Crisis in Numbers Studying IT at GCSE – what’s the answer?

Analysis by e-skillsUK of GCSE results this year shows that the number of students taking all ICT courses has fallen for the seventh consecutive year to just 70,418.  And this figure is a decrease of 12.5% on last year alone.

The number of students studying ICT at GCSE has been declining dramatically year-on-year from a high of 261,970 in 2005.

This continuing decline should be of great concern to universities and employers – and to everyone interested in the future competitiveness and success of the UK.

We know that demand for skilled IT professionals continues to increase, yet we are as a society failing to inspire a generation of young people to  study technology or to take up technology careers.

Something must be done!

It is for this reason that e-skills UK announced a few weeks ago that our Behind the Screen programme will be available to all schools from September 2012.

Behind the Screen offers GCSE students IT projects to tackle with interactive online materials supported by full teachers’ notes. The projects have been developed in close consultation with a number of employers, including John Lewis, and are based on a variety of real-life business issues.

Our aim is that students learn computational thinking, develop technical skills, and gain creative, team working and entrepreneurial skills – all in a fun, interesting and interactive way.  After all, students these days are the most connected and IT-enabled generation ever.

Young people who play computer games can learn to create games.

Young people who use apps every day can design apps.

Young people who use social media to connect with their friends can use social media to connect with customers.

I am very excited by the potential of Behind the Screen – but with the rapid decline of students even considering studying IT at GCSE, we have no time to lose.

About paulcoby
I am CIO at the John Lewis Partnership in the UK. I was Chair of SITA - the airline solutions company owned by the Air Transport Community - for 11 years. I am also on the Boards of Clydesdale and Yorkshire Bank and Pets at Home. Previously I was Head of BA Services and for 10 years CIO at British Airways. I am interested in Roman and Military History. The views expressed are entirely my own not my employers.

10 Responses to Crisis in Numbers Studying IT at GCSE – what’s the answer?

  1. Gurdeep Rahi says:

    Agreed with your comments. It’s shame that may young kids in the UK do not see a career in IT. I remember doing CSE and O’level in computing in my school around 1976/77; they tought us programming from 1st principle and I have successful career in IT for the last 28 years. In other countries like India, millions of kids are getting 1st and 2nd degrees in IT in order to improve their career chances; the whole IT things has helped India lift itself economically. I am sure there are other countries improving their economic chances on the back of IT. I only whish they tought decent computing in schools in the UK; rather than teaching pupils how to use Powerpoint, why do not they teach programming skills, architectures, creativity etc.

    • paulcoby says:

      Gudeep, thanks for your comments. As you say we need to teach real computing in schools, not how to use spreadsheets, powerpoint or apps, which is quite a different thing. This is what the new e-skills UK GCSE launching next years is endeavouring to do.

  2. Pauline Jorgensen says:

    The question Paul is whether this matters, does IT GCSE have any serious IT content, when I last investigated when we were looking at secondary schools it was more about using spreadsheets and applications rather than real IT(designing and building applications, understanding how computers work etc), not sure if its changed though?

    • paulcoby says:

      Pauline, you are right that IT GCSE has been about using spreadsheets and powerpoint rather than “real IT”. This is what e-skills UK new IT GCSE, which we have termed “Behind the Screen” is endeavouring to redress. It requires real coding, real design of games, understanding of computers etc.

      • Pauline Jorgensen says:

        Thats good news, question is for employers and recruiters how do you differentiate it so that people have confidence in the qualification rather than having to pull out the syllabus and check?

      • paulcoby says:

        Pauline, that’s a good challenge for e-skillsUK. We need to get it out there and we need employers to understand what that it is different.

      • Pauline Jorgensen says:

        With my new hat on as far as recruitment is concerned will be interested to see how it pans out.

  3. Nick Parker says:


    As a father whose son has just got his GCSE results I have to agree with the comments above. We were advised by his school that he should not take the ICT GCSE due to it being “to simple” and “not stretching” ie just learning Microsoft app’s. However, we were advised that he should do Computing in stead. He has thoroughly enjoyed this due in a large part to an excellent teacher who has a great knowledge. And this is the crux of the problem in my view. The only reason the school were able to offer this course was because they had a suitably skilled teacher. Not all schools will have a teacher capable of taking a Computing course, especially to A level. So the kids love computing and there are some great initiatives such as the one you describe. But the government needs to do more to get good IT professional teachers into schools as a priority.

    So my son and several of his friends are now doing a Computing A level and I hope some of them go on to take degree’s in computing or a related topic. I can vouch from personal experience that if they do firms across the country will be crying out for thier skills.

  4. Gurdeep Rahi says:

    I think they need to improve the image of the IT career; many kids, at least mine (:-) do not see it as a worthy career even though lot of people in IT, on average get paid well. IT organisations such as British Computer Society are promoting professionalism with IT; others like IET are linking it with engineering. Schools need to do more in raising awareness of IT professionalism and create engineering mindset so that kids see it as a worthy career.

  5. Dave Barker says:


    I can only echo what Nick said. My son took the ICT GCSE and it amounted to little more than a crash course in Mircosoft Office and learning the background to some industry buzzwords. I don’t think the drop off in students taking ICT as a GCSE is down to young people being reluctant to consider computing as a career, it is more down an off-putting syllabus.

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