GCSE and A Level ICT are now in their death throes. The conservative government, mainly in the guise of Michael Gove have killed them off. It was at the beginning of 2012 that Gove said that the existing curriculum in Information and Communication Technology (ICT) had left children "bored out of their minds being taught how to use Word and Excel by bored teachers". Having been an ICT teacher at the time, all I can say is that I don’t recognise his criticism as being a true reflection of what was happening in the classroom. Yes, we were teaching students to use applications such as Word and Excel, as these were essential tools not just for students, but also for the majority of working adults.
It is a caricature of the reality that was seen in schools, where students were learning about control, programming (usually using graphical programming languages, such as Scratch), video and audio editing, scripting languages (such as html) and creating relational databases. It was a small cohort of so called “experts” who advised Mr Gove into bringing their vision to reality. This misguided group threw out the baby with the bath water.
Wind forward nearly six years from this change and there is already ample evidence that this decision, by groups with a vested interest, was at best a misguided decision and at worse a retrograde step.
Early this year, it was ironically the British Computing Society (BCS), one of the groups who advised Mr Gove, that were showing concern that the number of students taking up a qualification in computing would likely halve by 2020. You could have asked any ICT teacher back in 2012 and they would have been able to predict this outcome. Not that the computing/ computer science curriculum is of no value, it definitely has its place as a valuable qualification, but only alongside ICT/IT qualifications.
We now have students arriving at secondary schools from many primary schools with little knowledge of ICT. Many of them have used a tablet, but never a desktop computer or laptop. Secondary school teachers need to teach the students basic ICT skills before they move on to teaching computing, that’s if they have the time.
GCSE ICT was always a popular choice for girls and despite money being spent on encouraging girls to choose GCSE computer science, there is little evidence that this is having any impact. So not only are fewer students choosing a “computing” qualification, even fewer of these are girls.
It really is time to bring back GCSE ICT and A Level ICT before even more damage is done.
Russell Bryant, has taught Science, ICT and Computer Science both in the UK and in South America for over 20 years. This includes teaching GCSEs, A Levels, IB and IGCSEs. He has also worked as an online learning consultant in London, helping schools to develop an online learning strategy.