An ex-board member of the government's "Year of Code" initiative has branded the Gove and Osborne-fronted campaign "a vapid PR exercise with no thought whatsoever", complaining that Year of Code has been constructed purely to court the media, while sidelining the experts who contributed advice on developing it.
Speaking exclusively to Computing following her recent blog on her resignation from Year of Code, Emma Mulqueeny – who founded global youth coding network Young Rewired State – says she feels her input and that of other consultants has been left out of the final mix.
"It was not just Young Rewired State that I felt was sidelined," said Mulqueeny.
"The reason I finally decided to throw in the towel was because so many of my colleagues and compatriots who have spent years in this space working hard and often voluntarily were not included."
The "final straw", said Mulqueeny, was when the lead of the Computing at Schools (CAS) organisation contacted her, as a Year of Code board member, to complain about their own lack of consultation over Year of Code.
Composed of teachers and industry experts, and overseen by the British Computer Society – the chartered institute for IT that is also responsible for recruiting "Master Teachers" to train existing educators, among other roles in the new curriculum – the CAS is supposed to be a fundamental player in government IT education initiatives.
"I just felt that my position was untenable when people were coming to me as I was publicly listed as an adviser, but yet had absolutely no influence and no idea what was going on," said Mulqueeny.
Mulqueeny also believes that Year of Code is guilty of having "borrowed brand kudos from established places like [Young Rewired State] and Coder Dojo and then went out and sold their empty briefcase on the back of a wave of ill-informed (literally) PR".
Speaking about Year of Crode frontperson Lottie Dexter, Mulqueeny told Computing that the campaign's organisers informed her that Dexter – who recently appeared on BBC's Newsnight and admitted to host Jeremy Paxman that she did not know how to code – was "a lovely, enthusiastic girl with a bundle of energy".
"I think they were hoping to have her as a female tech inspiration," said Mulqueeny.
"Unfortunately while she is female and beautiful, she is not technical and was very badly briefed, if briefed at all. I think it is a vapid PR exercise with no thought whatsoever. Or, if you go down the conspiracy route, a way to make this whole coding nonsense go away – as it is going to really rip the seams of education."
On her blog, Mulqueeny voiced concerns that a deliberately bungled PR campaign could see the student coding debate "kicked into the long grass" by a government that may be less interested in its success than promotional videos featuring the likes of George Osbourne may let on.
The problems with getting children to code, she told Computing, are more complex than Year of Code can hope to solve.
"The coding lobby movement has been growing and will not go away," said Mulqueeny.
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