The Royal Society, the UK’s independent scientific academy, is urging the Government to increase its investment in computer education tenfold to £60m over the next five years and train up to 8,000 secondary school computing teachers, amid claims that a dearth of expertise “paints a bleak picture” of the state of education in the UK today.
The calls follow a report from the Royal Society – supported by Microsoft and Google – which reveals that more than half of England’s secondary schools, 54%, did not offer GCSE computer science in 2015-16.
It urged the government to increase spending on computer education tenfold over the next five years to ensure youngsters can “unlock the full potential of new technologies”.
Professor Steve Furber, who worked on the report, said: “Computing teachers have told us that they feel the Government rushed in a new curriculum without giving them the support or money to deliver it.
“The report paints a bleak picture in England, which meets only 68% of its computing teacher recruitment targets and where, as a result, one in two schools don’t offer computer science at GCSE, a crucial stage of young people’s education.”
He added that, “overhauling our computing education” would require an ambitious, multipronged approach.
Talking on BBC Breakfast, Professor Furber said: “The state of computer science teaching is fragile and patchy. Some schools are doing well but half aren’t even offering computer science at GCSE. The problem is that the new curriculum contains challenging content and the teachers have not received enough training.”
In response, The Department for Education said: “We want to ensure our future workforce has the skills we need to drive the future productivity and economy of this country and that is why the government made computing a compulsory part of the national curriculum. Computer science GCSE entries continue to rise more quickly than any other subject.”
However, according to official figures released in the summer, 66,751 students took the computing GCSE in 2017, just 4,297 more than in the previous year. The number of male students rose from 49,926 in 2016 to 53,519 this year, while the number of females taking the subject rose from 12,528 last year to 13,232 in 2017.
Meanwhile 41% of A level entries were in STEM subjects – qualifications which are seen as vital to tackle to looming tech and data skills shortage – but this was only up slightly from 39% in 2015 and 40% in 2016. But for girls, the figure remains static at 35%. This had led to claims that the Government’s drive is only scratching the surface.
Nevertheless, the DoE countered: “Since 2012, the department has pledged £5m to the Network of Teaching Excellence in Computer Science programme, which has built a national network of nearly 400 computer science specialists (who) schools can commission to provide bespoke training for their teachers.”
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