Time to Review Computing in Schools…

It appears that, whilst young people are enthusiastic, comfortable users of mobile phones, games consoles and the internet, they don’t want to study IT in school. According to e-Skills UK, the Sector Skills Council for IT & Telecoms, A-level computing uptake has declined by 50% since 2003 and applications to study computing at university are also plummeting; yet, there is no shortage of opportunity in the IT sector. Over 500,000 new IT and Telecoms professionals will be needed in the next five years but employers will struggle to fill those jobs. Nor does the problem just affect the IT sector – it cuts right across the economy where competitiveness and growth is dependent on technology.

CIOs and IT Directors in Yorkshire and Humber with large IT departments who participate in the Digital 20/20 Yorkshire IT Leaders Group confirm the difficulty in recruiting young people with the right skills.

There is a widespread view and one that Digital 20/20 has supported that the problem is caused by the way that ICT is taught in schools – in particular the ICT curriculum and associated qualifications.

Now The Royal Society is conducting an inquiry on computing in schools and asking the following questions:

  1. Is computing a discipline, in the same way that mathematics, physics, chemistry are?
  2. Is programming a fundamental form of literacy for the modern age?
  3. What purpose should the teaching of ICT and Computing in schools serve?
  4. Is the teaching of ICT (and accompanying qualifications, such as ICT GCSE) fit for purpose for all students? What should be done to address this?
  5. Is computing and ICT best ‘taught’ in classrooms or ‘learnt’ by other means? How do learners learn computing and ICT skills?
  6. What motivates students to study computing? Is it what they learn in school or something else?
  7. How is computing presented at school, and is there a variation between schools? Why?
  8. Who is teaching computing, and what qualifications do they hold? Are teachers sufficiently supported with subject-specific CPD? Are there enough specialist teachers? Why do they leave/join the profession? What are the barriers to improving the situation?
  9. Why do some universities prefer their undergraduate applicants to have studied mathematics rather than computing at A-level?
  10. What are the perceptions of computing and ICT amongst learners, teachers and headteachers? How can information, advice and guidance be improved?
  11. Are these issues unique to the UK?
  12. What can universities do to improve the situation?
  13. Is there a case for curriculum reform? Is this the barrier?
  14. Is there a need for an increased recognition of ICT and computing as part of the T in STEM, through representation in STEM forums and increased funding
  15. What happens if we do nothing?

The Royal Society is particularly keen to have robust evidence to include in the final report, as well as ideas and suggestions.

Digital 20/20 is intending to submit a response to this public consultation.

The webpage with details of the inquiry can be found at: http://royalsociety.org/Education-Policy/Projects/

Deadlines for submission are by 5th November.


Written by Liz Wallis

One Response to “Time to Review Computing in Schools…”

  1. avatar Dave Pickersgill says:

    UKplc needs appreciably more IT aware people (at level three) who have the skills, understanding and versatility to push on and develop the IT infrastructure and basis of our employment and industry.

    Computing in STEM? – Is it? It should be, but http://www.dcsf.gov.uk/stem/ has no specific mention of Computer Studies

    http://royalsociety.org/Current-ICT-and-Computer-Science-in-schools/ implies that this study is connected with both GCSE ICT and A level ICT and Computing studies. ‘Digital Literacy/IT ‘is not the same as ‘computing’ –it is an entitlement for all (as is numeracy and literacy), the latter is an advanced discipline – the two are inter-linked, but not the same – ‘computing in schools’ is, to me, a level three experience – the RS link implies that ‘computing in schools’ includes KS4, (but not KS2/3).

    There is:
    1. UK-wide lack of IT-qualified learners achieving at KS4, hence:
    2. UK-wide lack of IT-qualified learners achieving at L3
    3. associated, disproportionate, UK-wide lack of female IT representation at KS4 and hence, at L3
     suggests that the ‘problem’ is at KS3 (or earlier)

    The ‘ability/experience range’ among school students is very wide. This is illustrated by the range of websites which the ‘IT bright’ regularly access – is it surprising that they are not stimulated by the IT offering available in school?

