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.  

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

The Day of Three Certificates

The day of 3 Certificates – or, to be strictly accurate, the day of many certificates of three kinds. ..

You never know quite what a day in the life of a CIO will bring! Thursday was quite exceptionally enjoyable. The high point was visiting with my colleagues the very impressive Atkinson Road Primary School in Newcastle-upon-Tyne.

My colleagues in BA Technology Services Newcastle have set up an IT Club in the lunchtime at this school, where they use material from e-skillsUK and from the on-line curriculum. We gave out certificates to the Year 6s who had graduated from the programme.

The Head Teacher in her introduction stressed the importance of role models in an inner-city school. So we were delighted to have with us one of our own ITPs (in other words, our BA IT Programme graduates) who had herself been a pupil at Atkinson Road, gone to Senior School and University and is now working at our Newcastle IT Centre, just down the road on the banks of the Tyne.

One great thing about running a Computer Club at a school is that, at the same time as it directly help the children with their IT skills and provide role models for them, it also broadens our own skills in communication and explanation. It is not easy to teach children and engage them in our enthusiasm for our subject – but is is very worthwhile.

Several of our colleagues in Newcastle have volunteered to be trained as cabin crew during the recent strikes. They came in their uniforms, showing how closely we in the IT department are connected with the front-line airline.

My second presentation of certificates was to our Newcastle ITPs themselves – including the former pupil at Atkinson Road School. They had completed their 18 months in three deployments, which as far as possible we try to make as different as each other: in IT development, IT operations and business process change.

It is a great thing to have some grads in our organisation. They provide challenge to the way we do things and are greatly sought after. I presented the graduation certificates and said how exciting IT is as a career and how important it is in the air transport industry.

I hope soon that, instead of a certificate signed by me, they will receive an award from our new National IT Academy!

And the final set of presentations was in our all staff briefing at Newcastle where I handed out “Can-Do” letters to the whole team who had worked on the Computer Club at Altkinson Road. We aim to be seen as a department that “Can Do” by our BA colleagues.

So, a day of many certificates given to exceptional people. Great fun.

Giving out IT Certificates to a group of highly motivated and very-well behaved Primary School pupils is probably one of the most positive ways you can spend your time as a CIO.

[The School has authorised the publication of the photos on the Internet]

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.

An IT Manifesto for people, employment and growth

Sorry to be late with the blog, but I was waiting for e-skills uk to publish our Manifesto for technology skills. Let’s hope whoever forms the next Government reads it.

Here it is at: It’s signed by 23 of us from across the UK IT industry and by CIOs across the sectors.

I imagine  nearly everyone reading this blog probably already agrees with e-skills that IT has the potential to create more jobs for the future and is the key to delivering the modern, world-class public services the UK needs.  It is certainly evident to us, as individuals and as an organization, that it is technology that enables innovation, spawns new industries and creates new sources of wealth.   We know that it is technology that underpins productivity improvement and global competitiveness.  And, personally, I believe it is technology that can enable us to find answers to the great issues facing the world, from famine to disease to climate change.

It is, though, a pretty safe bet that – thinking these things – we are in a minority in the UK.  I fear that understanding IT, deploying IT and training our people in IT come a depressingly long way down most people’s agendas.

But, given the challenges – and failures – of many other industries and sectors, why would our next Government not back IT?  Surely it is the UK’s key ingredient for global competitiveness in the private sector and for efficiency in the public sector?

And we are not talking here about hardware and software, bits and bytes.   We are talking about investment in people – in fact, we are talking about investment in everyone in the UK.  Modern economies, in the second decade of the 21st century, are driven by skilled people who create and use technology.

This is as true of fashion and film as of pharmaceuticals and retail: as true of gaming and journalism as of consultancy and banking. The UK needs more – many more – of these skilled people. We need to e-skill the UK – and we need to do it now. And that’s what we say in our Manifesto.

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