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Will Computer Science fail as a GCSE subject? Watch

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    The British Computer Society is deeply concerned over the stagnation of number of Computer Science GCSE applicants.

    Figures released by Ofqual reveal that a total of 67,800 year 11 students were entered for the Computer Science GCSE in 2017. Only a slight increase over 61,220 year 11 students in 2016.

    http://www.bcs.org/content/conWebDoc/57904

    This has also been reported by the computer and mainstream media:

    https://www.theregister.co.uk/2017/0...boost_numbers/

    http://www.thinkdigitalpartners.com/...-gcse-courses/

    https://www.scmagazineuk.com/gcse-co...rticle/669401/

    http://www.information-age.com/numbe...ern-123466856/

    http://www.sec-ed.co.uk/news/the-cha...ence-pendulum/

    https://schoolsweek.co.uk/calls-for-...ake-up-stalls/

    http://news.sky.com/story/computing-...fears-10920070

    http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/technology-40322796

    http://www.independent.co.uk/news/ed...-a7808171.html

    Is this a temporary slowdown or do you think that in 5 or so years time Computer Science will be a marginal, unpopular, or even failed GCSE similar to Electronics? If you didn’t already know, Electronics was conceived around 1980 as a modern technology subject and replacement for the old woodwork and metalwork but it failed to catch on and is now taken by only a thousand or so students each year; offered by a small fraction of secondary schools; and is a GCSE that few people care about or even know exists. Could Computer Science go down the same avenue?

    It will be more helpful to compare Computer Science at GCSE with Science (or Biology, Chemistry, and Physics) rather than ICT which it replaced.
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    (Original post by Arran90)
    Could Computer Science go down the same avenue?
    I can share these three observations and hypotheses:

    (i) Many of the students that I have taught in my first-year undergraduate computing classes express a relief, quite explicitly, that they are finally around people who have a mastery of the subject and can push them to learn more. It is regrettable, but without sufficient training in place, young people may very well lack confidence that they will receive sufficiently high quality teaching in this area.

    (ii) A non-trivial number of the teachers and school leaders that I work with have expressed concern about the lack of digital literacy in young people. The existing IT curriculum does a lot more to help these young people develop their digital literacy when compared to the computer science curriculum; which, more often than not, is perceived as requiring a strong digital literacy as a prerequisite. Again, regrettably, schools may be desperately holding on to their IT curricula as they feel they need to impart digital literacy skills to their students, while at the same time discouraging those same students---perceived as having poor digital literacy---from the new 'harder' computer science courses.

    (iii) The curriculum offered by many exam boards is, or at least is perceived to be, boring. As part of this, the assessments are, or at least are perceived to be, inauthentic. If young people's pre-GCSE computer science classes are representative of this curriculum, then it is going to turn potential students away. Complaints I hear often include: there is too much writing of documentation; and being penalized for poor writing, even through their design was sound and the code they authored functional. For such an exciting and generally-applied subject area, with applications in nearly every field and context conceivable, it is regrettable that it has developed such a reputation.

    With Regards,
    Michael
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    (Original post by Falmouth Uni Games Academy (Computing))
    (i) Many of the students that I have taught in my first-year undergraduate computing classes express a relief, quite explicitly, that they are finally around people who have a mastery of the subject and can push them to learn more. It is regrettable, but without sufficient training in place, young people may very well lack confidence that they will receive sufficiently high quality teaching in this area.
    I have had many discussions about Computer Science at GCSE level and one constantly recurring point are the teachers. Computer Science is a very different beast to the old ICT it replaced, so requires teachers with a different knowledge base and a different mindset from those of a large number of ICT teacher. It's a known fact that a significant proportion of ICT teachers can only use computers for office type tasks and have a limited knowledge of the workings of computer hardware and software because they have never studied computer science (or similar subject) at a comparable or higher level to the Computer Science GCSE. It's not uncommon to find geography, English, and PE teachers teaching ICT in secondary schools.

