Lack of specialist ICT teachers must be addressed


Just 35% of ICT teachers are specialists, compared with, for example, 74% of maths, 76% of history, 80% of English, and 88% of biology, according to a new report from the Royal Society. 

The new report, Shut down or Restart? The way forward for Computing in UK schools, analyses recent declines in numbers of young people studying computing at schools and the reasons for the declines. 

Professor Steve Furber, Fellow of the Royal Society and Chair of the report, said: “The most significant factor affecting how well young people learn is the teacher in their classroom.  The majority of teachers are specialists, but ICT is an exception to the rule. 

"Our study found some fantastic examples of teaching, but the fact remains that the majority of teachers are not specialists and we heard from young people that they often knew more than the teacher giving the lesson.  Action is needed not only on the curriculum itself, but also to recruit and train many more inspiring teachers to reinvigorate pupils’ enthusiasm for Computing.” 

Analysis in the Royal Society report showed marked trends in the numbers of students achieving ICT or Computing qualifications, including a 60% decline in the numbers achieving A level Computing since 2003, a 34% decline at ICT A Level over the same period, and a 57% decline in ICT GCSE.  

The report identified a number of problems with current Information and Communication Technology (ICT) in schools that have led to these declines, particularly a chronic lack of specialist teachers who can teach beyond basic digital literacy and the breadth of interpretation of the current national curriculum which allows the subject to be taught at its lowest level.   

The report found that just 35% of ICT teachers in England had a qualification considered by the Department for Education to be relevant.  This compares to 74% of maths teachers, 69% of physics teachers, 73% of chemistry teachers and 88% of biology teachers. 

Similar figures are found when “Arts” subjects are examined, for example 80% of English teachers, 76% of history teachers and 87% of music teachers all have a relevant post A-level qualification. 

The report suggests that the apparently high proportion of non-specialist teachers of ICT may help to explain the recurrent finding that students’ ICT capability often outstrips the teachers’ subject knowledge.   

The report recommends that targets are set for the numbers of Computer Science and Information Technology specialist teachers and that training bursaries are provided to attract more suitably qualified graduates.  Teachers’ skills should be developed with a specified minimum level of continuing professional development (CPD) in order to ensure that schools can deliver a rigorous curriculum and engaging learning environment

The report is the result of an 18 month study, led by the Royal Society, the UK’s national academy of science, involving the education, higher education and industry sectors, learned societies and professional bodies. 

Professor Furber added: “This report provides a comprehensive analysis of the evidence and recommendations for the way forward.  We look forward to working with the Department for Education over the coming months.” 

School Leadership Today