Lords backs calls for new UK computing qualifications in bid to drive attainment

 A young female student working on a desktop computer
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Calls for new UK computing qualifications for high school students have been backed by a House of Lords committee in a bid to drive uptake of technology subjects. 

The new GCSE would recognize 'higher-level technical knowledge and skills at the GCSE level', and would have equal value to the existing computer science GCSE.

The inquiry was set up to address concerns that the secondary school curriculum is failing to give pupils enough practical, applied forms of learning, or to study creative, technical, and vocational subjects.

"The evidence we have received is compelling. Change to the education system for 11–16-year-olds is urgently needed, to address an overloaded curriculum, a disproportionate exam burden and declining opportunities to study creative and technical subjects," said committee chair Jo Johnson.

"Immediate and longer-term reform is essential to ensuring that our secondary system equips young people with the knowledge, skills and behaviors they need to progress to the full range of post-16 options, and to flourish in the future."

The committee's conclusions align with recommendations from the British Computer Society (BCS), with research showing that 94% of girls and 79% of boys drop computing at age 14.

In 2023, only 14% of pupils took computer science GCSE - currently the only computing-focused GCSE available, the inquiry found.

BCS distinguished fellow Professor Simon Peyton-Jones and BCS fellow, professor Dame Muffy Calder, told the committee hearing that this GCSE is by design academic and challenging, and doesn't cover more applied learning.

"The committee agreed with our recommendations, including that the government should introduce a new GCSE in applied computing as soon as possible and explore launching a basic digital literacy qualification that can be taken at key stage 4," said Julia Adamson, BCS MD for education and public benefit.


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"This will ensure all pupils have the skills to participate effectively in post-16 education and training, employment and wider life."

The committee also recommended “an adequate set of literacy and numeracy qualifications available to pupils aged 14 to 16, focused on the application of these skills in real-world contexts”.

These would sit alongside GCSE English and maths and focus on the application of essential skills, giving pupils more of a chance to achieve required standards.

According to the Royal Academy of Engineering, only 18,000 students in the UK chose to continue their computer science studies to A level this year, with just one-in-twenty undergraduates starting computing-related degrees such as computer science, software engineering, artificial intelligence, and information technology in 2022.

This, it said, has implications for the IT skills shortage, particularly when it comes to AI.

"Unless we address this skills challenge now, the shortage of talent in AI and computing will have a profound impact on the UK’s ability to be a global leading player in this sector," said CEO Dr Hayaatun Sillem.

"As well as software skills, to be a true AI leader the UK will also need world leading skills to design, build and maintain the hardware and networks that enable modern AI systems; and everyone should have the grounding in digital skills to work effectively with these technologies.”

Emma Woollacott

Emma Woollacott is a freelance journalist writing for publications including the BBC, Private Eye, Forbes, Raconteur and specialist technology titles.