Calls for IT qualification to be saved as computing take-up stalls

A key group behind the government’s computing reforms has urged ministers to reinstate a “reformed” IT GCSE after new figures revealed computer science entries have “stagnated”.

Figures published last week by Ofqual showed entries into the computer science GCSE, introduced in 2014, rose from 61,220 in 2016, to 67,800 this year.

The British Computing Society (BCS), key architects in designing the new computing curriculum, said the figures are “deeply worrying”, as numbers should still be growing “very rapidly”.

Bill Mitchell, director of education at the BCS, has now called on the government to U-turn on its plans to scrap the ICT qualification from the next academic year as planned.

Instead ministers should deliver a reformed “information technology” GCSE, which will be less intimidating to those pupils who do not wish to focus on coding and programming, he said.

READ MORE: ICT qualifications still in chaos due to delays

But critics have questioned the “gall” of the plea from the British Computing Society (BCS) – who they hold responsible for leading the government into promoting computing in the first place.

Critics have also pointed to the £3 million government funding handed to BCS to train 400 ‘Master Teachers’ in computing by March last year.

However only 350 have actually been trained – reaching into approximately 18 per cent of schools.

Mike Cameron, a school governor and former teacher, tweeted that the BCS were responsible for “fixing” what they had “broken”, saying they had a “gall” to raise the alarm over computer science now.

His words were echoed by Bob Harrison, chair of the original advisory group to the Department for Education (DfE) on computing in 2013, who added that the money given to the BCS had “not done its job”.

Mitchell said the BCS was “confident” the number of master teachers would hit 450 by next spring.

He also said the group had always argued for an “improved” IT qualification, having submitted a suggested course to the DfE in 2015, but had been rejected on the grounds that it “overlapped” with the new computer science GCSE.

Last week’s figures also showed the combined number of year 11 entries into both computer science and the soon-to-be scrapped ICT dropped, with 126,400 being entered for both this year, compared to 131,000 last year. This is despite an overall 3 per cent increase in exam entries.

The drop is largely due to fewer pupils entering the ICT GCSE, with a fall from 69,780 entries last year to 58,000 this year. Computer science failed to pick up enough pupils to cancel out the drop.

Currently, computer science is a non-compulsory fourth “science” in the EBacc, and ICT is not in the EBacc.

Mitchell said pupils should be required to take either computer science or an improved IT qualification, but rather than £1 million a year funding, it would cost around £80 million over the next five years to implement such a policy.

However Rose Luckin, professor of computing education at UCL Institute of Education, told Schools Week that having two qualifications risked one being seen as superior.

Instead, there should be one broad, compulsory computing qualification, she said, which included artificial intelligence, with more advanced computing study focused on engineering and coding as additional GCSE options.

A DfE spokesperson said it wanted to “raise participation” in STEM subjects to ensure a strong future economy, which was why the new computer science GCSE included coding, data storage, networking and cyber security.

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