high quality and have a clear purpose” will remain an option for young people.

Watson hopes that DEC, as it is submitted this month as an ‘alternative academic qualification’ (AAQ), will bring a whole new respect to the wide range of professions in the construction industry and channel even more uptake for Built Environment degree courses and apprenticeship routes.


Watson finishes: “DEC is not a gimmick and it’s not a Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) initiative. It’s a subject in its own right, studied all the way through school and taught by outstanding teachers.

“Our planet cannot wait for more reports and more conversations. It needs collaborative action from the world’s biggest carbon contributor, and I hope, as we celebrate ten years of incredible student outcomes – the real proof of the pudding, that government, industry and academia will now fully support Design Engineer Construct! as a most robust and highly respected route into higher education.”

Header image caption: DEC students from left Lauren Cunningham, John Haylett and founder Alison Watson

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