There is little doubt that technology plays a huge role in our society, with increasing use of computer technology in our everyday lives and an increasing number of people working in IT and IT related industries. Yet in contrast, interest in computing related studies at school or university has been decreasing steadily. The number of students applying to computing courses at university has halved in the past decade, there has been a 60% decline in pupils taking up A-level computing since 2003, and there has been a 34% drop in ICT A-level students; all despite increasing employer demand.

In fact, the provision of ICT teaching in schools in England has been under criticism from a variety of sources this week. Education Secretary Michael Gove said in his speech on Wednesday (11th Jan 2011) that, “ICT in schools is a mess” and that “the current curriculum cannot prepare British students to work at the very forefront of technological change”.

He went on to announce that the current national curriculum programmes of study, associated attainment targets and assessment arrangements for ICT is likely to be withdrawn from September this year; a move supported by many industries and societies, including Microsoft, Google, Facebook, the British Computer Society, and Naace. ICT will remain compulsory, but schools will be give more freedom to develop a challenging and exciting curriculum.

If after the public consultation, which will run for 12 weeks and will start next week, Michael Gove decides to proceed with the proposed disapplication of the ICT programmes of study, it will only be an interim measure (September 2012 until September 2014) until the new national curriculum comes into force. Schools were encourage to replace existing ICT lessons with more challenging computer science programme—Michael Gove said, “Instead of children bored out of their minds being taught how to use Word or Excel by bored teachers, we could have 11-year-olds able to write simple 2D computer animations".

Michael Gove also encouraged organizations to develop new Computer Science CGSEs. IBM, Google and Microsoft are already working on developing a pilot curriculum, while other organisations such as Computing at School already offer a free-to-download Computing Curriculum for KS3 and KS4 and Naace offers a KS3 computing curriculum outline (showcased at BETT2012).

Two days after Michael Gove spoke at BETT (13th Jan 2012), a report was published on the 18-months project by the Royal Society looking at the current provision of computing in schools. The authors warn that the ICT and computing curriculum in schools is putting young people off studying the subject further, leading to declining enthusiasm for the subject and ultimately affecting the UK economy. The report in particular pointed out that:

  • There is a shortage of teachers who are able to teach pupils beyond what is considered basic digital literacy (in 2010 just 35% of ICT teachers were qualified in the subject)
  • There is a lack of professional development offered for teachers of computing
  • Features of the school infrastructure work to inhibit effective teaching of computing
  • There needs to be more recognition that Computer Science is a rigorous academic discipline with great importance to the careers of many pupils.

The authors call for recognized qualifications in computing at secondary school level and greater recognition of the importance of the subject by government and senior managers at school.

Responding to the Education Secretary’s speech, the Royal Society welcomes Gove’s proposed changes but emphasise that change to the curriculum alone is not sufficient if not coupled with “more inspiring teachers to reinvigorate pupils’ enthusiasm for computing”. One recommendation in the report proposes that training bursaries should be made available to attract suitable Computer Science graduates into teacher training, and the number of specialist teachers should be monitored against set targets in order to allow schools to deliver a sufficiently rigorous curriculum.

Michael Gove is unlikely to disagree with this response. In his speech earlier in the week he said, “We need to improve the training of teachers so that they have the skills and knowledge they need to make the most of the opportunities ahead”.

If the ICT curriculum is withdrawn in September, schools will have very little time to create a new “more creative and challenging curriculum” as Michael Gove would like. However, this is a great opportunity to create a scheme that will get students excited about ICT and Computer Science and help prepare them for a technology rich and rapidly changing world.

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