Pearson launches the UK’s first Computer Science GCSE to assess programming skills on-screen

The new qualification will replace written exams with a practical assessment that reflects real-world industry needs

Pearson, the British-owned education publishing and assessment service, has launched a new computer science GCSE that will assess programming skills on-screen.

In a first of its kind for the UK education sector, the Key Stage 4 (KS4) curriculum has been designed to reflect the real-world challenges of the industry, striving to develop digital skills in young people to innovate the workforce and meet future demand for digital professionals.

Pupils can enrol on the trailblazing programme from September this year. Participants will learn the ins and outs of the discipline, mastering coding, programming and algorithm skills, while being the first cohort to have their expertise graded through a practical assessment on-screen, rather than written exams.

“At Pearson, we’re committed to ensuring that young people in schools today are learning the skills they need for their futures,” said Roberta Thomson, product director of general qualifications.

“Our new Pearson Edexcel Computer Science GSCE has a focus on real-world programming, equipping learners with both the knowledge and hands-on application to thrive in the fast-changing world of technology today. As part of this, we are proud to be the first to move from paper to computer to assess students’ digital and practical skills, as well as more accurately reflect the technological society in which they live.”

Produced in collaboration with teachers and industry professionals, the qualification hopes to address the digital skills shortage, highlighted by the government’s No Longer Optional: Employer Demand for Digital Skills report published in June last year. The report notes that digital skills are essential entry requirements for two thirds of Standard Occupational Classification (SOC) positions, which carry a wage differential over non-digital roles. It notes that these occupations account for 82% of online job vacancies.

In related news: LGfL member schools gain access to cloud computing, 4K streaming and VR

Despite the increasing demand for digitally literate candidates, almost half of UK employers claim they are struggling to attract talent with adequate IT skills.

“The practical on-screen assessment approach will prepare students well for eventual employment because it gives an opportunity for the learner to be assessed on writing, testing and refining programs in an IDE using Python 3. Being given two hours to complete a task also relates well to the real lifetime constraints experienced by many computer scientists,” said Matt Hogan, learning manager KS4 at Raspberry Pi Foundation.

While the programme emphasises the practical side of the subject, it simultaneously provides a blend of written and theoretical elements for a rounded learning experience. Of the two externally examined papers, one is a written exam covering computational thinking, data, computers, networks, and the issues and impact of computing in the modern world. The other is the practical on-screen assessment, focusing on the ability to analyse and solve problems by designing, writing, testing and refining programs.

“It’s great that there’s now a GCSE course for teachers and students who think practical programming should be externally assessed and count towards the final grade,” said Pete Dring, a teacher of computing at Fulford School.

“The theory part of the spec has been clarified and simplified. I’ve been so impressed by how the Pearson Edexcel team have responded to teacher feedback to make this course as accessible as possible.”