Computing education in the UK is ‘patchy and fragile’, Royal Society reports

Written by Jenni Davidson on 10 November 2017 in News

A new report finds too few computing teachers and lack of confidence in teaching the curriculum

Computer - Image credit: Pixabay

Computing education across the UK is “patchy and fragile”, according to a new report by the Royal Society.

In After the Reboot: computing education in UK schools, the society said that neglecting opportunities to act would risk damaging the education of future generations and harming the economy.

“Swift and coordinated action” is needed between governments, industry and not-for-profits, it said.

While it noted “pockets of excellence”, the society expressed concern that teachers are often teaching an “unfamiliar subject with little support” and are frequently the only teacher in the school covering that subject.


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In Scotland there has been a 25 per cent decrease in the number of computing teachers since 2005, from 802 to 598, while the number of pupils dropped by 11 per cent.

This has left 17 per cent of Scottish secondary schools with no computing subject specialist teacher.

In a survey for the Royal Society, 44 per cent of secondary teachers reported they only felt confident to teach the early stages of the curriculum and 26 per cent said they had not undertaken any computer-related professional development in the past year.

The report says: “To truly transform computing education, teachers need unhindered access to a structured and ongoing programme of professional development.

“The programme must support teachers in all schools across the country.”

Gender imbalance among pupils choosing to study computing is also raised as an issue that needs to be addressed.

The report notes that while “many of the great pioneers of computing were women”, in Scotland only 20 per cent of those taking National 5 are female and just 14 per cent at Advanced Higher level.

The Royal Society also expressed concern that computer science was being regarded as a “difficult option” only suitable for the most able pupils.

“Computing isn’t a subject that should be reserved for a subset of pupils,” it said.

“As long as computing is perceived as a specialist subject, the uptake of the subject from 14-18 year olds will not increase rapidly enough,” it said.

The society makes a number of recommendations, including that quality-assured conversion courses should be made available free of charge to teachers of other subjects and that government should work with learned societies on content, qualification, pedagogy and assessment methods for computing.

New benchmarks for technology education in Scotland were published by Education in Scotland in March and, in a move towards improving computing teaching in Scotland, the University of Glasgow launched a dedicated centre for computing education in September, which brings together experts from the university with Education Scotland, the SQA, teachers and industry.

The centre aims to shift the subject from its current position as an optional course in late secondary or tertiary education to being considered as fundamental to learning from the earliest stages as maths and science.

Quintin Cutts, Professor of Computer Science Education, who is directing the centre, said: “Digital technology is quickly becoming the key driver of innovation in societies and economies across the world.

“It’s vital that Scotland – and the UK as a whole – has a workforce which thoroughly understands digital technology and has the high level of engineering skill required to push that technology forward.

“We can’t simply teach students how to use products like Microsoft Office and expect them to succeed – they need to have the computational thinking skills required to imagine and develop new products for themselves.

“Embedding computing science in education from an early age will be hugely important in helping achieve that goal.”

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