The Evolution of the Computer Science GCSE

During the 1980s, computer studies and computers were in their infancy[1]. The BBC Microcomputer was the only real choice for schools at the time. This early PC had very little in the way of end-user applications and relied on a BASIC interpreter to be loaded which meant the user needed to learn to program and build their own applications[2]. This resulted in schools focussing on teaching how to program a computer alongside how the computer works. As computers became more popular and more applications became available, the focus on teaching switched to how to use a computer and its applications and ICT was born during the 1990s[3].

During the 2000s, it was becoming clear that ICT was no longer fit for purpose and that students were leaving school with skills in digital literacy, but not in computing. ICT began to receive negative reports from industry, educators and students as it was seen as a boring and repetitive subject that only taught how to use Microsoft Office[4].

It was not until 2010 that The Royal Society, based on information from the Computing At School group (CAS), Ofsted, Microsoft and Google (among others), set up an Advisory Group Chaired by Professor Steve Furber FRS[5]. The reports first recommendation was to stop using the acronym ICT because of its “negative connotations” as quoted below.

  • “Recommendation 1 The term ICT as a brand should be reviewed and the possibility considered of disaggregating this into clearly defined areas such as digital literacy, Information Technology, and Computer Science. There is an analogy here with how English is structured at school, with reading and writing (basic literacy), English Language (how the language works) and English Literature (how it is used). The term ‘ICT’ should no longer be used as it has attracted too many negative connotations”[6].

Aside from the name ICT, it was becoming clear that the “current delivery of Computing education in many UK schools is [sic] highly unsatisfactory” and needed addressing[7]. Indeed, even the UK Education Sectary at the time, Michael Gove (May 2010 to July 2014), was quoted as saying the ICT curriculum was “demotivating and dull”[8]. This was brought into the headlines by the executive chairman of Google, Eric Schmidt, when he addressed the Edinburgh TV festival in 2011 saying,

  • “I was flabbergasted to learn that today computer science isn’t even taught as standard in UK schools. Your IT curriculum focuses on teaching how to use software but gives no insight into how it’s made. That is just throwing away your great computing heritage”[9].

As a result of growing pressure from industry, Michael Gove reported the UK Government would replace ICT with a new Computer Science curriculum from September 2012 (the start of the UKs academic year). In that speech, Gove posited,

  • “Imagine the dramatic change which could be possible in just a few years, once we remove the roadblock of the existing ICT curriculum. Instead of children bored out of their minds being taught how to use Word or Excel by bored teachers, we could have 11-year-olds able to write simple 2D computer animations”[10].

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Bibliography

[1] Doyle, GCSE Computer Studies for You.

[2] Brown et al., ‘Restart’.

[3] Ibid.

[4] Coquin, ‘IT & Telecoms Insights 2008: Assessment of Current Provision’.

[5] Furber and et al, ‘Shut down or Restart?’, 12.

[6] Ibid., 18.

[7] Ibid., 5.

[8] Burns, ‘School ICT to Be Replaced by Computer Science Programme’.

[9] Schmidt, ‘Edinburgh TV Festival’.

[10] Burns, ‘School ICT to Be Replaced by Computer Science Programme’.

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