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Michael Gove announces a computing curriculum worthy of the 21st century

22 January 2014

Finally, Britain’s children will be equipped for the Internet age. In a speech to the BETT education conference today, Michael Gove announced the details of the new computing curriculum, which will take effect from this September.

As well a new Computer Science GCSE and a beefed-up A-Level (hopefully more schools will offer it), the new computing curriculum will begin for five year olds, and will consist of three strands. These are information technology (how to use computers in the real world), ‘digital literacy’ (confidently and safely using computers) and ‘computer science’ strands.

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The Computer Science strand is by far the most important. Since computers became significantly easier to use in the 1990s, Britain’s computing education has consisted of simply how to use the machines (in an age where watches and fridges can be considered a computer) with no understanding of how they work. For too many people, they are unfathomable black boxes.

The new curriculum will hopefully address this. Pupils will begin to learn the basics of coding at the age of five. At eight, they will be taught how to design programs to accomplish specific tasks. By eleven, they will learn how to use two programming languages to solve computational problems. As someone who didn’t learn a proper programming language till I was 18, I’m envious of how literate these pupils will be by the same age.

As well as a lack of depth, the problem with our existing IT curriculum is that it failed keep with the evolution of technology. Teachers were showing pupils how to create PowerPoint slides when they were already building their own websites. Gove has acknowledged this and has vowed to ensure the new computing curriculum will be focused on the foundations:

‘None of us can know what lies ahead – all we can do is equip ourselves, and more importantly, our children, with essential building blocks of knowledge, whether that’s mathematical principles many millennia in the making or an intricate computer code younger even than our youngest school pupils.’

The crucial element today is ensuring the teachers are competent enough to teach it. Microsoft, Google, IBM and Facebook will be offering scholarships of £25,000 to encourage graduates to teach computer science. The British Computer Society has been given £1 million from the government to train up primary school teachers. From this September, computing and computer science will finally take up the core place in the British classroom it deserves.

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Show comments
  • Craig McGill

    Is this being rolled out across Britain or just England and Wales?

  • Daniel Maris

    If he wants to ensure the UK survives in the 21st century he needs to take an urgent look at the curriculum in the parallel education system – the thousands of Sharia schools dotted up and down this land attending by Muslim children often for 20 hours or more a week.

  • David

    As a 47 year old, I am amazed that kids are not learning to program computers. Back in the early eighties, myself and my contemporaries all did – as part of our O Level syllabus. We used Microsoft Q Basic (yuk!) and dabbled with a bit of PASCAL (nice); soon BBC Basic arrived which was a joy. Seems like GCSEs have dumbed down kids since…

    • Tom Tom

      Should have used FORTRAN punched cards which was ‘the real thing’. Do you remember when Apple IIc came out ? Or PDP 11 ?

  • The Red Bladder

    Will this be a two birds with one stone job, all to learn how to code in Latin?

  • Tom Tom

    Should teach them how to build them physically.

  • Chris Vine

    “From this September, computing and computer science will finally take up the core place in the British classroom it deserves.”
    Sebastian could do with a little education himself. This curriculum does not apply to Britain. It applies to England. It is time the Spectator became a little less insulting to those in other parts of the UK. Or perhaps Sebastian has a hotline to Alex Salmond we don’t know about.

  • Steven Whalley

    As much as I think that Gove is one of the most able of Conservative ministers with his welcome education reforms, his promotion of learning programming skills at the age of five is misdirected. That should be for later when children have learned what the impact that computer systems have on their lives. IT systems are primarily about marshalling large swathes of information, and preparing it for use in tasks ranging from personal interest through to making major decisions in science, business, or government.

    The latter three areas are where the use of computer systems are most important, and it is right that education is directed there, rather than at being able to write “Hello World” programs in the first year of primary school.

    There are too many large scale failures of IT which I believe are attributable to the lack of awareness of the wider issues of computers. The study of computer systems in schools should also include the most notable examples, of which there are many, especially the failures of government IT.

    • ButcombeMan

      What an utter load of pretentious nonesense. many children nowadays are using computers between 5 and 6, all my grandchildren were.

      At 6 they all had e mail addresses to speak to grandad & grandma. Teaching them how they can instruct a computer to do something should be a game.

      if a child can call grandma on facetime, they can learn a very modest amount about programming.

  • Smithersjones2013

    As someone who worked in IT for over 25 years whilst producing a glut of programmers will have its benefits (and its disadvantages) the complete failure to educate people how to undertake an even remotely accurate cost benefit analysis of IT will mean that government will still be wasting billions on excessive and badly specified IT for generations to come.

    Its not coders we lack but those who can translate the gibberish that is the standard business requirement (particularly if developed by management consultants) into a meaningful and cost efficient service design (which often IT services can never achieve).

    Once again it seems our politicians have a completely myopic view of technology. Its not creating technology that is the problem, it’s maintaining and managing it and the worst excesses (such as planned obsolescence, and privacy abuse) of the IT industry that are the problem (just ask RBS).

  • dalai guevara

    I quote from the Gove link:

    “ICT used to focus purely on computer literacy – teaching pupils, over and over again, how to word process, how to work a spreadsheet…
    Now, our new curriculum teaches children… how to code, and how to create their own programs…”

    Excuse me, how is this news? Many decades ago, a millenium ago in fact, did we learn in state schools how to code in Basic, then Pascal. How is any of this n e w s?

