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More than half of schools do not offer computer science GCSE, says Royal Society

The Royal Society calls for more investment in computing education after finding many schools in England still do not offer a computer science GCSE

More than half of schools in England do not offer students a computer science GCSE, according to a report by the Royal Society.

The study has found 54% of schools in England do not offer a computer science GCSE and, based on the results, the Royal Society believes a £60m investment in computing education is needed over the next five years to ensure young people are learning necessary skills.

If the government invested the suggested £60m into computing education, this would represent a 10x increase in the amount of funding in computing education.

Without the funding, students will not learn skills surrounding new and emerging technologies such as artificial intelligence (AI), robotics and machine learning, according to the Royal Society.

Fellow for the Royal Society, Steve Furber, said the rate of technology change means all jobs in the future will require digital skills, and those working in tech in the future will be in roles not yet created – making it important to teach digital skills to help young people adapt once they make it to the workplace.

But teachers have admitted to feeling ill-equipped to deliver the computing curriculum, and many believe they have not received the support needed to teach the subject.

The Royal Society discovered that England only met 68% of its target for recruiting computing teachers into entry-level training courses over the past five years. In Scotland, the number of computer science teachers fell by a quarter in the past 10 years.

“For pupils to thrive, we need knowledgeable, highly skilled teachers. However, 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,” said Furber.

More support needed for teachers

Those who are delivering the computing curriculum are not always confident in their ability to teach some of the new aspects of the curriculum, with some teachers saying they feel most confident teaching parts of the curriculum left over from previously taught ICT courses. Almost half (44%) said they are more confident teaching some of the earlier stages of the curriculum.

More support needs to be made available to teachers, not only to deliver the computer science curriculum, but also to encourage more children into science, technology, engineering and maths (Stem) based careers.

“We need the government to invest significantly more to support and train 8,000 secondary school computing teachers to ensure pupils have the skills and knowledge needed for the future,”  said Furber.

The computing curriculum was introduced by the government in 2014 in an attempt to teach students the digital skills that will be needed now and in the future.

However, 30% of students at GCSE level in England attend a school that does not offer computer science GCSEs, meaning the equivalent of 175,000 pupils a year will not be able to take the subject.

Out of those who do have the opportunity to take the computer science GCSE, only 11% of all of the 588,000 students taking Key Stage 4 subjects chose to take a computer science GCSE.

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Though there was a small increase in the number of pupils who chose to take the computing GCSE in 2017, the increase is smaller than in previous years.

There is still a lack of girls choosing computer science GCSEs – only 20% of candidates in the past year were female, and only 10% of female students chose to carry the subject on at A-Level.

Asian students were found to be more likely to choose GCSE computer science, with 12.7% of Chinese pupils and 7.5% Asian students choosing the subject, as opposed to 5.5% of Caucasian students and 4.1% of black students, according to the report.

BCS, the Chartered Institute for IT, said more needs to be done to drive digital skills to help boost the UK economy in the future.

“The government took the incredibly forward-thinking step of introducing computing to the curriculum over three years ago and since many schools have made incredible progress.  However, the job is far from done,” added Bill Mitchell, the professional body’s director of education.

A lack of digital skills is also currently costing the UK economy £63bn a year. Mitchell labelled the results of the Royal Society’s report “worrying”, and the BCS urged more should be done to decrease the gender gap in computing qualifications uptake, as well as train and support more teachers to deliver the curriculum confidently.

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