BBC News

Computer science teachers offered cash incentive

By Judith Burns
Education reporter, BBC News

image captionFifty scholarships will be offered to attract top graduates into teaching computer science

High-flying graduates are to be given a £20,000 golden handshake to train as computer science teachers.

Ministers have asked Facebook, Microsoft and IBM to help design the training for the new teachers.

Education Secretary Michael Gove said current information and communications technology (ICT) teacher training courses would be axed from next year.

The move "could not be more welcome or more necessary", said Prof Steve Furber of the Royal Society.

Major changes to the teaching of computing in English schools are already in the pipeline. Mr Gove announced plans to scrap the existing schools ICT curriculum back in January, calling it "demotivating and dull" with pupils learning little more than basic digital literacy skills such as word processing.

At the time he called instead for pupils to learn computer coding so that they could produce simple animations or their own smartphone apps.

A recent report by the Royal Society also found that computer education in English schools was "highly unsatisfactory" and highlighted a shortage of teachers capable of teaching computer science with only 35% of England's ICT teachers being subject specialists.

About 50 scholarships will be handed out in the first year and up to 500 existing ICT teachers will also be retrained to teach computer science.

Students who graduate from university with at least a 2:1 degree will be eligible for a £20,000 scholarship to train on one of the new courses, which have been set up with leading industry experts.

To qualify the candidates will need a good understanding of computer science concepts such as algorithms, logic, data networks and the internet, according to the Department for Education.

'More needed'

Prof Furber told BBC News: "Computer science was a backwater in many schools... but this is an extremely clear signal that the government is taking the problem seriously, that even in times of austerity they have heard the message and are sorting things out."

Prof Furber said the number of new computer science teachers was small and would go only part of the way to solving the problem. Ideally, he said, he would like to see one or two computer science teachers in each of England's 4,200 secondary schools.

He said existing ICT teachers "would need lots of help" to become adept in computer science, but added: "Of course there are already some excellent teachers out there doing all the right things. We are not starting from zero."

Mr Gove indicated that computer science could be added to the English Baccalaureate (EBacc) list of key academic subjects that teenagers are encouraged to study at GCSE. He said: "Computer science is not just a rigorous, fascinating and intellectually challenging subject. It is also vital to our success in the global race.

"If we want our country to produce the next Sir Tim Berners-Lee, creator of the internet, we need the very best computer science teachers in our classrooms. They need to have the right skills and deep subject knowledge to help their pupils."

Mr Gove was referring to the concept of a global system that would allow researchers anywhere to share information which was first proposed by Sir Tim while he was working at the Cern particle physics laboratory in Geneva in the 1980s. Sir Tim later named it the World Wide Web.

Labour questioned how effective the changes would be. Stephen Twigg MP, the shadow education secretary, said: "Michael Gove has developed an analogue curriculum in a digital age. His outdated EBacc places no value on subjects such as computing.

"If we are to remain competitive, we need to instigate a computer science revolution, starting with getting primary school children to learn coding."

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