Computing based education has improved in the UK since 2012 but there's still more to be done, according to the Royal Society
A new report by the science group, titled After the reboot: computing education in schools, made six major recommendations – offer computer-based subjects more widely, improve the diversity of students taking the subject, make sure there are enough teachers, better resources and support, and increased research looking at computer education teaching.
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It said governments, schools, industry and non-profit organisations had to work together to make the changes needed to prepare students properly for modern technological life, to support computing education to the same level as maths or physics.
The current range of computing qualifications is still too limited, the report continued, and has an unfortunate reputation of being too difficult or narrow a subject, supported by the fact that over half of UK secondary schools do not offer the GCSE at all.
The solution, it said, is to offer computing courses that focus on different aspects, both computer science and a successor to the previously maligned ICT qualifications often studied in schools before the Society's previous report in 2012.
The Society stated that making computing subjects compulsory alone will not encourage a greater variety of students to take related qualifications, so it proposes the use of "innovative approaches" to help address this. This includes not only to getting more female students to study the subject, but also students from rural or disadvantaged areas, from a wider range of ethnic groups, or with special educational needs.
Although computer subjects have grown in popularity, many teachers who lead the lessons have not studied the subject or worked in a computer-related role before. Between 2012 and 2017, only 68 per cent of the government's recruitment demand for specialised computing teachers was met, one of the lowest proportions for any secondary subject.
The report estimates that an investment of £60m over five years is necessary to bring computer science support up to the level of that of physics or maths; to train new specialist teachers and support existing ones. Industry should be encouraged to get involved not only for financial contributions, but also to show students how computing skills can be applied in different real-life jobs.
Finally, research into computing education, particularly at high school level, needs to increase. Future improvements to the subject are dependent on further study, and once again requires cooperation between policy and teaching to make it a reality.
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On the whole, the report concludes, computer education in the UK is "patchy", and needs to be improved again to properly equip children to be "effective, well informed and safe citizens" in the future.
Professor Steve Furber, chair of the report and designer of the BBC Micro, commented: "Overhauling the fragile state of our computing education will require an ambitious, multipronged 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."
Ronan Harris, UK MD of Google, welcomed the report. "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."
Microsoft UK CEO Cindy Rose said: "The risk... is that too many young people struggle to access new opportunities, and the UK loses its advantage in a world being transformed by technology."
Bill Mitchell, director of education for BCS, The Chartered Institute for IT, said: “We support the report’s findings and hope that its recommendations will be taken seriously.
"Every child should have the opportunity to access an outstanding computing education taught by confident, qualified teachers. However, this will only happen where we make sure teachers are getting the right professional development to ensure GCSE Computer Science is a success." ®