On the 14th November, the Association for School and College Leaders and Microsoft co-hosted the first Importance of Computer Science in the Curriculum Conference in the Microsoft London offices. The aim of the day was to convey the necessity of students learning computer science at school. and provide hands-on advice for schools needing to implement computer science in the curriculum and empower students to skill themselves for the future.
Why is it important for Computer Science to be taught in schools?
With the technology industry growing at a rate of 5.7%, faster than any other sector in the UK, and with 100,000 jobs unfilled, there are fantastic opportunities for UK students to embrace prosperous careers in IT. What's more, almost every industry in the UK requires IT skills, some more advanced than others, due to the global adoption of internet, web sites, apps and IT programs in business.
However, the industry needs young people who are correctly skilled and, the UK is currently only producing 7,500 Computer Science graduates a year, compared to over 300,000 in India or China, and even closer to home, 40,000 a year in Poland.
These figures highlight the reality today, that the IT industry are being forced to look to students from overseas to fill positions which British graduates are unqualified to fill.
Recognising the importance of Computer Science for the economic future of the UK, the DfE has changed its policy and included Computer Science within the national curriculum from 2014. It’s the first new subject to be added to the curriculum for some while and schools face quite a challenge in organising the timetable and up-skilling their teachers in time.
It is more important than ever for teachers at schools to be able to teach computer science from Primary level, to equip students with basic skills to be able to advance to university degrees or apprenticeships and seize the opportunities available to them, whilst help boost the UK's economy and global competition.
Key Note Speakers
Liz Truss speaking to head teachers at the Importance of Computer Science in the Curriculum Conference
The day began with a keynote speech from MP Liz Truss, Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State in the Department for Education and other sessions were led by Simon Peyton Jones, Chair of the Computing at School Group (CAS), Derrick McCourt, the Director of Public Sector at Microsoft and Andy Sievewright, Head Teacher of Acton High School.
Liz Truss spoke about the necessity for students to have Computer Science skills to be able to contribute to industry in the UK, and shared what the Department of Education are going to do, long-term to support educators and establishments to be able to deliver the course work to students. This includes grants and other long term plans to help equip more teachers with appropriate specialist knowledge.
Simon Peyton Jones focused on the fact that up until now, the curriculum at school has been too focused on how to use IT as opposed to Computer Science as a discipline. He brought to light the fact that Computer Science can no longer be regarded as a 'geek's game' but is today a fundamental science, requiring as much respect and significance as the other sciences; Biology, Physics and Chemistry.
Andy Sievewright, whose school has been very advanced in their implementation of Computer Science at school, gave a fascinating insight into how the students at his school have benefitted from their skills, illustrating with an inspirational anecdote one of his students whose entrepreneurial accomplishments have made millions through an online app he created. Andy went on to talk about how technology, Education programs and Computer Science courseware have helped his school recruit 6th formers.
Derrick McCourt finally ended the day talking from an industry perspective, of how desperately computer science skills are now demanded by employers in their employees. He spoke about the heavy investment Microsoft is making to provide students and teachers with educational technology programmes to help implement Computer Science courseware into the curriculum, provide help for teachers to teach it, and give students free programs and tools to learn and create, from Primary through to Higher Education.
The speeches were interspersed with workshops for the 100 head teachers present, who were given practical advice and tools from industry experts, to help equip their teachers for the challenges in teaching computer science at school and tried their own hand at building a 3D game with the Kodu Game Lab!
During the exhibition, Microsoft demonstrated Kodu, DreamSpark and the IT Academy, which gave the heads a real insight into how Microsoft technology can support the implementation of computer science into classes, and inspire and empower students to immerse themselves into computer science, outside the classroom too.
Wendy Devolder, CEO of software Skills Matter which supports over 35,000 software professionals to learn and share skills, has recently released an article sharing the help available to schools and the various concrete steps every secondary ICT/computing teacher can take to help them feel better prepared for the changes in September 2014.
Join Computing at School (CAS) – it is a free, 7,000-strong supportive community of teachers and professionals focused on supporting the new computing curriculum.
Sign your school up to the CAS/BCS Academy Network of Excellence. Membership is open to all schools and means that you will be connected to your local CAS master teacher and CAS regional co-ordinator.
Join your local CAS Computing Hub. There are more than 70 hubs around the country enabling teachers to meet each other and share ideas. Most hubs meet every term.
Start a Code Club. This is a nationwide network of volunteer-led after-school coding clubs for children aged nine to 11.