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.

e-skills UK’s Behind the Screen to be available to all secondary schools from September

I now know that I am definitely a real techie, since not only am I very excited today about Team GB’s brilliant  medals at the Olympics,  I am also very excited about e-skills UK’s announcement today that our innovative “Behind the Screen” programme (which creates  materials for teaching Key Stage 4 IT), will now be available to all secondary schools from the start of the next academic year.
I think this will open fantastic career opportunities to a new generation of school students in IT, by showing them what an exciting, fun and worthwhile discipline technology is.
Here is the announcement today from e-skills UK.  Some useful inks to the “Behiind the Scenes” web site are below.
The programme aims to give young people a rigorous grounding in the science and technology that underpin computing, has been in pilot since February 2012, and was originally scheduled for roll out in 2013. However, the excellent feedback from pilot schools, combined with the recent announcements about the future of IT in schools, have encouraged e-skills UK to bring the launch forward.
“The Education Secretary’s announcement about the disapplication of the IT curriculum gives schools a fantastic opportunity.” explains Sue Nieland of e-skills UK. “Schools continue to have enthusiastic cohorts of young people wanting to study IT, and a new freedom to adopt programmes which will challenge, engage and enthuse them.”
The Behind the Screen website offers a series of projects, presented as interactive online materials, and supported by full teachers’ notes. The projects – three now live, with more in the pipeline – are developed in close consultation with employers, and are based on real life business issues. 
Working through them, students will understand computational thinking, develop high level technical proficiency, and gain creative, team working and entrepreneurial skills.
Fully mapped to the IT GCSE and equivalent qualifications, Behind the Screen will provide students with an invaluable foundation from which to pursue computing related courses at Further and Higher education level, as well as preparing them for jobs in the industry.
“We’ve been working for some time on a new curriculum for the GCSE years.” says Sue Nieland. “To run alongside ‘pure’ computer science, we have created something that has the same depth and rigour but for a broader cohort of students. 
“These are young people who want to learn to create games, design apps, to get involved in the exciting and ever developing world of technology, and who are interested the power of technology to solve business and social problems. The extraordinary input of employers has enabled us to create exciting, engaging material to support these students.”
For more information please go the Behind the Screen page on the e-skills UK website or visit the Behind the Screen website.
Behind the Screen is led by a partnership of employers including IBM, the BBC, BAFTA, Blitz Games, Capgemini, Cisco, Deloitte, HP, John Lewis, Logica, the Metropolitan Police Service, Microsoft, National Grid, Procter & Gamble, Sainsbury’s, SAS, Steria and TCS.  It is supported by funding from the Employer Investment Fund of the UK Commission on Employment and Skills.

Presentation to Digital London on IT Skills Crisis

Here is the presentation I gave at the Digital London Conference last week.  

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

I am grateful to the e-Skills UK team for the stats and the images.

New IT Professional Profile from National Skills Academy for IT

The IT National Skills Academy has just launched our “IT Professional Profile.  

You can find it here.

Our aim in developing this is to enable IT professionals and aspiring technology professionals to work out our skills levels and create ones own personal IT Professional Profile.  

There are 6 skills categories, architecture, business change, information management, IT project management etc  Each of these breaks down into sub-skills, so architecture has systems architecture, data analysis etc.  You then assess your skills against clearly written definitions from 1 to 6.

Writing this down, it sounds complicated but it’s actually very easy and quick to fill in.  These levels align with the SFIA standards.

Our hope at the Skills Academy is that “My IT Professional Profile” will become the national standard for describing our skills in the UK IT industry.  We are encouraging employers and search companies to look at using this as a standard way of comparing and describing skills – something that we have never had before in the IT industry.

A useful piece of functionality is the direct link through to online courses and eBooks from each skill category.

I have registered and filled mine in – or at least had a first run through the categories.

So do take a look at the Profile and see if it would work for you and your colleagues.  I would be extremely interested in any feed back you have.



The new National IT Skills Academy skills and training site

I would not normally plug products in my blog, but this is going to be a shameless plug, in what I believe is a very good cause…

I feel passionately that we in the UK IT industry need to continuously improve our skills and our skills training, and – very importantly – widen access to technology training and skills throughout the economy.

I have long been a supporter of e-SkillsUK, and I am privileged to be Chair of our latest venture which is the National Skills Academy for IT.  

The Academy has just launched what we hope will be a very useful site and will make a real difference in this area. This is aimed at helping individuals and SMEs in the UK, who need broad access to IT skills but at affordable prices.   

The Academy has therefore brought together IT training content from multiple sources (including globally-recognised training provider SkillSoft). This will give individuals and small businesses access to the type of high-quality IT training and resources that up to now have only been available to large corporations.

It’s basically a subscription service for over a thousand online courses from bite-sized chunks to the knowledge needed for major certifications. Mentoring, e-books, test preps and express guides are also available .  

The subscription will also provide access to resources for solving immediate problems, plus up-to-date knowledge from IT industry experts.  There will be news as well as articles, reference materials, tools and templates.  And the whole content is to be regularly refreshed to keep it current.