    Pupils who are ‘IT Bright’ (pc at home, Internet access, use technological devices (mobile phones, mp3 players, photo printers etc), parents/carers who know about these things etc) see IT as invasive/essential/required, ‘part of their life,’ but ‘easy.’

    why, for example, did our son (Internet access in the house from aged 5, AAA in Physics, Chemistry and Maths at A level, now doing a Physics Masters at Leeds Univ) want to drop IT after Y9? – perhaps worth doing a focus group with some 20 year olds who have recently gone through the UK education system?

    When the ‘IT Bright’ meet ICT lessons in school they;
    1. are bored – as often the tasks requested are boring/undemanding and/or not in context
    2. are possibly disruptive – as a result of (1)
    3. quietly ‘do their own thing’ – but produce ‘the task’ in ’10 mins at the end’ – ie. they are not seen as an immediate ‘issue’ (unlike(2)) – they are ‘quiet, but produce the work’
    4. are used as ‘teachers’ /helpers/facilitators – apparently the trick is to be ‘not the first to finish’
    5. are requested to push on using extension material etc – this can produce high quality material/resources for the school, but seems to happen rarely – possibly due to lack of preparation time for the teacher
    6. perceive that IT is not for them ……..

    Hence, the ‘brighter’ school pupils (i.e. potential HE candidates) may feel that they already know enough computing/ICT. In addition, the subject is sometimes seen as being a ‘low prestige’ option by comparison with, for example, mathematics and the physical sciences.’

    A small % of primary school teachers are qualified to a professional level in computing, and anecdotal evidence suggests that some older primary school teachers feel ‘intimidated’ by computers.

    ICT is not a compulsory GCSE option – hence, most students do the ‘short’ course. In addition, a relatively large number of ICT staff do not see ICT as their main subject. Hence, the importance of ‘league tables’ leads to specialised ICT staff concentrated on the ‘exam groups’ with Lower School pupils having relatively little access to these members of staff. Hence, ICT becomes perceived as undemanding and unexciting at KS3, leading to a perpetuation of the low KS4 uptake.

    Similar issues occur on the post-compulsory sector. An increase in the amount of ICT taught by non-specialist ICT staff, especially at levels one and two as ICT staff increasingly concentrate their work at levels three and four.

    In addition, female students have few ICT role models – most ICT teaching staff are male. In addition, the 80% of IT professionals are male.


    (a) within schools:
    - identify (at KS1/2) the ‘IT Bright’ cohort of students – provide encouragement, hardware and exciting out-of-school projects/activities.

    (b) Accreditation:
    remove the ‘through the hoops’ assessment approach to IT – “Make it real” – on-line/on the pc assessment, not multiple choice written papers
    create engaging/enjoyable materials for KS3 around IT which extends to the creative end of IT – there are many possible links/lessons to online/blended developments in English.

    Essential :
    • to gain & keep interest – imaginative, creative ideas which utilise a thematic, generic approach
    • engaging material – on-line (including sound – ie. headphones are essential) , visual, fit-for-purpose, colour paper-based material
    • ‘teach itself,’ stand alone material which can be delivered well with minimal advance training
    • clarity regarding estimated time blocks, short but ‘chunky’ activities, flexible, personalised
    • essential to have appropriate reading level for material
    • not to talk-down/patronise – (not all IT aware 15 year olds spend lots of time playing computer games and/or on their mobile phone)
    • material to be mapped to KS3 and KS4 IT specifications
    • clarity of target group(s)
    • associated teacher handbook which includes extension ideas/activities/resources
    • provision of training sessions for teachers
    • be aware of possible overlaps with Technology (Food, Textiles, Graphics).

    write => pilot => review => final product

    Possible thematic approaches:
    working in IT: to include positive role models
    environment: buildings, facilities, graffiti, transport
    fashion: use of CAD
    self-image: beauty, self-image, size, plastic surgery
    marketing: (see below)
    setting up a business: product/marketing/finance/staffing
    resource management: possibly using computer games: eg.themepark, themehospital, Sims
    financial management: bank accounts, use of e-bay
    using the web effectively to get information: search engines as leeches, more than just Google