The government is to scrap the teaching of the GCSE ICT curriculum in schools this September, with plans to replace the subject with the “rigorous” teaching of computer science and programming subjects.
Speaking at the education trade show BETT, education secretary Michael Gove said the current ICT curriculum is too off-putting, demotivating and dull.
In particular the current curriculum does not prepare students to work at the forefront of technological change, he said. Gove cited a lack of IT skills as one reason the video games industry in the UK has complained of a recent slump. Many people in the IT sector have commented in the past that the curriculum is not fit for purpose and responsible for a slump in IT students at all levels of education.
“Technology in schools no longer needs to be micro-managed. By withdrawing [ICT] we are now giving schools and teachers [the choice] of what and how to teach. It’s important to stress that the study of ICT will remain compulsory at all key stages. But no school will be forced to follow [the old ICT curriculum] anymore. Schools can use the amazing resources available on the web,” said Gove.
The minister said that if a new computer science GCSE could be developed to meet the right standards then the government would consider re-including it as a study option.
Gove said the answer did not lie in spending huge sums on hardware, which quickly becomes obsolete, or drawing up a meticulous curriculum that would become irrelevant in such a rapidly changing field.
“When it comes to thinking about how government spends money centrally, it should not be on hardware and procurement, but of the training of individuals. It is vital teachers can feel confident using technology, can adapt to new technology and keep up-to-date with children who are digital natives. We will be working with training and development agencies to look at teacher training courses,” he said.
Gove added that in the cash-strapped education sector he hoped schools would not neglect making shrewd investments in technology.
David Willmot, head of faculty at Blackfen School for Girls, agreed with Gove’s diagnosis of the ICT curriculum: “It has been boring and repetitious for so long, having mainly just been centred around a suite of Microsoft products. It’s driven me mad, quite frankly.”
However, he said the decision to scrap the subjects entirely could undermine its value for students that have already taken ICT courses. “To be honest the timing of it isn’t great for students currently working towards these qualifications, it will be quite demotivating for them,” he said.
Martin Palfrey, ICT teacher at Prospect School in Reading, said the announcement was a positive move. However, he said there was an issue as to whether all teachers were able to provide these skills. “I think there’s also an issue of skills shortages among teachers,” he added.
Technology industry bodies the BCS and Intellect both welcomed the announcement. Richard Hadfield, chair of Intellect’s education group, said, “The announcement today is a vital first step to ensure continued growth and competitiveness in the UK. We will continue to push for schools to build students skills’ through embedding tech into teaching of all other subjects.”