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ICT - what next?

Why is Computer Science and ICT in the headlines?

On January 11th 2012 Michael Gove made a speech at the BETT show indicating that successful schools will be expected in future to teach a broader and deeper understanding of ICT that includes Computer Science as well as Information Technology and Digital Literacy.

There was reference made to Computer Science again when he stated "If the UK is to maintain our competitive edge, this generation of students need to develop their programming skills and an understanding of how maths, computing and science interrelate."  Indeed he hoped that Computer Science will be considered for inclusion in the EBacc.

On 18 January 2012 "As part of the Government's broader vision for technology in schools, and as a way of removing barriers to innovation and stimulating change in schools," a consultation document was distributed which proposed that:

  • The existing ICT Programmes of Study and associated Attainment Targets should be disapplied at all four key stages, along with the statutory assessment arrangements at Key Stage 3, from September 2012.
  • ICT will remain a compulsory subject at all key stages, pending the outcome of the current review of the National Curriculum in England.

This consultation is being conducted under section 96 of the Education Act 2002 and will finish on 18 April. 

What led up to the consultation document and the proposals?

There has been concern from a number of quarters that the ICT curriculum in schools today in England doesn't stretch young people enough, that there is too much emphasis on Office skills and a failure to develop the more advanced technology knowledge and skills that industry requires.  For example:

  • September 2010 - The Fuse: Igniting High Growth for Creative, Digital and Information Technology Industries in the UK (Council for Industry and Higher Education)

They suggested that the ICT curriculum in schools was partly responsible for holding back the growth of the UK's creative, digital and information technology industries.

  • February 2011 - Next Generation Report - Livingstone and Hope (National Endowment for Science, Technology and the Arts - Nesta)

This report explains how the UK can be transformed into the world's leading talent hub for video games and visual effects. They called for more rigorous computer science and programming skills to be taught in the classroom to meet the needs of high-tec industries.

  • August 2011 - Eric Schmidt (Google) was critical of ICT in UK schools - McTaggart Lecture - Edinburgh

"I was flabbergasted to learn that today computer science isn't even taught as standard in UK schools,"

"Over the past century, the UK has stopped nurturing its polymaths. You need to bring art and science back together."

Britain should look to the "glory days" of the Victorian era for reminders of how the two disciplines can work together.

Britain has a record of innovation, saying the UK "invented computers in both concept and practice" before highlighting that the world's first office computer "was built in 1951 by the Lyons chain of teashops".

  • November 28th 2011 - Next Generation Skills Campaign (UKIE)

The campaign called for an introduction of an industry relevant Computer Science course within the framework of the National Curriculum; A review of ICT in its current form and to embed essential ICT skills across the wider curriculum; The promotion of the vital role that teaching Maths, Physics, Art and Computer Science will play in ensuring the growth of UK's digital, creative and hi-tech industries.

  • January 13th 2012 - Shut Down or Restart Report (Royal Society)

The culmination of an 18 month review, this report (see attached), provides comprehensive analysis and recommendations on existing computing provision in schools, including issues with the current ICT curriculum and how it is delivered.

Why shut down or restart the ICT Curriculum? This is mainly because:

1. The current national curriculum in ICT can be very broadly interpreted and may be reduced to the lowest level where non-specialist teachers have to deliver it.

2. There is a shortage of teachers who are able to teach beyond basic digital literacy.

3. There is a lack of continuing professional development for teachers of Computing.

4. Features of school infrastructure inhibit effective teaching of Computing.

5. ICT Courses - are losing pupil numbers:

  • 2011 - 31,800 pupils took ICT GCSE
  • 2007 - 81,000 pupils took ICT GCSE

6. There is a shortage of those suitably qualified to teach ICT:

Nov 2010 - there are 18,400 ICT Teachers in England (DFE source)

35% had relevant qualification (post A level) compared to say 74% in Maths

  • January 2012 - Guardian launches a Digital Literacy Campaign
  • January 11th 2012- Michael Gove stated ICT is to remain compulsory (KS1-Ks4) but from September 2012 they wouldn't have to follow

POS /Attainment Targets / Statutory Arrangements;

  • January 18th to April 11th 2012 - ICT overhaul to go to consultation

Why have a strong Computer Science Curriculum?

In our society today, new technologies affect all our lives, whether at work, home or play and it is changing at an ever-quickening pace. Some people would agree that we are becoming a nation of users of the technology rather than a nation that is at the forefront of creating it, at least in world beating terms. We now have an opportunity to correct this situation in the education sector and reap the rewards.

