Worries about qualification routes for computing students are intensified by Gibb's IT rejection
Schools minister Nick Gibb MP has removed any remaining non-computer science GCSE and A-level qualifications from the computing subject area for schools in England. The only alternatives now are vocational certificates.

Concern about the overemphasis on computer science in a much broader subject has been present since the subject was created under the auspices of the BCS (British Computer Society) which was also involved in Nick Gibb’s IT decision (UPDATE below)

A number of weeks ago Gibb had been on the verge of rejecting the proposal for new IT GCSE and A-Levels from a group led by exam body AQA which had consulted closely with employers and industry. Before axing them it is understood that he asked the BCS to come up with an alternative IT GCSE.

The BCS’ skills and mission lie in computer science rather than a wider technology brief, so others, including higher education IT people and individuals from the schools’ ICT professionals’ organisation Naace were consulted in a last-ditch bid to come up with something new. It is understood that the result was a course so absurdly technical that it would have attracted only the most geeky of young people.

Widespread dismay, particularly for ICT teachers

Finally, the minister’s decision was revealed yesterday (Tuesday), buried on page 11 of a much wider document about curriculum revision: “It is right that schools continue to focus on the digital knowledge that will best prepare young people for further study and employment. Ministers have therefore taken the decision not to approve two GCSEs and A levels in a similar qualification space. The IT GCSE and IT A level will not be redeveloped.”

Mark Chambers
Naace's Mark Chambers

The decision has caused widespread dismay, particularly for ICT teachers. Teacher comments on Facebook and Twitter ranged from “ICT: Learning how to drive a car. Computing: Learning how to design and make your own car. Verdict: You need both! #ukedchat #ICTgone” to “Can't believe they are scrapping ICT. So many of my students benefited from this. What about those students who don't have the skills or ability to do GCSE CS? What are they going to do?” and “I need a new career!! If it wasn't for the kids I would have gone already - I love my job but it's getting harder to keep up with all the changes as I get older.”

Naace CEO Mark Chambers is among those surprised by the failure to provide young people studying computing at school with coherent routes to useful qualifications. “We've been really disappointed to see Mr Gibb's decision today not to take forward to public consultation a GCSE or A-Level in IT,” he said last night. “There is a great deal of evidence to suggest that this stablemate qualification to the equivalent Computer Science subjects was of great interest to industry and employers and of significant relevance to the employability of young people.

'Now our focus has to switch to "What next?"'

“However, these factors seem not to be of interest to our political leaders and now our focus has to switch to ‘What next?’ Are there high quality, widely recognised and academically accepted alternatives which courageous schools can guide their learners towards?

“We believe there are, and are committed to working with awarding bodies like TLM, OCR and WJEC to further improve the rigour and relevance of what is on offer. We call on the community of employers, parents and other stakeholders to put their efforts and resources into raising the profile of these alternatives such that the default elitist expectation of a "GCSE" might be eroded as quickly as possible and that the achievement of youngsters who choose to study a vocational qualification might truly be considered of equal merit.”

Meanwhile, the BCS, which has been so successful in its longterm campaign to promote computer science, is understood to be working to develop IT courses and services to sell into education. Ironically, it is the promoter of the ECDL Driving Test which was a major element in the criticism of the former ICT curriculum as a merely a training vehicle for Microsoft Office programs (see SchoolsWeek's "Uptake of three-day ICT ‘GCSE’ soars 2,000 per cent").

UKforCE to draft response to Gibb on IT qualifications

(UPDATE) The UK Forum for Computing Education is to draft a response to schools minister Nick Gibb to query his decision to axe the planned new GCSE and A-level IT courses and raise the issue of the lack of GCSE and suitable alternative qualifications for students who want to pursue technology qualifications other than Computer Science.

UKForCE member and education adviser to Toshiba (Northern Europe) Bob Harrison was among the educators who felt that UKforCE was the body which should have been consulted by minister Nick Gibb rather than the BCS which has very clear commercial interests in this area (see SchoolsWeek's "Gibb scraps ICT GCSE and A-level after final discussions with competitors"). He said that UKforCE’s duty was clear and was enshrined in its very first ‘strategic objective’: “To ensure that UK computing curricula are creative, challenging and cover the full range of computing education, from computer science and computational thinking through to IT and digital literacy.”

He told Agent4change.net: “There’s a feeling that it’s OK, and students can just go off and take the Computer Science GCSE. But that’s not OK because many young people will not find Computer Science GCSE, which is highly technical, a suitable qualification for them, And for those who want to do technology-related A-levels other than computer science it is a serious and unnecessary barrier.”