    On the other hand, most secondary school science teachers have studied science subjects at a level higher than GCSE. Good physics teachers who can teach at KS4 level have always been a bit tricky to find but teachers who have knowledge of KS3 level biology are ten a penny.

    Unless there are initiatives (and plenty of public money) to train up people from industry with knowledge and higher education in computer science (or similar subject) as teachers then a shortage of good computer science teachers will result in the subject faltering in secondary schools. Another question is what to do with former ICT teachers who lack the knowledge of computer science so are unable to teach it. Redundancy is something that the teaching unions will not tolerate any more than redundancy of woodwork and metalwork teachers in the 1980s who did not have the knowledge to teach ICT, electronics, or any other subjects.

    There is anecdotal evidence that computer science has fared better in some independent schools than in state schools. This could be a result of independent schools not having more knowledgeable ICT teachers but in them being able to employ people from industry who are not qualified as teachers to teach computer science.

    Would it be sensible for a person with a degree in computer science (or similar subject) to study for a PCGE with the intent of becoming a computer science teacher in a secondary school or would they be better off starting out teaching a more mainstream subject, like mathematics, then moving to computer science later on? Discussions with technology teachers over the years have revealed that despite alleged shortages of such (good?) teachers they recommend anybody wanting to teach a technology subject to first get into the teaching profession in a more mainstream subject, like mathematics or science, then move into teaching technology later on.
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    (Original post by Falmouth Uni Games Academy (Computing))
    (ii) A non-trivial number of the teachers and school leaders that I work with have expressed concern about the lack of digital literacy in young people. The existing IT curriculum does a lot more to help these young people develop their digital literacy when compared to the computer science curriculum
    I'm not quite sure what digital literacy actually means in practice. The term computer literate has constantly changed it's meaning over time. In 1990 it meant knowledge of DOS commands. In 2000 it meant the ability to use Micro$oft office software under Windows. In 2010 it meant the ability to use the internet and social media.

    In my experience, most kids are naturally attracted to digital devices and are adept at using them although only a fraction know how they actually work. It's interesting to note that more school age children now own a smartphone, tablet, or computer than own a bike. Something almost unimaginable back in the 1990s. There were probably many good reasons to teach ICT in secondary schools back in the 1990s but the latest course is boring and dated. Most kids learn more useful and up to date aspects of ICT outside of lessons by playing with the latest smartphone. Schools are limited in what digital systems they offer to students. ICT has historically been biased towards Micro$oft office software and has not kept pace with developments elsewhere, especially mobile computing.

    If the primary purpose of ICT is a life skill rather than an academic subject then it's questionable whether it should be an examined subject leading to a qualification or should be non-examined like PHSE is.

    Again, regrettably, schools may be desperately holding on to their IT curricula as they feel they need to impart digital literacy skills to their students, while at the same time discouraging those same students---perceived as having poor digital literacy---from the new 'harder' computer science courses.
    I am aware that a significant number of students (just over 58,000 according to Ofqual) were entered for the ICT GCSE in 2017 so there must still be hundreds of secondary schools teaching the subject. This is despite the last ICT exams will be offered less than a year away in 2018. What I am wondering is are these schools evenly spread throughout England or are they concentrated in areas that are poor, 'deprived', have a high proportion of students where English isn't their first language, or where there are a serious shortage of teachers with skills and knowledge to teach computer science? It's possible that some schools might be clinging on to the ICT GCSE until the bitter end simply because they don't have the teachers to teach computer science, or in order to boost GCSE results because governors and head teachers deem computer science to be too hard for the students at the school compared with ICT, or computer science to be an unsuitable subject for students from poor and 'deprived' backgrounds?