We have a long and proud history of leading developments in computing, for example:

  • Alan Turing - English mathematician, logician, cryptoanalyst and computer scientist. He provided a formalisation of the concepts of "algorithm" and "computation" with the Turing machine, which played a significant role in the creation of the modern computer. Turing is now widely considered to be the father of computer science and artificial intelligence and in recognition of this, 2012 is Turing Year
  • Sir Tim Berners Lee - English computer scientist, MIT Professor and inventor of the World Wide Web.

There are many more examples of world beating people and technologies that are "made in Britain", but there is a danger that if we don't change what is being taught in schools, FE and HE, there will be deficit of young people with the right skills, abilities and creativity to contribute to and lead IT based developments in the future and more and more companies will have to look elsewhere for talent.  There is certainly a demand in the economy for people with the right skills:

  • 27% of UK jobs are already IT-related and the demand for IT specialists is predicted to grow at four times the rate of the overall UK workforce (source British Computer Society - Economic value of Computing Professionals to the UK, 2011).
  • e-Skills UK (The IT Sector skills council) published the Technology Insights document in 2011, which summarised research findings of IT and the telecoms sector - over 90% of new posts specifically require IT user skills.  Also, over the next 5 years employers are anticipating increased activity in the usage of mobile computing / applications and virtualisation, new implementation of 'Green IT', and rapid development of new technologies. This is in all sectors and will create many more opportunities.
  • A technology dependent sector is the Creative Media Industry and there are 506,000 who work in this sector in England alone (Skillset - the UK skills sector organization for creative media).
  • At over £2 billion in global sales, the UK's video games sector is bigger than either its film or music industries, and visual effects, the fastest growing component of the UK's film industry, grew at an explosive 16.8 per cent between 2006 and 2008.

What do schools need to do next?

These are my own thoughts but first of all don't stop teaching ICT and don't divert resources and energy from it. Develop the ideas that you think are good in your current ICT practice and ditch those that you know are boring for you and pupils. This is a time to be creative and innovative. Introduce learners to some new technologies; take things apart (such as an old computer); try lateral thinking exercises; problem solving and critical thinking; try project based learning around interesting topics (look at the exciting projects on the SEGfL website); join like minded schools and share resources and ideas; link ICT to Maths, Science, the Arts, Psychology and Philosophy and develop the ICT Curriculum across three broad areas (Information Technology, Digital Literacy and Computer Science); investigate the following organisations: Apps for Good / Coding for Kids; and there are many more.

There will certainly be plenty of guidance around resources, the principles of computing and the new ICT curriculum coming out soon. For instance, the British Computer Society, Computing for Schools (CAS) and Intellect (the UK Technology Industry) are sending a letter in March to all Headteachers, inviting them to download an information pack that make a case for Computer Science in schools. Also, NAACE is producing a suggested draft curriculum for KS1, KS2 and KS3 (see attached pdf). These organisations, including UKIE, are responding to the consultation and there is a strong sense that the government needs to lead and resource the changes, that there need to be strong links forged with all parts of the IT related industry sectors and that Computer Science should be part of the EBacc.  Have a look below at the Royal Society's key Recommendations:

1. Redefine ICT to Computer Science / Information Technology / Digital Literacy.

2. Train more teachers in Computer Science / Information Technology - set targets.

3. The Government to seek industry support (funding and teacher CPD).

4. Produce Best Practice around use of School Infrastructure, balancing security against educational needs.

5. Suitable technical resources should be available in school.

6. Reform and rebrand the current ICT Curriculum.

7. Encourage development of new Computer Science Qualifications in consultation with Forum, Universities and Employers.

8. UK Forum to advise on assessment methods.

9. UK Forum to put in place a framework of non-formal learning in Computer Science.

10. Awarding bodies to consult with UK Forum and HE to develop L3 Computer Studies Qualifications.

11. The Computing Community to form a UK Forum.

Some useful organisations:

Computing at School (CAS)

British Computer Society (BCS)


Royal Society


The author - What is my interest in Computer Science?

As a young teacher I used to teach computer science and thoroughly enjoyed the experience. It can be fun, exciting for learners and teachers and lead to many opportunities other than in the computer industry. More recently (over 30 years more recently), I have been involved as an education consultant, with Hackney UTC, to help develop a new Digital Technology Curriculum. This is at the forefront of what can be achieved and is a good example of positive employer input.

If you want to comment on the article or add to the conversation, please do. All contributions are welcome.

In the next article on this topic I will look at some of the resources, mostly free, that you can use in a broad and balanced ICT curriculum as well as look at the emerging guidance around the curriculum as well as ICT qualifications.