32-bit London schools too slow for digital age
Despite being home to the most digitally innovative industries in the world and Tech City – London’s schools are failing to produce Computer Science students in enough numbers to fill the needs of hi tech and creative businesses, research by the Ukie-led, cross industry Next Gen Skills campaign has revealed.
- School fragmentation across 32 boroughs hampers support for existing Computing and new Computer Science studies
- Low take-up of Computer Studies A-level shows need for London-wide strategy for hi-tech skills
- Without action Londoners will be continue to be left behind to foreign programming talent and other areas of UK in skills race
Statistics from the Department for Education illustrate the poor take up of Computing and Computer Studies in the capital’s schools, with only 382 students deciding to take Computing/Computer Studies at A-level (out of over 98,000 A-levels taken), mirroring low numbers nationwide and concerns about teaching of Information and Communication Technology (ICT) and the lack of rigorous Computer Science options.
The digital corridor between Westminster (Soho)-Camden (King's Cross)-Islington-Hackney, home to Tech City and world-leading universities, advertising firms, visual effects, film, music and video games companies, straddles London boroughs in which there are currently only 15 students studying Computing A-level.
This further confirms industry concerns that computer programming skills are not being provided adequately in London schools. ICT, the subject that young people, teachers and parents most associate with a career in the digital economy is not the most relevant, as it focuses on using applications such as word processors rather than essential technical knowledge and the principles of how computers actually work.
Please see attachement for a break down of computing A-level entries and total A-level entries in 2010/11 by borough.
London schools currently lack enough qualified teachers to teach even the existing ICT courses, let alone a new Computer Science course. Only 29% of teachers are qualified to teach ICT today in inner London schools and 45% in outer London. There are also serious questions about whether current computing courses are rigorous or adaptable enough.
Nationally, there is a massive gender divide as with all STEM subjects - only 7% (241) of Computing A-level students are girls.
Next Gen Skills campaign co-chair Alex Hope OBE, Managing Director of the Soho-based Video Special Effects Firm Double Negative the largest film-only special effects film (Inception, Iron Man 2) in the Europe says:
"It seems incredible that there is an absence of computer programming in schools and that the Mayor of London, our boroughs and schools all lack a strategic plan to address this. Pupils are currently turned off the subject because our education system teaches our children how to use software products, but not how to create them.”
“Being able to programme computers will be fundamental to the digital age, London won’t be a digital city for Londoners unless schools respond to this call and reform how they teach ICT and computer science. Firms currently source talent from overseas because of skills shortages at home. That is mainly a failing of our education system from schools through to universities and it needs to be urgently tackled if we are to remain globally competitive. This means more schools need to be taking up Computer Science at GCSE from September and support to train a new generation of Computer Science teachers.”
“The fragmented nature of London education means that each academy and each of the 32 boroughs will have a different approach or no approach at all. This can’t be right for skills so important to the economy of a world-city."
Next Gen Skills cites the example of devolution in Wales, which has allowed concerted action to be taken to create a strategy and an infrastructure to support change, with £3m announced this month to help teachers and schools skill up. London has no such strategy as education is fragmented across 32 London boroughs, and hundreds of new academies schools which do not have to follow the National Curriculum.
Following consultation with industry (January to June 2012), from September 2012 the Department for Education will allow schools to move away from the traditional Programme of Study for Information and Communication Technology, giving schools the ability to change what they teach and to innovate. This will allow curricula to be refreshed and make room for the fundamental principles of Computer Science to be taught in classrooms.
Next Gen Skills London Call-to-Action asks policy makers to agree with the following statement and principles and steps set out in our document (below):
“We recognise the fundamental importance of digital knowledge and skills to the economy and believe every child should learn the concepts and principles of Information Technology and Computer Science from primary school age onwards, and later to specialise in Computer Science if they wish. We believe that Computer Science should be recognised in schools as a rigorous, high-status school subject discipline, on a par with Maths, Physics, or History. Like the other sciences, it will have a practical as well as a conceptual aspect and should be taught alongside compatible subjects including Design & Technology and Art.”
And to agree pledges:
- For all pupils to be digitally literate before they leave school
- To support school leaders as they review how they teach digital literacy, IT and Computer Science in their schools
- To work with industry, professional bodies and universities and educators to set an ambitious target for Computer Science in schools
- To make sure pupils have the chance to learn not only formally (the school curriculum and qualifications) but also informally (e.g. after-school clubs and hack days or spaces)
- To secure the investment and financial support needed to kick-start the training and re-training of Computer Science teachers in schools
On 6 January 2012 the Mayor of London's spokesperson committed the Mayor to explore learning how to code, like New York Mayor Bloomberg, "if re-elected."
|Next Gen Skills Call to Action.pdf||1.37 MB|
|DfE Computing A-level entries by region.pdf||296.63 KB|
|CS and other A-levels by area.xls||206 KB|