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Royal Society: Government Must Increase Computer Science GCSE Funding

Tom Jowitt is a leading British tech freelance and long standing contributor to TechWeek Europe

Lack of skilled teachers blamed for over half England’s secondary schools not offering GCSE computer science

The government is facing calls from the Royal Society to act promptly over a chronic lack of IT-literate teachers in England’s secondary schools.

It comes after a new report from the UK’s national academy of sciences found that more than half (54 percent) of English schools do not offer GCSE Computer Science.

The astonishing statistic means that many young people are without the ability critically important programming and algorithm skills, at a crucial stage of their education.

school, education

Teaching The Teachers

The Royal Society is calling for the government to “urgently invest” £60m in computing education over the next five years.

It also wants the government to train 8,000 secondary school computing teachers.

This tenfold (funding) increase from current levels would put government spending on this subject on par with support for maths and physics.

The report also found that the government has only met 68 percent of its recruitment target for entrants to computing teacher training courses in England between 2012 and 2017.

Other alarming findings from the report includes the fact England meets only 68 percent of its recruitment target for entries into computing teacher training courses, lower than Physics and Classics.

And only 20 percent of GCSE Computer Science candidates are female, falling to 10 percent at A-level.

Bournemouth has the highest uptake of Computer Science GCSE (23 percent of all pupils), but the picture varies widely across England. Kensington & Chelsea has 5 percent for example, as does Blackburn, but the City of London comes last at 4 percent.

“The rate at which technology is transforming the workplace means that we live in a world where many primary schoolchildren will work in technology-based roles that do not yet exist, so it is essential that future generations can apply digital skills with confidence,” said Professor Steve Furber FRS.

“For pupils to thrive, we need knowledgeable, highly skilled teachers. However, computing teachers have told us that they feel the government rushed in a new curriculum without giving them the support or money to deliver it.”

“The report paints a bleak picture in England, which meets only 68 percent of its computing teacher recruitment targets and where, as a result, one in two schools don’t offer Computer Science at GCSE, a crucial stage of young people’s education.

“Overhauling the fragile state of our computing education will require an ambitious, multi-pronged approach. We need the government to invest significantly more to support and train 8,000 secondary school computing teachers to ensure pupils have the skills and knowledge needed for the future.”

Tech Response

Computing skills are of course increasingly vital, and the report has alarmed senior management at a number of tech firms.

Both Google and Microsoft are well known for their focus on the eduction market.

Indeed, Microsoft and Google last year added further support for improved IT education in the UK by funding a study to bolster computer science teaching in schools.

“Microsoft is dramatically scaling up its digital skills programme in the UK and we believe now is the time for the Government to do the same,” said Cindy Rose, UK CEO of Microsoft. “The risk, if we don’t make these investments now, is that too many young people struggle to access new opportunities, and the UK loses its advantage in a world being transformed by technology.”

This sentiment was echoed by Google.

“We welcome the Royal Society’s report, which shows that despite good progress in recent years there is still much more to do to ensure young people across the UK have access to computer science education,” said Ronan Harris, UK MD of Google.

“Whatever school they attend or what field they plan to go into, every student should have the opportunity to understand the principles and practices of computing. This will broaden their career opportunities and is critical to developing a globally competitive workforce for the 21st century.”

“Google could not have been founded and could not have grown without top quality computer science education,.That is why we’re committed to working with partners to support teacher training and recruitment.”

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The report was also supported by the BCS Academy of Computing.

“We support the report’s findings and hope that its recommendations will be taken seriously, “said Bill Mitchell, director of education. “The report has identified a number of urgent challenges that governments, industry and school leaders need to address in order to safeguard our future efficacy in the digital world.”

Back in 2011, Google chairman Eric Schmidt publicly criticised the education system in Britain for failing to ignite young people’s passion for science, engineering and maths.

But the then Coalition government took note and in September 2014, the new school curriculum was launched that placed a lot more emphasis on STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Maths) subjects.

Despite this a Sophos survey found in September that almost half (47 percent) of teachers in the UK believe their students know more about IT than they do.

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