The Academy is providing unrestricted access to all of this content at a price of £95 for the first year. If you would like to see what’s there, please do take a look at   and spread the word about it.

I would be very interested in knowing what you think of this new Academy initiative. I am also keen to hear about people’s experiences of using the tools available as we go forward, so we can continue to improve it.

The Fog on the Tyne

“The Fog on the Tyne…” was the name of the first cassette – yes, a pre-recorded cassette – that I bought back in 1971, by Lindisfarne of course.

Actually, there was no fog on the Tyne when we celebrated 20 years of BA’s IT in Newcastle, UK, recently – it was a beautiful Friday evening. And the next morning, as I headed back to London, the rising sun shone over the stunning Millennium Bridge…

British Airways established an “IT Shop” in Newcastle way back in 1990, and its anniversary is indeed cause for celebration. In the afternoon, there were awards to the 12 founder recruits of “OnTyne Systems”,.which became “Im Newcastle” and is now “BA Technology Services Newcastle”.

There were pictures on display culled from corporate and personal history over what has clearly been a pretty lively 20 years. There were cutting-edge in-house animations and a showing of the now justly-famous “Road to Amarillo” video – you need to be an insider to appreciate this one, but you can imagine…………..

Willie Walsh was there for the whole event and thanked everyone for their magnificent support of BA over the last two decades, and especially during our recent volcanic ash and strike periods, when BA Technology Services Newcastle staff volunteered as cabin crew and worked shifts in the call centre, as well as managing the many IT system changes required with effective professionalism.

So why am I telling you all this? Well, British Airways have stuck by our investment in IT on Tyneside. Back in 1990, when the then Prime Minister John Major – yes, John Major – opened Cragside Court on the banks of the Tyne this was a very important sign of the future for the North-East of England. Several of the original recruits to the IT team had previously worked in shipyards, which had then closed or were closing down. Indeed, the author of the excellent Speedbird NCL Twitter-feed on airline news telle me that he worked in the shipyards early in his career.

So what is my point? Well, since 2006 we have expanded our Newcastle IT Centre both in numbers of staff and in our skills. This is decidedly counter to the prevailing outsourcing trend over the last decade, which has seen much IT work go to Bangalore and Mumbai.

Great things have happened in Indian IT, of course – and I wrote about them recently on this blog– but great things are happening in UK IT too. OnTyne Systems started as a coding shop doing the “less exciting” back office HR and finance systems.

Now we have Newcastle fully integrated into everything we do in BA Technology. They still support legacy HR and finance, but the crew and airport systems are also supported and developed there, as is our award-winning web-creative centre of excellence. We also have our outsourced IT call centre there, so our Newcastle Office includes something of everything.

Why Newcastle? Well, we have great people working for BA there at very competitive rates, reflecting the cost of living – as well as the great quality of life – in the North East. Our Newcastle Centre itself works with Indian partners to support its work, making Newcastle even more cost-competitive. We have also run two graduate recruitment campaigns and we have strong ties with local universities and schools.

The quality of our recruits both experienced and new graduates, is excellent – and some of them do great animations as well!

So I do urge UK companies to consider investing more in UK IT in the Regions. It’s not an alternative to India – it’s part of a cost effective smart-sourcing strategy that ensure you keep control of your own strategic systems whilst securing overall high quality and lower costs.

And of course, as Willie mentioned in his speech at the event, not only do we have excellent IT skills, we have committed colleagues who are also volunteer trained cabin crew and call centre agents – and perform miracles with the systems!

What UK business and government need to do together

So what do we at e-skills think the UK now needs? Our Manifesto challenges the next government, of whatever party, to:

➢ reform education: radically improve the IT-related curriculum for 14-19 year olds so that it is exciting and interesting to young people, and is relevant for all future leaders and managers, and actively encourages the next generation to pursue IT as a career choice;

➢ revitalise the teaching of IT: transform the teaching of IT at all levels with a strategy that provides teachers and students with access to industry expertise; encourages more technology professionals and business leaders into teaching; ensures there is mandatory professional development in the latest IT subject matter for all specialist IT teachers; and creates virtual classrooms where students can study new GCSEs and A-levels with the country’s most inspiring IT teachers and industry experts;

➢ promote innovation in Higher Education: provide incentives to universities to integrate technology modules into degrees of all disciplines;

➢ update STEM policy: ensure that Technology is explicitly covered in STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Maths) policy;

➢ co-fund investment in higher level technology skills as a priority, through the new National Skills Academy for IT;

➢ enable more flexible Apprenticeship schemes: support greater flexibility in Apprenticeships for technology sector jobs;

➢ encourage technology degree uptake: subsidise tuition fees for students on sector-approved technology and technology/business degree courses;

➢ support career changers: make it easier for people to transition from other jobs into IT professional careers by including relevant training within a co-funded investment package;

➢ prioritise IT user skills development: support IT user skills development amongst priority groups including older workers, lower-skilled individuals, and teachers in subjects other than IT.

E-skills is not saying the government must deliver this, but that this is a manifesto for what business and government must work together to achieve.

The CC4G (computer clubs for young people) and the new IT and business degrees show that this collaborative model can work.

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