    • r3d3

      The 13y quest for “improved” exam results was beyond the teaching profession, so Nulab abolished it.

      2 ard u c


    • ButcombeMan

      It is news because most schools have not been doing anything like it for years. Almost since the BBC Micro days.
      Only very few teachers CAN do it. Anyone competent went into the IT business.

      • Fergus Pickering

        Now there you have the nub of it.

        • dalai guevara

          …and that is now going to magically change due to a mere ‘announcement’? Your logic is inpenetrable.

  • CharlietheChump

    I applaud this wholeheartedly but, as 40% of kids leaving primary schools can’t do multiplication in their heads, perform long division of numbers with 2 decimal places or determine best value between supermarket multipacks, I would encourage him to keep the pressure up on basic maths.

  • El_Sid

    While I admire many of the things Gove has been doing, this sounds superficially attractive but feels a bit misplaced to me. Only a percentage of pupils will have any aptitude for programming, and if taught badly it could turn off the remainder from any kind of IT-related learning. It’s a bit like forcing differential equations on 5-year-olds, when society would be much better off it the average citizen was taught (effectively) things like basic statistics and how to communicate without using “innit”.

    • HookesLaw

      I can see where you and Charlie are coming from and there is some sense in what you both say. But if we can catch such talent as there is in this field then it must be a good idea. We seem to be good in the IT progrmming industry don’t we like, y’know wot I mean?.

      • El_Sid

        Well that implies that talent is being missed, and I’m not sure that’s true. Programming ability will correlate pretty closely with maths ability, and we test pretty heavily for that. I can buy the argument that it’s not just about programming per se, it’s a way to teach all sorts of problem-solving skills, but I’m just not sure that making it compulsory at 5 is the way to do it, it’s a bit like how compulsory PE can turn off people from sport for life.

        Also – what’s special about programming? We need molecular biologists and civil engineers and harbour pilots. Should we teach basic immunology at age 5? At what point do you start squeezing out skills that will be applicable to most people in their lives, like the maths needed for budgeting, or basic language skills on holiday.

        Personally if you make anything compulsory it should be business skills, that kind of Delboy mentality of trying to make a turn wherever you can. I know there are various programmes doing that sort of thing, but I’d like to see that hard-wired into people at the age of 5. For instance, I know a self-made man who lent his young son the money to buy a batch of LED lightbulbs and sold them to whoever he could find (think a less squirm-inducing version of a task on the Apprentice) – made a few hundred quid out of it. That’s the kind of mentality we need for a globalised world, not the Socialist spoon-feeding.

    • CNash

      They’re presumably not going to hand the five-year-olds a copy of Visual C++ and tell them to have at it. There are many programming tools designed for younger children, to get them used to the basic concepts behind programming, and these are in use in schools today. For example, Scratch, which teaches how to make simple Flash-like games, or the classic Logo “turtle graphics” language. And the old standby, BASIC isn’t too difficult for children – I myself learned BASIC on the BBC Micro when I was eight

      • El_Sid

        I too was one of the geeky kids – which is exactly why I worry that it’s a way to turn off a lot of people from an interest in things that could be useful to them day-to-day.

        • vi_sa

          I thought the article says there will be three strands. Not everyone has to go down the programming route. Computer usage in the real world and digital literacy will help just as much? No one has to be put off – this is like sayings sports days put children off sports for ever so no one should have sports days.

          • El_Sid

            No – they’re wanting everyone to do all three strands. Actually perhaps the best bit of the speech was his emphasis on MOOCs – I’ve been harping on about that kind of thing for 20 years, even if it involved sending VHS tapes through the post of the best teachers doing their thing.

  • telemachus

    It is heartening that Gove has interests beyond his educational social Darwinism agenda
    We know that Tristram Hunt will welcome this when he takes over

    • r3d3

      Is’nt Tristram being sacked?

      • telemachus

        Not before Gove

        • r3d3

          Mr Gove was promoted for the same reason Tristram’s heading for the exit. He’s a tory.

          • telemachus

            Strange thought indeed

        • ButcombeMan

          There is ZERO chance of Gove being sacked. He is one of the few competent Ministers.

        • Colonel Mustard

          Oh shut up.

      • Fergus Pickering

        Naw. He’s pretty. He’s useless. He stays

    • Nicholas chuzzlewit

      Amazing with him being so busy scouring the rancid filth of socialism from the British education system.

      • HookesLaw

        Tele is doing a good job of showing why its lunacy to vote UKIP. The kippers don’t like it up em but they cannot hide from the fact.

        • r3d3

          Even Telemachus, in his dotage, has spotted a policy equivalence between Mr Gove and “Tristram” .

          At a fundamental level, lab=lib=con.

          UKIP will change that.

          They don’t need a parliamentary majority

          In 4party politics, simply achieving 30+ MPs may be enough.

          Look at Clegg, Deputy PM.

          VOTE UKIP.

    • ButcombeMan

      This is ABOUT social Darwinism. It is about opportunity for all.

      Go into any group of 16 year olds now, you will find only about 5% have any serious capability in computing. Those that have it tend to be the children of parents who have it or (occasionally) odd-ball self taught almost eccentrics, almost exclusively male.

      Gove is trying to promote much more opportunity to identify and foster these very necessary skills across the whole school population.

    • Hexhamgeezer


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