I read (and listened) with interest today that more than half of secondary schools did not offer a Computer Science GCSE in 2015-2016. In fact, there appears to be an even bigger issue in Suffolk, with only 34% of schools offering the GCSE qualification (during 2015-16 Royal Society figures). Unfortunately, this does not surprise me. The abrupt switch from ICT to Computer Science qualifications did not consider staff training and the preparation of resources for teachers who in many cases had no background in Computer Science. The perception of many schools in the early stages was that the qualifications were so similar that the change could happen overnight and the departments across the country could continue to deliver high quality lessons.
The reality is that the two subjects are worlds apart. ICT focusses on proficient use of applications, building confidence in the use of computer systems, whereas Computer Science is focussed on creating new applications which is underpinned by a deeper understanding of how computers work, problem solving and programming. This has meant that many schools did not have the expertise to deliver these qualifications, professional development opportunities were limited and therefore schools have taken the decision not to offer the subject, which is obviously disappointing. As the Royal Society stated in their report released today (After the reboot: computing education in schools) ‘a majority of teachers are teaching an unfamiliar school subject without support. Governments must address a severe and growing shortage of computing teachers (only 68% of the its recruitment target has been met over the last five years).’
Although the number of entries continues to grow, nationally, only a disappointing 11% of all pupils take computer science (GOV.UK 2017). This compares to 26% of the current cohort at Ipswich High School who are currently studying Computer Science in Year 11. This, together with the introduction of the A Level Computer Science, puts Ipswich High School in a unique position in the local area. We have embraced this change and developed a Computing curriculum in our Senior School that demonstrates and prepares students for the rigors of Computer Science at GCSE, A Level and beyond.
By Andrew Gardner, Head of Computer Science