More support needed to continue computer science improvement

On GCSE results day, the number of computer science entries are encouraging, but we still need more support for teachers and pupils, experts say

Record numbers of students across the UK are celebrating achieving standard and top grades in their computer science GCSE – despite a last-minute decision not to include coursework in the final marking.

A total of 72,485 students sat the exam this year – an increase of 11.8% on 2017. Of those students, 44,650 students – 61.1% of the total – attained grades 9 to 4, equivalent to the old A* to C grades. 15,222 students– 21% of the total – achieved grades 9 to 7, equivalent to the old A* and A grades.

In January, Ofqual – the Office of Qualifications and Examinations Regulation – suspended the non-exam assessment component, after it was agreed that the practical component had significant shortfalls and a perception that malpractice was widespread including programming tasks and solutions being shared and discussed online. 

The decision compounded an attainment issue highlighted in a report issued earlier this year, which suggests that computer science was already harder to pass than other GCSE subjects, with students typically getting half a grade lower in computer science than in their other subjects.

Julia Adamson, Director of Education, BCS, The Chartered Institute of IT, said: “It’s vital that examination grades are fair and reliable.The withdrawal of the non-exam assessment component during the 2018 academic year was less than ideal, but it was necessary to ensure that the students who took the qualification this year, and will do next year, are treated equally and their final grades can unquestionably be relied upon.”

“We look forward to contributing to the forthcoming Ofqual consultation about how to assess practical skill from 2020 onwards,” she added. 

Now the BCS is calling on Government and schools to make computer science more attractive to young people. 

There is a critical need to improve computer science teaching through better professional development, support and resources.
– Julia Adamson, BCS

The Government estimates that 90% of all future jobs will require digital skills and that by 2022 the UK will need an additional 1.2 million new technical and digitally skilled people.

“Computer science was only introduced four years ago and is still a new subject for schools. These results are testament to the energy and enthusiasm teachers have put into giving a great many children the high quality, inspiring computing education they need,” said Julia. 

“However, the subject has suffered from too little funding and a lack of awareness, with the result that uptake is still too low.” 

“There is a critical need to improve computer science teaching through better professional development, support and resources. We need to recognise the value of the subject and students, particularly girls, need to be encouraged and supported to take the subject.”

“Equipping young people with good quality and relevant computing and IT skills provides a pathway to social mobility. We need to help ensure all pupils, regardless of background, receive the best possible education and the same access to opportunity.”  

The call was echoed by Sue Sentance, board member of Computing At School, part of BCS, who said: “If education is about helping children to understand the world around them and preparing them for the world of work, then computer science in schools is vital when 90% of future jobs will require digital skills.”