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Policy projects

Computing education

Heathrow Coding Challenge at the Ellen Wilkinson School for Girls, held on 8 March 2016. Image courtesy of Heathrow

Why is computing education a Royal Society priority?

Computing underpins almost all areas of the modern world and many new opportunities in science and engineering could not have been realised without it. Employers are seeking students who understand computing and are able to apply these skills. Teachers need support from the science community and industry to increase the number of students (especially girls) leaving school confident in coding, algorithmic thinking and computer science.

What happens in schools now?

In 2012, the Royal Society published Shut Down or Restart?, a review of ICT and computing education in schools.  A new computing curriculum for 5-16 year olds has since been designed. This was introduced into English schools in September 2014. The new school subject is called computing (rather than ‘information communication technology’), and it places a greater emphasis on coding, algorithmic thinking and computer science, rather than digital literacy, typing or elementary software skills.

The curriculum is in its infancy and in the next few years students will become more and more proficient in computing, meaning the curriculum, its assessment and the resources available will need to evolve. Unlike in other countries, there are far more boys than girls studying computing at GCSE and A level.

In Scotland, the Curriculum for Excellence (introduced in 2010) includes coverage of computing science contexts for developing technological skills and knowledge. In Wales and Northern Ireland the curricula are primarily focused on ICT.

What is the Royal Society seeking to achieve?

The Royal Society is committed to supporting effective teaching of the school and college computing curricula across the UK (5-18 year olds) and has launched a programme of work to gather and share evidence about how this is being delivered in practice. The work will lead to the development of support for UK schools and colleges, which may include:

  • classroom resources, teacher guidance, and CPD programmes;
  • effective assessment tools that teachers can use to understand and guide progress;
  • guidance about how to address gender imbalance in the uptake of computing; and
  • opportunities for project work in schools, perhaps with corporate partners.

What will the Society be doing?

The first stage of the project will pull together evidence-based proposals for the programmes and policies that need to be in place to make the school computing curriculum flourish.

This will involve a six-month research stage to examine computing teaching in schools today and establish priority objectives for the second stage. A report will be published in November 2017.

To provide the vital evidence base, the Royal Society has commissioned Pye Tait Consulting to undertake research that examines how computing education is currently taught and resourced. This will be achieved via:

  • An online survey of primary and secondary schools/college computing teachers across the four UK nations;
  • In-depth case studies with schools; and
  • Workshops with teachers to test ideas and explore options for the future.

A key focus will be obtaining insights around the current curriculum, best practice, types of challenges faced and how these have been overcome.

This work will complement a separate literature review on effective computing pedagogy and effective assessment of computing, as well as a baseline study on participation and attainment in computing education using existing national data. This current programme of research is expected to be complete by early summer 2017.

During the second stage, concrete work programmes will be required to deliver on those objectives. Some possibilities include teaching resources, professional development opportunities or delivering projects in classrooms.

Who will inform this project?

This Royal Society Computing Education project is led by an Advisory Group involving a range of expertise.

Who are the partners in this project?

The first stage of the project is being supported by Microsoft and Google. Other partners include the Royal Academy of Engineering, the BCS and Computing At School.