This year has seen some major announcements that have shaken, and occasionally angered, academics and the education community.
Education secretary Michael Gove announced in January that GCSE ICT was to be scrapped. His plans have been widely criticised for leaving the education sector without a clear direction for IT as a subject.
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One body to air their concerns was the Corporate IT Forum Education and Skills Commission, which condemned the move. The organisation said it was disappointed that the government had not listened to its concerns about withdrawing the ICT curriculum from schools before the new programme is introduced.
Concerns were expressed by IT professionals and teachers over the government’s decision to remove ICT from the school curriculum for two years, while a new computer science curriculum is devised. During the Reviewing the ICT Curriculum seminar, part of the Westminster Education Forum National Curriculum, academics shared their opinions and ideas for the new curriculum, which will be introduced in 2014. At the Westminster Education Forum, David Brown, HMI and national advisor for ICT at Ofsted, said something had to be done because it was not certain what would be introduced in 2014.
The British Computing Society (BCS) revealed the first draft of the reformed ICT curriculum earlier this year. The draft was made available on the BCS website and was unveiled to enable the BCS and the Royal Academy of Engineering (RAEng) to ask for feedback from the education community. The document was requested by the Department for Education (DfE), which instructed the BCS and RAEng to work with several school teachers, and representatives from education bodies to coordinate the draft.
The summer saw interesting exam results from both A-Levels and GSCEs. The number of students studying technology-based subjects at A-level took a sharp drop, as the number of computing and ICT exams fell in 2012. The results from the Joint Council for Qualifications revealed a near 10% decrease in students sitting the ICT exam for 2012. This year, 872 fewer students opted to take the ICT exam, making the 2012 total number 11,060, compared with last year's figure of 11,960.
Despite the dip in A-Level ICT, students’ interest finally appeared to be growing elsewhere – with an increase of nearly 13% of students opting to take the exam at GCSE this year. The number of students taking ICT at GCSE level increased in 2012, despite a decline in top grades for the subject and an overall decline in GCSE results for the first time in 24 years. An estimated 658,000 16-year-olds across the UK received their results this June. Of those, 53,197 took the ICT exam – an increase of 12.8% on last year’s 47,128.
The GCSE results came at a time when Michael Gove was considering reforms which would end GCSEs and bring back a tougher, O-level-style exam. Students are expected to sit the first O-level exams in 2016.
A dispute flourished due to pressures from exam regulator Ofqual, as harsher grading was used for this year’s GCSE results as a way to curb ‘grade inflation’ following criticism over some subjects' past papers. A WJEC ICT paper from 2011 showed questions such as: “Give one feature of the desktop publishing software which could be used to check for spelling mistakes” and “Give a reason why bank cards have a PIN number.”
A hot debate this year has been around the notion of not going to university because of rising fees. Due to more companies offering apprenticeship alternatives, 2012 has seen technology students questioning the value for money they get from university as tuition fees in England and Wales continue to rise.
The OnePoll Digital Campus report, commissioned by Adobe, revealed 89% of students starting courses this year believe they are entitled to "a better university experience".
Of those students already in higher education, three-quarters said their universities fail to make good use of technology within both seminars and lectures. Lecturers seem to be aware of the views of their students, and therefore 84% of the 51 lecturers surveyed said they felt under pressure to implement the use of more technology within their classes.
The European Commission (EC) drew attention to the fact that European school leavers and graduates are lacking in basic IT and digital skills. According to research from the EC, there will be 700,000 school leavers and graduates without IT and digital skills by 2015.
The research also revealed that jobs for highly-qualified people will rise by 16 million by 2020, but low-skilled workers will see a decline in available vacancies by an estimated 12 million. The figures for this year, showed that 24 million people are currently out of work in Europe, with more than 50% of young people unemployed in Spain and Greece.
Several employers expressed their concerns over a lack of candidates that have the necessary skills they require, however not many employers chose to step up and tell universities exactly what it is they need.
A report called Higher Education in science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) subjects, from the House of Lords Science Technology Committee raised the question of how industry and academia can work more closely to ensure STEM graduates and postgraduates have the appropriate skills to take into the workplace. The report, revealed during a briefing at the Science Media Centre, made several recommendations to ensure the UK is well placed to achieve the ambitions of the government’s Plan for Growth, a 2011 government report which stated: “Our economy needs to become more dynamic and retooled for a high-tech future, if we are going to create the jobs and prosperity we need.”
Throughout this year demand for technical skills increased but the recruitment of technicians failed to keep pace, according to research by the Technical Council. UK politicians suggested that this gap could be closed by recreating the romance that once surrounded UK engineering and innovation. In light of this, the Technician Council unveiled a new framework for employers, skills councils and professional bodies. An 18-month review, by the Technician Council had previously revealed a gap between the number of technicians in the UK and the 450,000 higher skilled jobs that will apparently be available by 2020.
An event that we cannot forget to mention was the London Olympics 2012. The games provided a platform for many tech companies to promote technology as a viable career choice for students. One of those companies was Cisco, which launched a full campaign around leaving a "legacy" in East London, well after the games had finished. Part of this campaign included the firm’s Out of the Blocks initiative, which was aimed at providing UK state secondary school students with free Key Stage 4 (KS4) maths and science materials.
More than 4,000 schools across the country received free activity books, a welcome pack and resources. The educational material was part of the networking supplier’s Cisco Maths and Science Series 2012 package, which was designed and inspired by the London 2012 Olympics and Paralympics.
For those that had already left education and entered into the world of technology, the year saw some changes for them too. Some IT professionals expressed that they were feeling unsatisfied with new responsibilities being added to their job roles, in 2012, but overall most said they are feeling more secure in their jobs, according to a survey conducted by Computer Weekly/TechTarget.
Questioning 600 UK IT pros, the CIO/IT Strategy Media Group IT salary and career survey revealed how more IT managers are having to take on new aspects of their jobs including 42% who said they now have to factor in coordinating the integration of IT into the business and 35% said they had to take on new information management skills. Other new responsibilities included training or developing staff; understanding the economic impact of IT on the business and managing a shared services environment.