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Cochrane welcomes progress on teaching of computer science in schools

March 14, 2012 1:56 PM

Alliance East Belfast MLA Judith Cochrane has raised the issues of Computer Science with the Minister of Education John O'Dowd MLA in the Assembly. She asked the Minister whether his Department planned to introduce a separate computer science GCSE subject to address the skills shortage in this sector.

The Minister responded saying: "I noted with interest the Secretary of State's decision in England to disapply the national curriculum programmes of study and the associated attainment targets and assessment arrangements for ICT from September 2012. Should that decision lead to changes in ICT-related qualifications, including GCSEs, I will, of course, want to consider the implications for pupils in the North. Indeed, I have asked the Council for the Curriculum, Examinations and Assessment (CCEA) to consider the developments in England and provide formal advice on whether similar GCSE and GCE specifications should be developed for use here.

"Computer science is a specialised field, and the flexibility already in place within the revised curriculum enables schools to teach the subject at any key stage, if they feel it appropriate. At Key Stage 4, GCSE, some awarding bodies offer computing in addition to ICT. The revised curriculum has been designed to provide flexibility for schools to develop experiences that suit the needs of their pupils. The revised curriculum embeds mandatory cross-curricular skills and keeps prescribed content to a minimum, allowing schools to choose the most appropriate approach to take to ensure that pupils are engaged and challenged to reach their full potential."

In light of general perceptions that ICT gives a better prospect of pupils achieving a higher grade than other subjects such as computer science, Judith also asked the Minister if he agreed that schools are unlikely to choose to offer the more challenging option, unless they are actively encouraged to do so?

While the Minister stated that he did not think that was the case with many young people displaying a great interest in ICT, he did admit: "We have to focus now on whether the coursework and provision are adequate and meet the sector's needs. I, too, have been approached by pupils and teachers - you have been in regular correspondence with me, as has the sector - to say that the skills base that is laid down at schools may not meet the needs of the ICT sector. The establishment of a task force by the Minister for Employment and Learning is a valuable step forward. I and my Department are happy to engage fully with that working group. I am happy to work on and move along any of its findings, which will be evidence and research based, to ensure that we have the skills base required to build the ICT sector."

Judith Cochrane MLA said: "It is very encouraging to see the Minister and his Department begin to take notice of the alarming prospects for our computer skills sector if computer science education is neglected. During the course of my correspondence with the Minister over the past several months, I feel that positive steps have been made towards placing greater emphasis upon Computer Science. I sincerely hope that yet more can be achieved going forward, particularly with regard to further exploration of GB developments and having a wider conversation on whether similar GCSE and GCE specifications should be developed for use here, with enhanced stakeholder engagement."

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