Poor computing education widening UK skills gap

Poor computing education widening UK skills gap
Craig Chapple

By Craig Chapple

January 29th 2013 at 3:45PM

Just 3,420 A-Level students take up computing during 2011/12; Only 376 in London

The low take-up of computing in UK schools is hurting growth in UK tech industries, a new report from Next Gen Skills has claimed.

The report highlighted statistics from the Department of Education that showed just 3,420 A-Level students had taken up computing during 2011/2012, down from a high of 12,529 in 1998.

Of those who entered, only 376 students enrolled in computing A-levels in London.

Six central London boroughs such as Westminster, Camden, Islington, Hackney, Tower Hamlets and Southwark meanwhile only had 33 A-level students in computing, despite being identified by the Greater London Authority as having the highest concentration of tech in Europe.

In response to the statistics, industry luminary and Next Gen Skills co-chair Ian Livingstone said that English schools were “failing to produce students in enough numbers to fill the needs of hi tech and creative businesses”.

In an effort to shorten the widening skills gap in computing, Education Secretary Michael Gove announced last January that computer science would be replacing ICT.

The Next Gen Skills report says that all major examining bodies had now developed new computer science GCSEs, and that the Department for Education was also considering whether computer science would be included as a science in the English Baccalaureate system.

It also noticed a rise in informal learning through development events such as Raspberry Pi hack days, which have helped encourage more young people to get into programming.

Google also today pledged to donate 15,000 Raspberry Pi computers to schools in the UK as part of an initiative to stimulate a new generation of computer scientists.

The report warned however that schools currently lacked enough qualified teachers for computer science, and even enough to teach ICT as it stands, with just 29 per cent judged by the Department of Education to be qualified to teach ICT in inner London, and 45 per cent in outer London.

There is also still a huge gender divide, with only seven per cent – 255 – of computing A-Level students being female during 2011/12.

“The statistics show the sheer scale of the challenge in front of us to get programming back in schools,” said Next Gen Skills c-chair Ian Livingstone.

“Whether it’s making games, fighting cyber-crime or designing the next jet propulsion engine, computer science is at the heart of everything in the digital world. Government changes to ICT in schools are welcome. The next step will be to have Computer Science on the new E-Bacc to further inspire a new generation of computer programmers.”