Help keep ICT in our schools

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Photo of a child using a computer
Photo of me as a child using a BBC Micro

I’ve grown up in a society where computer literacy is just as important as knowing how to read and write. I can’t think of many jobs where some form of IT knowledge isn’t useful (or essential), and this is a time when the IT sector is crying out for more skilled workers.

I wouldn’t be in this industry if it weren’t for my ICT teachers. They were encouraging and inspiring, and the most hard-working people I know. They had everything stacked up against them; budget cuts, staff cuts and a massive workload, but they didn’t let that show in lessons. I’m very worried for their futures.

ICT being axed?

A few weeks ago I found out that, rather than being improved, ICT may be dropped from the statutory curriculum altogether, and I’ve been gathering as much information as I can about this. I’ve loitered in ICT teacher forums, written to the Shadow Education Secretary and read dozens of articles and white papers.

The Education Secretary, Michael Gove, is formally reviewing the National Curriculum. He wants to slim it down to focus on the “core subjects”.

Here is the list of subjects that he’s confirmed will remain a statutory part of the National Curriculum.

He doesn’t see ICT as a core subject so it is not on the list. Neither are the creative subjects such as art, music, design and technology. Provision will still be made to teach Religious Education, but there has been no mention of ICT.

Students giving up on ICT

The Royal Society wrote an article back in August called “Current ICT and Computer Science in schools – damaging to UK’s future economic prospects?“. In this, they they reported on the drop in the number of students taking ICT exams, and blamed the poor curriculum.

Numbers of students studying computing are plummeting across the UK, with a fall of 33% in just three years in ICT GCSE students, a fall of 33% in six years in A level ICT and 57% in eight years in A level Computing students in England and similar declines found elsewhere in the UK

— The Royal Society: Current ICT and Computer Science in schools – damaging to UK’s future economic prospects?

Training budgets cut

This comes at the same time as ITT budgets for 2011-2012 have been slashed for people training to be ICT teachers to £0 (from £9000). The amount of the budget per subject is determined by predicted demand and supply. Is this a sign that ICT teachers are no longer needed?

There’s a lot of confusion about the government’s plans and it all feels a bit sinister. This is a comment by a teacher on the TES forum asking what’s going on.

Is it my imagination or has the number of ICT jobs dried up all of a sudden? I counted 6 ICT jobs in today’s TES – a record low for this time of year? This was combined with a meeting today in which our Head of Department announced that GCSE ICT will not after all appear in this year’s options for year 9, although functional skills as an option is being offer – executive decision with which he doesn’t agree. Wow. That came from nowhere. That’s a lot of teacher-hours just gone splat.

TES ICT forum — ICT jobs: where have they gone?

The importance of ICT

I just can’t comprehend why Gove doesn’t consider ICT important enough to be a statutory part of the National Curriculum. Hasn’t he read all the reports by educational advisors?

NAACE considers ICT a baseline entitlement for all children. Let me say that again. Baseline entitlement.

The National Curriculum has established ICT as a subject in its own right in schools and has helped to provide a baseline entitlement for all children.

Summary of NAACE submission to the Rose review — PDF 40.7k

The Department for Education wrote a National Strategy for ICT that stressed the importance of teaching ICT, and recommended that schools provide time for “discrete ICT lessons” (standalone lessons rather that as part of another subject):

To ensure rigour and progression in the development of pupils’ ICT capability, schools need to provide time for discrete ICT lessons taught by specialist teachers of ICT.

Learning and Teaching in ICT — The National Strategies

Ofsted, the standards body that regulates schools, also wrote a report on the importance of ICT, and how teaching it is essential to the economy.

Schools must equip young people with the 21st century skills necessary to ensure their employability

Ofsted report on “The importance of ICT” based on a 4 year study of almost 200 secondary and primary schools in England on their performance in ICT

Why drop it?

This gives me the impression that Gove wants schools to drop ICT lessons in favour of integrating it into his core subjects. Perhaps this is because he knows that the current curriculum ICT is so poor that students are teaching the teachers, and the lessons are so boring that the number of students taking GCSE ICT has dropped year-on-year. Maybe it’s because teaching it as a standalone subject is expensive, so axing it would bring in some short-term cash, but to the immeasurable cost of the IT skills of thousands of students.

If Gove did decide to integrate ICT into his core subjects, this would result in an inferior level of education for students. Here are a few of my problems with this method (from my own experience) as opposed to teaching it a standalone subject:

The industry and the economy will pay the price

This comes at a time when growth in the IT industry is already being stifled. The computer games industry predicts a 10% growth over the next 4 years, but has been denied future tax-breaks, leading to many games publishers threatening to leave the UK and relocate to countries that are nurturing their sector.

The tax break proposed by the previous Labour government could have created 3,000 new jobs and £457m to spend on development, according to KPMG Scotland. The industry is also estimated to contribute £1bn to the UK’s GDP each year.

BBC News Budget news prompts game industry threat to leave UK

Europe is also facing massive shortages of skilled workers in the tech sector, so it makes sense to train students who can fill these deficits and contribute to the economy.

How you can help

Please don’t let them do this. Here are a few things you can do to keep ICT in our schools: