The Department for Education (DfE) has announced that it is to go ahead with plans to "disapply" the National Curriculum for ICT, removing the compulsory education framework for computer skills in schools, as well as assessment criteria.
The policy comes into effect in the next academic year, starting this September.
While some people have welcomed the move, as it represents a shift away from commodity, Office-focused skills and towards the opt-in teaching of computer science, the move has been condemned in some quarters.
Joanna Poplawska of The Corporate IT Forum's Education and Skills Commission told Computing that, due to these measures, school students would "be left without any requirement for any framework or any structure, which means there will be some children who will not be taught ICT at all."
Today's decision comes after Education Secretary Michael Gove signalled the policy change in January and the government began a public consultation process with schools, local authorities and other interested parties.
The decision does not appear to have been clear-cut, however. According to the government, 58% of 328 respondents felt that the statutory Programmes of Study for ICT should be disapplied in maintained schools in England, while just 50% of 319 respondents said attaintment targets should be axed.
The DfE released a statement saying: "Having carefully considered the responses to the recent public consultation, the government has decided to proceed with the proposal that schools should not be required to follow the existing Programmes of Study for Information and Communication Technology education, or the associated Attainment Targets and statutory assessment arrangements, from September 2012."
The announcement, which will affect ICT in schools until the government's proposed ICT curriculum reforms in 2014, struck some as unnecessarily sudden, including Poplawska.
"I think the plan was to announce this at the beginning of July, so it came much quicker than expected," Poplawska told Computing.
"The Commission's worry is that schools will be now allowed to either drop ICT, or weaker schools – which struggle with the teaching of ICT, because they often don't have specialised teachers – will take this opportunity to reduce the provision of ICT teaching."
"It will really be watering down what's needed in terms of an approach to ICT in schools," Poplawska added.
Poplawska believes that, at the very least, a curriculum structure should remain in place, with even the existing one being "better than nothing".
"It should then be reviewed regularly, due to the ever-changing nature of ICT. It's more difficult to do that than with more traditional subjects, such as English and maths, and so that would require more support and attention," she said.
The Corporate IT Forum is also concerned that the government will not be able to restructure the IT curriculum in time for its 2014 target.
"Coming up with a new curriculum is clearly not an easy thing to do," said Poplawska. "It would require very complex work, the involvement of teachers, government, ICT users, and so on. I don't think anyone will actually be able to say that this is going to be ready in two years' time."
Commission Chairman John Harris added in a statement: "It is now absolutely critical that the government works with universities and employers to ensure that the new computer science curriculum in schools will be sufficiently innovative and exciting, both to attract more young people into IT careers and to create business leaders who understand the possibilities that technology provides."
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