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20 February 2024

Call for major shake-up to 11-16 education to improve digital skills

Computing education for 11–16-year-olds needs urgent reform,  according to a report published by a House of Lords committee at the end of last term.

The report agrees with recommendations from experts and BCS and CAS voices to improve computing education.

Recommendations in the House of Lords Education for 11–16 Year Old Committee’s report include; a new applied computing GCSE; a digital literacy qualification and axing the EBacc. The committee says that urgent changes are needed to create an education system which delivers skills, creativity and knowledge relevant for the future.

CAS is delighted that the committee has agreed with our calls for reform to provide wider access to a broad computing education.

A green paper written by Prof Simon Peyton Jones OBE, co-founder and Chair of CAS, and  Dame Prof Muffy Calder, Chair BCS School Curriculum and Assessment Committee, was submitted as evidence to the committee, which explained that “the most significant barrier to giving our children an excellent education in computing is the structure of computing qualifications at Key Stage 4”.

Prof Simon Peyton Jones welcomed the committee’s report. He said;

“Qualifications drive behaviour; so, we need computing qualifications that serve the needs of all our young people. I am delighted to see the Lords committee's support for the reshaping of computing qualifications that BCS and CAS have long been advocating. Here is our white paper, which lays out the challenges and possible solutions.”

"Requires Improvement"

The House of Lords Education for 11-16 Year Olds Committee report, titled Requires Improvement: urgent change for 11-16 education, criticised current provision for "incentivising schools to focus their resources on a narrow set of core subjects" which meant many pupils have fewer opportunities to experience different types of learning and to study creative, technical and vocational subjects. Pupils are also developing essential literacy, numeracy and digital skills. 

The report’s key recommendations are:

  • review curriculum content at key stage 3 and reduce GCSE content
  • scrap the EBacc
  • support schools to offer functional literacy and numeracy qualifications at key stage 4
  • introduce two new digital qualifications: an applied computing GCSE and a digital literacy qualification
  • identify ways to increase the use of non-exam assessment at GCSE

The committee heard evidence from Julia Adamson MBE, MD for Education and Public Benefit at BCS, the Chartered Institute for IT, at its autumn hearing in Westminster. She called for a shake-up to the 11-16 curriculum, including the urgent introduction of a new GCSE in applied computing alongside a wider digital literacy qualification.

Only a handful of children currently study computing beyond age 14 (94% of girls and 79% of boys drop computing after Y9). Julia proposed the introduction of a new qualification that would recognise “higher-level technical knowledge and skills at the GCSE level,” valued equally to Computer Science GCSE.

Julia said;

“The committee agreed with our recommendations, including that the Government should introduce a new GCSE in applied computing as soon as possible and explore launching a basic digital literacy qualification that can be taken at key stage 4. “This will ensure all pupils have the skills to participate effectively in post-16 education and training, employment and wider life.”

Urgent reform

The committee heard evidence from witnesses across education, including pupils, teachers, school leaders, academics and ministers before compiling their report

The committee’s chair, Lord Jo Johnson, said;

“The evidence we have received is compelling. Change to the education system for 11 to 16-year-olds is urgently needed to address an overloaded curriculum, a disproportionate exam burden and declining opportunities to study creative and technical subjects.”

Read the committee’s report, Requires improvement: urgent change for 11–16 education

The government is now preparing its response to the House of Lords Committee report and will be publishing this soon. CAS awaits with interest the government’s response to the committee’s recommendations, and we’ll be sharing details with CAS members as soon as we can.