Government initiative signals major overhaul of ICT curriculum

By Nicola Brittain
16 Sep 2011 View Comments
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Minister for Universities and Science David Willetts yesterday announced an industry-funded trial of a new computing curriculum that will be backed up by rigorously assessed GCSEs and A-levels.

He made the announcement at the British Science Festival in Bradford.

Further reading

The new GCSE and A-levels will cover computational principles, systemic thinking, software development and logic.

Coursework will develop deep analytical, problem-solving and critical thinking skills. Industry-backed challenges will encourage creativity, entrepreneurship and team work.

The exams will be designed to be challenging, as educationalists and employers think this is more likely to motivate students.

The trial, dubbed "Behind the Screen", will be led by technology skills body e-Skills in collaboration with many of its partners in industry and education.

Partners include Microsoft, Capgemini, Google, IBM, the BBC, Cisco, Deloitte, HP, John Lewis, Logica, the Metropolitan Police Service, Procter & Gamble and Sainsbury's.

Many of these businesses will contribute staff, learning resources and ideas to aid the initiative.

The first stage of the trial will see a new GCSE be run from November to June 2012 and involve 20 schools, 100 students and a number of teachers who have volunteered to take part.

An as yet unnamed awards body will work alongside the pilot to establish a mechanism for assessment.

The move follows a series of falls in take-up of computing and ICT at GCSE and A-level. This year, 47,128 students took ICT GCSE in 2011, down from 61,022 in 2010 – a 23 per cent drop. Those taking A-level Computing fell to 4,002 students this year, down from 4,065 in 2010 and 4,710 in 2009.

Technology is pervasive in almost all businesses, and the IT sector by itself contributes £81bn to the economy, nine per cent of total GDP, and in terms of employment is growing five times faster than the UK average.

However, the proportion of people under 30 employed in the sector was down to just 19 per cent in 2010 from 33 per cent in 2001.

Some 500,000 new entrants into the sector will be needed in the next five years, and the skills gap faced by employers is well documented.

Following the announcement, e-Skills CEO Karen Price said: "Young people are digital natives yet experience shows that they are being turned off IT study and IT careers in the classroom.

"For example, applicants to computer-related degrees have declined by 44 per cent since 2001. Our goal is to use IT as the spearhead for a new model of academia/industry partnership in schools, and create a new generation of technologists."

Stephen Leonard, chief executive, IBM UK and Ireland, and an e-Skills board member, said: "We are long overdue a completely new approach to teaching IT as a subject.

"With our work, we will make IT inspiring to young people and put the UK on the world stage in educating the technologists of the future.

"We are putting the weight of industry behind a transformation in education, working with schools and universities to create courses of academic substance and industry relevance."

BCS president Jim Norton said: "This is excellent news and exactly what we have been campaigning for. It will help ensure that we have the talent UK plc needs for the future. It also recognises the distinction between digital literacy and the academic discipline of computer science."

When addressing delegates at the MediaGuardian Edinburgh festival in August, Google chairman Eric Schmidt expressed disbelief that Computing was not a core subject in the UK.

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

"Your IT curriculum focuses on teaching how to use software, but gives no insight into how it's made.

"Not only that, we don't teach kids how computers work and we don't teach them how to create software for themselves," he added.


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