Only a third of ICT teachers are qualified – study
Just 35 per cent of UK teachers of information and communications technology (ICT) have a qualification considered relevant to their subject by the department of education.
The finding comes from a new report, "Shut down or restart? The way forward for computing in UK schools," by the Royal Society. It reveals a remarkable disparity between the suitability of ICT teachers to their subject and that of their fellow teachers, and goes a long way to explaining the recent decline in the number of UK children studying ICT.
By comparison, 74 per cent of maths, 69 per cent of physics, 73 per cent of chemistry and 88 per cent of biology teachers hold appropriate qualifications. It's the same in the arts too, with 80 per cent of English, 76 per cent of history, and 87 per cent of music teachers holding relevant, post A-level qualifications.
The report's release coincides with the launch of the department of education's consultation on the future ICT curriculum, following confirmation this week that government is to scrap ICT as we know it and allow schools to devise their own programmes of study, paving the way for the return of computer science to the classroom.
Yet much needs to be done: one of the report's persistent findings is that students frequently know more about the subject than their teacher.
Professor Steve Furber, fellow of the Royal Society, chair of the report and a co-designer of the BBC Micro, said: "Although we were heartened to hear that Michael Gove intends to radically overhaul the national curriculum programme, we remain concerned that other problems still need to be addressed.
"The most significant factor affecting how well young people learn is the teacher in their classroom. The majority of teachers are specialists, but ICT is an exception to this rule. Action is needed not only on the curriculum itself, but also to recruit and train many more inspiring teachers to reinvigorate pupils' enthusiasm for computing."
The Royal Society recommends that targets be set for numbers of specialist teachers, with training bursaries available to attract graduates. It also suggests that training plans be put in place to ensure schools can deliver a computer science component in the study of ICT.
The report raises a valid concern: that, despite Michael Gove's welcome change to the curriculum, the education minister has left the decision up to the schools themselves. With budgets tightly controlled in a bid to drag the country out of recession, will schools be able to recruit, and retain, appropriately skilled teachers who could find employment in much more lucrative industries?
And with schools judged by their students' exam results, why bring in a voluntary new element to ICT study that is much harder to teach, and learn, than the existing programme? It's a fear echoed by one west country ICT teacher, who told us: "If someone is genuinely skilled in computing, how do you attract them to teaching? The financial rewards are good but it takes longer to earn comparable wages.
"If schools have the choice I don't believe that it will happen. I've been trying to introduce computing earlier into the curriculum and have received very little support from above.
"The main issue is grades at GCSE. Currently, students can get the equivalent of up to 5 GCSEs by creating rubbish websites and doing poor animations. The grades will inevitably go down once a higher degree of academic rigour is introduced."
This week those backing computer science in schools have made a breakthrough, but as one problem has been solved, another raises its head. We've got programming back in the classroom. Now, who's going to teach it?