Tech skills timebomb? Half of schools in England don't offer GCSE computer science as Royal Society warns of generation left behind

 
Lynsey Barber
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Technology-based jobs are growing (Source: Getty)

A generation of young people risk being locked out of the technology jobs boom of the future as it was revealed more than half of schools across England don't offer GCSE computer science.

High flying tech entrepreneurs such as Bill Gates and Mark Zuckerberg took an interest in computer science at an early age, but without greater investment in technology education, the UK could lose out on its own success stories and be left behind.

That's according to new research from the Royal Society, with Google and Microsoft, and authored by the man who created the BBC Micro and the Arm microprocessor.

Read more: Digital skills shortage is hurting three quarters of businesses, warns BCC

“The rate at which technology is transforming the workplace means that we live in a world where many primary schoolchildren will work in technology-based roles that do not yet exist, so it is essential that future generations can apply digital skills with confidence," said professor Steven Furber.

“Overhauling the fragile state of our computing education will require an ambitious, multipronged approach. We need the government to invest significantly more to support and train 8,000 secondary school computing teachers to ensure pupils have the skills and knowledge needed for the future.”

The research concluded there needs to be a ten-fold increase in funding to unlock young people's potential and the Royal Society is urging the government to promise £61m to such efforts over the next five years.

A new curriculum that introduced coding lessons for primary school children was introduced in 2014. But, the report warned that this was just not enough.

“For pupils to thrive, we need knowledgeable, highly skilled teachers. However, computing teachers have told us that they feel the government rushed in a new curriculum without giving them the support or money to deliver it. The report paints a bleak picture in England, which meets only 68 per cent of its computing teacher recruitment targets and where, as a result, one in two schools don’t offer computer science at GCSE, a crucial stage of young people’s education," said Furber.

And even schools close to the tech boom of Shoreditch's Silicon Roundabout are missing out. Only two in every three schools in Hackney were found to offer the computer science GCSE and just six of Islington's 14 schools.

Read more: Google's opening a huge new hub for training the UK in digital skills

"Microsoft is dramatically scaling up its digital skills programme in the UK and we believe now is the time for the Government to do the same," said Microsoft UK chief executive Cindy Rose. "The risk, if we don’t make these investments now, is that too many young people struggle to access new opportunities, and the UK loses its advantage in a world being transformed by technology.”

Google UK managing director Ronan Harris said: "Whatever school they attend or what field they plan to go into, every student should have the opportunity to understand the principles and practices of computing. This will broaden their career opportunities and is critical to developing a globally competitive workforce for the 21st century."

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