Kay Sawbridge, who I interviewed in December 2015 (An interview concerning the scrapping of ICT) has carried out a survey about the number of schools offering vocational courses in ICT, what percentage of girls take the subject and related matters. Over 300 teachers responded, and the results are very interesting. Kay has written an article about it, and her results have been uploaded to the ICT & Computing in Education website (see below), so I’ll say no more about it here. Read her article below, and find out what you could do to help to try to get the Government to rethink its position on replacing ICT with Computing, given that the skills covered and the kind of students each attracts are completely different. We need both. If you don't understand all of the terms used, please see the glossary at the end of the article.
So the English Government are concerned enough about digital skills (or lack of them) to have launched a Select Committee Inquirylast December (2015). They are concerned that the UK economy is suffering as we do not have the skills to compete in the ever increasing digital world.
Well I too am concerned, very concerned. Unfortunately, the government seem hell bent on widening the digital skills gap – the removal of ICT (Information and Communication Technology) at GCSE and A level* being a prime example.
In a recent survey I undertook, 363 teachers told me what the future of ICT looks like in their schools. The results are scary to say the least:
· Over 46% of schools will not offer any ICT option at key stage 4
· Over 64% of schools will not offer any ICT option at key stage 5
· Over 27% of schools will not continue to teach ICT and Digital Literacy to key stage 3 students
· The uptake for Computing GCSE by girls in the majority of schools is under 10%. This drops to 5% for A level Computing.
For the full survey results, go here for a downloadable pdf: ICT Survey.
When questioned about the need to elevate digital skills to the same importance as literacy and numeracy at the digital skills inquiry committee meeting, Nick Gibb, the Schools Minister for England, cited this need as the reason for replacing ICT with Computing:
“This is one of the reasons we took the decision in 2012 to disapply the old ICT curriculum and replace it with Computing throughout all 4 key stages”.
Later on he went on to say that he wanted the UK to keep pace with the best of other countries in digital skills and
“In the end we took the decision that we would only have one qualification in this area because we didn’t want people not to be taking the computer curriculum, the Computer Science GCSE. We want as many of our young people to be taking that as possible. Given that we are teaching this (ICT) from the age of 5 right through to 16 regardless of whether you take the Computer Science GCSE or not, that’s 11/12 years involved in this subject. So the skills we want our school leavers to have should have been acquired in those years”.
This makes me so angry; what the Department for Education (DFE) seem to have done is got rid of an extremely popular and useful qualification in order to make Computer Science more successful. Is this so they won’t end up with egg all over their face after investing £4.3 million in the new qualification? Do they just expect all students who would have opted for ICT at GCSE to now take Computing, therefore making it just as successful as ICT?
Well listen out, Nick Gibb and Nicky Morgan, this just won’t happen. Why not? Because, as you so dismally fail to recognise, ICT and Computing are totally different qualifications. There is no overlap (unlike many qualifications that survived the cull; Geography and Geology, History and Ancient History, Media Studies and Film Studies …. there are many more on the list: see my list of approved qualifications on this page: Free Resources).
ICT offers students essential skills for life after school. The new Computer Science qualification has a strong technical focus, teaching skills in:
· Algorithms, Decomposition and Abstraction
· Computer Programming including binary, logic tables and pseudo-code
· Emerging trends in computing technologies and the impact of computing on individuals, society and the environment
All good skills, but where is the overlap with ICT, where are the skills that industry is crying out for such as website design, digital marketing etc?
I am extremely worried that as from 2018 we will not be teaching our future workforce and entrepreneurs the digital skills which are needed to live, study and work in their life after school. Universities expect incoming students to have a certain standard of digital skills, employers expect employees to have good digital skills and be proficient in the use of software packages. How will removing these essential skills from future generations help us compete with other countries? How will this decision effect the UK economy when our workforce does not have skills that employers desire? Will companies start looking further afield for employees?
I am not alone in my concerns; other teachers, parents, students and businesses have all voiced the same concerns. Why won’t the DFE listen? Are they so arrogant as to assume that they know best? I have asked them to answer this question through numerous emails, they have replied with unsatisfactory answers that never actually address the questions asked. Under the Freedom of Information Act I asked for copies of the minutes of meetings where this decision was discussed and copies of the redrafted ICT specs that were submitted.
All were refused.
It is important that the DFE understand that ICT is already being dropped completely as a subject by many schools as they are reluctant to offer vocational subjects. Also that they realise that Computing and ICT are very different subjects and offer totally different skills. There is no overlap in content. Computing is a niche subject and will be useful to some students in future life whereas ICT skills will be useful to all students in future life.
My next step is to bombard MPs with the results of the survey and to publicise this issue wherever I can.
Please do the same.
All I am asking is that Nick Gibb and Nicky Morgan give us the opportunity to redevelop the qualification. Let teaching staff from schools and universities alongside industry get together to look at what skills would be beneficial in our digital age and come up with an alternative which would help bridge the digital skills gap that the government is so concerned about.
GCSE: General Certificate of Education, the examination that students take at age 16, generally speaking.
A Level: Advanced Level, the examination that students take at 18, and the grades in which are important for getting into university or getting a job.
Key Stages: blocks of years for curriculum purposes, as explained here. Key Stage 5 is not included in that article, but it refers to the age range 16 to 18.
Nick Gibb: The Schools Minister in England.
Nicola Morgan: The Secretary of State for Education in England, and therefore Nick Gibb's boss.
About Kay Sawbridge
Kay Sawbridge is Faculty Leader of Computing and ICT in a secondary school.
This article first appeared in Digital Education, the free newsletter for all those with a professional interest in educational ICT and Computing. To subscribe, click on the button below and then fill in the form.