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NCCE has bright plans for the future of computing education

Author: sophia.aker

The establishment of the first ever National Centre for Computing Education marks a landmark decision for computing education across the country.

Indeed, computing education in the UK can expect to benefit greatly from the launch of the first ever National Centre for Computing Education (NCCE). The Department for Education revealed earlier this month that a consortium of STEM Learning, the Raspberry Pi Foundation and BCS, the Chartered Institute for IT will lead and deliver this expansive and far reaching programme. The commitment to improve computing education is a part of the wider strategy of the government to ensure the UK remains among global tech world leaders. Pupils and teachers can look forward to enjoying the expansive and ambitious proposals the NCCE promise to deliver in the coming years.

Last year the Royal Society issued an urgent call for the government to invest at least £60 million in computing education over the next five years in order to equip young people with the necessary skills for the future. They warned that the UK’s computing education was “patchy and fragile”. Their report revealed that more than half of UK secondary schools did not offer GCSE computer science in 2015-2016, and that across the UK only 11% of students actually took this subject. Evidence from a report by the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development also suggested that the UK is in decline both in terms of scientific research and artificial intelligence inventions. In other words, both computing education and the wider UK tech industry is suffering from insufficient funds and attention. 

Indeed, the call for funding was answered when Chancellor Philip Hammond announced an £84 million budget for computing education in November 2017. Promising to train 8,000 GCSE teachers and improve resources available to schools and pupils, Hammond also proposed working with industry to create the National Centre for Computing Education. The need to improve digital skills in the UK, both in education and in the workforce, is clearly a key strategy for the government in the bid to close the digital skills gap. More specifically the NCCE aims to enable every primary to secondary school student to develop valuable skills whether or not they choose a computer-related career.

This news was welcomed by the science and education community alike. Venki Ramakrishnan, President of the Royal Society, said it sent a “clear signal” that the government is “focused on the UK’s technological future”. Led by some of the UK’s leading tech experts, Minister for School Standards Nick Gibb said it “will give teachers the subject knowledge and support they need to teach pupils the new computing curriculum” and result in “rais(ing) academic standards so that pupils have the knowledge and skills they need to succeed in our outward looking and dynamic economy”.

The partners of the programme all have different roles to play. STEM Learning will be the lead partner in programme management, communicating and reporting. They are responsible for implementing the 40 School Hubs that will deliver the materials for recruiting, training and Continuing Professional Development for teachers. The Raspberry Pi Foundation are developing the content, research, and online presence of the NCCE and A Level programme. Meanwhile, the BCS will deliver and set the academic standards for subject knowledge, certificates for teachers, and industry engagement. Google has also supported the project with a further £1 million. Highlighting its impact, Philip Colligan, Chief Executive of Raspberry PI says the establishment of the NCCE marks a “once-in-a-generation opportunity to transform the way that computing, and computer science is taught”.

The project looks promising in its aim to revolutionise computing education for all students. The NCCE has further committed to providing bursaries in areas of disadvantage and work closely with industry to make it happen through its network of 40 Computing Hubs. A system of certification leading to chartered status for teachers will also ensure consistently high-quality training.

The consortium is also committed to launching a gender balance pilot for 2019, in an effort to encourage more women and girls to engage with further computer education. As revealed by the Royal Society, girls made up a disappointing 20% of candidates who took computer science at GCSE level, dropping even more at A Level. The Centre will hopefully be successful in encouraging more girls to choose to study computer science. 

The NCCE certainly seems to have enough momentum and is in a good position to deliver on its many promises. Ukie welcomes and fully supports the establishment of the NCCE, calling it a “landmark for computing education across the country” that will help to develop “a consistent and coherent approach to delivering high quality computing education to all children equally”.

The programme also offers a fantastic opportunity for teachers to get involved in shaping the future of computing education and share their ideas and thoughts. That said, the NCCE is currently looking for people to fill job roles across software development, educational content creation and programme management. We would encourage teachers and anyone interested to follow the journey on their website and twitter.

As the NCCE plan to start working with schools across England later this year, the future is looking bright for computing education. Only time will tell whether the Government’s ambition will raise the standard and enable the UK to remain a global leader at the forefront of tech.

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