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Number of Computing Science A Levels acheived drops 60% since 2003

Teachers with lack of expertise a factor in decline

There has been a 60 percent decline in the number of British students achieving A Level Computing since 2003, says The Royal Society.

According to the UK's national academy of science, which published its Shut down or Restart? The way forward for Computing in UK schools report today, there's also been a 34 percent drop in the number of A Level ICT qualifications achieved along with a 57 percent decrease for GCSE ICT in the same period.

"Thirty years ago I helped to design the BBC Micro, the first computer created to educate and inspire children of the potential of Computer Science, yet today, when computers have become integral to every part of our lives, we see young people turned off by computing in schools," said Professor Steve Furber, Fellow of the Royal Society and Chair of the report.

Eric Schmidt, Executive Chairman at Google, added the UK has an extraordinary computing heritage, but now risks falling behind.

"The state of computing in schools lies at the heart of the problem. Most ICT teaching focuses on learning how to use software, rather than giving insight into how it's made. Too few UK students have the opportunity to study true computer science, resulting in a workforce that lacks key skills needed to help drive the UK's economic growth," he said.

The Royal Society also revealed just over a third (35 percent) of ICT teachers in England have a qualification considered by the Department for Education to be relevant compared to 74 percent of maths teachers, 69 percent of physics teachers, 73 percent of chemistry teachers and 88 percent of biology teachers.

The society believes the lack of specialist teachers who can teach beyond basic digital literacy and the breadth of interpretation of the current national curriculum which allows the subject to be taught at its lowest level were a factor in the decline in computing qualifications being achieved.

The report comes just days after Education Secretary Michael Gove proposed to scrap the existing ICT courses in school in favour of individually developed Computer Science courses.

"Although we were heartened to hear that Michael Gove intends to radically overhaul the National Curriculum programme, we remain concerned that other problems still need to be addressed," added Furber.

"The most significant factor affecting how well young people learn is the teacher in their classroom. The majority of teachers are specialists, but ICT is an exception to the rule. Our study found some fantastic examples of teaching, but the fact remains that the majority of teachers are not specialists and we heard from young people that they often knew more than the teacher giving the lesson. Action is needed not only on the curriculum itself, but also to recruit and train many more inspiring teachers to reinvigorate pupils' enthusiasm for Computing."

The Royal Society recommends targets are set for the numbers of Computer Science and Information Technology specialist teachers and that training bursaries are provided to attract more suitably qualified graduates. Furthermore, teachers' skills should be developed with a specified minimum level of continuing professional development (CPD) in order to ensure that schools can deliver a rigorous curriculum and engaging learning environment.


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