ICT victory for the coding campaigners

Teacher and teenage pupils in computer lab The current ICT curriculum is to be scrapped

Back from Las Vegas, I find that it has been a bumper week for technology news in the UK. Ofcom has revised the terms under which 4G mobile broadband will be rolled out, ensuring that 98% of the country will get coverage - though worries remain about how far the UK has fallen behind.

Virgin has doubled the speeds available to its broadband customers. And the US movie streaming giant Netflix has launched in the UK, providing new competition to Lovefilm.

But for me the biggest news I've missed has been of a significant victory for the campaign to improve the teaching of computing and technology in schools. The announcement that the current ICT curriculum is to be scrapped and teachers set free to use more creative methods comes after some brilliant and imaginative lobbying by a few dedicated individuals.

In his speech this week at BETT - the computing in schools fair - the Education Secretary Michael Gove appeared to accept in its entirety the argument that ICT had become little more than training in office skills and something far more rigorous was required.

The "programme of study" which teachers in English schools have had to follow in ICT would be scrapped and they would be free to use the "amazing resources that already exist on the web".

The focus now, said Mr Gove, would be on investing in the training of teachers rather than on buying expensive hardware that could soon be obsolete.

Start Quote

Michael Gove

Schools, teachers and industry leaders have all told us that the current curriculum is too off-putting, too demotivating, too dull”

End Quote Michael Gove

Now I've been getting a few messages from people suggesting that there really wasn't much to Mr Gove's speech - "never known so many words say so little" was one critic's view.

True, the government appears to be saying to schools "we've lost the plot when it comes to ICT, so please just go away and get on with it". But many independent-minded teachers will surely welcome that.

And let's not underestimate the success achieved in a short time by campaigners on an issue which could have been seen as a niche, geeky concern. So perhaps it is time to award some campaign medals:

Top of the list, Ian Livingstone and Alex Hope. Their Next Gen report on boosting skills for the games industry - described as "superb" by Michael Gove - made very few headlines when it was published last February. Back in October Ian Livingstone told me he wasn't even getting a hearing at the Department of Education. Now the report is seen as a new template for computing skills education. And while Alex Hope's slogan "coding is the new Latin" did not appeal to some, it must have appealed to the classicist in Michael Gove.

Then there's Eben Upton who came up with the Raspberry Pi project to make a very cheap computing device for schools, and games industry legend David Braben, who has done so much to promote the idea.

He came and showed me a prototype of the device last May, and the reaction to a short video we made showed how much untapped enthusiasm there was for some kind of successor to the BBC Micro. The Raspberry Pi - "a great example of the cutting edge of education technology happening right here in the UK", according to Michael Gove - is going into production right now.

But one campaigner who has been banging the drum for improved technology education for years - and putting her ideas into action - has received little recognition. Emma Mulqueeny is the energetic moving spirit behind Young Rewired State, which scours schools across the country for students with an appetite for coding, and brings them together for an annual hack day.

What is coding?

  • The set of instructions that computers rely on to complete tasks
  • Huge variety of programming languages, including C++, Visual Basic and Java
  • Many children interested in code begin with the languages behind simple games or animations

She is also behind the e-petition calling for coding to be part of the curriculum, and blogs, tweets and talks with an engaging passion about open data, open government and getting girls interested in technology.

On her blog she is generous enough to recognise that the Gove speech is a big step forward - and smart enough to realise that it is just the beginning, and big questions remain about funding, training and organisation.

"This stuff does not vanish in a well-intentioned speech," she writes. "Today was great, but it was not enough. "

So, congratulations to the coding campaigners. But Michael Gove should not expect them to retire from the fray - they will be on his case for years to come.

Rory Cellan-Jones Article written by Rory Cellan-Jones Rory Cellan-Jones Technology correspondent

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  • rate this

    Comment number 50.

    Whilst I think its a great idea to teach computing in high schools, I think that we shouldn't suddenly stop teaching the "boring" ict that is... we stopped encouraging youngsters to do manual jobs years ago and to go into offices.. now we have so few manual skilled workers we have to look outside, we lost that skill base. I think if we say just do this and not that we will loose another generation

  • rate this

    Comment number 49.

    I totally agree with Gove, this is a positive move, this has been missing in Schools for too long. I started teaching ICT in Schools at 22, after finishing my PGCE, I quit after two years, bored from teaching glorified word processing, now teaching at a London University. Schools have been using the subject to boost league table results, it and students deserve better! Well done Mr Gove!

  • rate this

    Comment number 48.

    #47 judged based on money spent per pupil, the UK is well out in front, but based on the survey a few years ago, in terms of performance we are falling rapidly.
    The emphasis should be on computer science, not ICT, and it does not require top end pcs/laptops to teach it well - Raspberry Pi is the way forward.

  • rate this

    Comment number 47.

    #46 I wouldn't strictly agree there. Our education system is excellent-ask those from overseas!. Yes I agree that constant interference from OFSTED & league tables does create constraints. I find it hypocritical that a government that has cut the 'Harnessing Technology' grants for schools suddenly decides that ICT is important! Cuts in funding may see ICT go backwards!

  • rate this

    Comment number 46.

    #44, all very well, except that the constant measuring of school performance means that schools are under pressure to push their students towards easy subjects to improve their exam results.
    Meanwhile the exam boards are competing for business by making their exams easier to pass.
    The end result is that UK education has been in a race to the bottom for over 20 years, under both parties.


Comments 5 of 50



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