    It has been mentioned in previous discussions that the ICT GCSE has been deliberately abolished to prevent a potential divide in schools taking place. A situation could arise where most secondary schools in the suburbs and the shires, or where overall GCSE grades are good, end up offering the Computer Science GCSE, whereas most secondary schools in poor and 'deprived' areas, or where overall GCSE grades are mediocre or poor, end up offering the ICT GCSE. If such a divide occurred then it could create problems at primary school level similar to the problems in the 1960s and 70s when some secondary schools taught a traditional mathematics O Level and others taught the SMP Modern Mathematics O Level. There is some evidence that under the previous Labour government that many schools in poor and 'deprived' areas were trying to improve their positions on league tables by encouraging students to get good GCSE grades in 'soft' subjects, like religious studies and food technology, rather than traditional academic subjects. This is what encouraged Michael Gove to come up with the EBacc which only encompasses traditional academic subjects.

    (iii) The curriculum offered by many exam boards is, or at least is perceived to be, boring. As part of this, the assessments are, or at least are perceived to be, inauthentic. If young people's pre-GCSE computer science classes are representative of this curriculum, then it is going to turn potential students away. Complaints I hear often include: there is too much writing of documentation; and being penalized for poor writing, even through their design was sound and the code they authored functional. For such an exciting and generally-applied subject area, with applications in nearly every field and context conceivable, it is regrettable that it has developed such a reputation.
    The Computer Science GCSE has been reformed as part of Michael Gove's GCSE reforms. How does the new course compare with the old course?
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    I was a CS GCSE student who was part of the last cohort of a* graded exams. For me, although i did receive an a star by the grace of God, i did find it extremely long-winding and indeed BORING. Many people did not choose it as it seemed too 'geekish' and hard. The subject had no 'fun' element to it, when people thought if programming in my class, they'd moan. Maybe because of the teachers or because of the syllabus or the subject itself.

    I think people should do more to show that it could be a fun subject, not just programming and sitting in front of the computer all the time.

    Just a past students experience,
    UP
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    (Original post by Uranium Potato)
    I think people should do more to show that it could be a fun subject
    What do you think will make computer science a fun subject?

    Take into account that some kids would prefer to spend all day in mathematics lessons than running around on a muddy football pitch on a cold wet day and vice versa.
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    (Original post by Arran90)
    What do you think will make computer science a fun subject?

    Take into account that some kids would prefer to spend all day in mathematics lessons than running around on a muddy football pitch on a cold wet day and vice versa.
    Show them stuff like how much of their life is actually made up of it
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    (Original post by Uranium Potato)
    Show them stuff like how much of their life is actually made up of it
    I did the old Computing A Level. I can't say it was fun and much of the course was quite dull as it was heavily biased towards business data processing. There wasn't much in the way of cool applications in it.

    The Computer Science GCSE definitely needs to have interesting content in it for it to be popular, or even successful.

    Another concern I have got is that the Computer Science A Level is not a facilitating subject and whether this has the potential to jeopardise and devalue the Computer Science GCSE as a result.
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    To an extent, I think that quite a few of the STEM -related subjects will experience some level of decline, if not a decline entirely. Not just Computer Science.

    I found with GCSE, a while back for both Science in general and Computer Science that most of the tutors generally didn't have what I'd consider at this stage a good understanding around the subject area, or often failed to point in the right direction. Useless fact memorisation aside. A lot of GCSEs in the science subjects almost beat any ingenuity or inquisitiveness out of younger people.

    EDIT: Not to mention that people are either killed by a PPT, or just the bog-standard whiteboard stuff. It's not really engaging.
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    From personal experience I think it can depend on the exam board. What exam board are you doing?

    I studied iGCSE CIE Computer Science. While I did find it challenging, I also found it interesting and managed to get 92 UMS (A*).
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    (Original post by Binary Freak)
    I found with GCSE, a while back for both Science in general and Computer Science that most of the tutors generally didn't have what I'd consider at this stage a good understanding around the subject area, or often failed to point in the right direction. Useless fact memorisation aside. A lot of GCSEs in the science subjects almost beat any ingenuity or inquisitiveness out of younger people.
    Science teachers who do not have a good understanding of their subject and those which are uninspiring to students have been a phenomenon of British secondary schools for many decades. Despite their shortcomings, science (or Biology, Chemistry, and Physics) will not die or fail as subjects for the foreseeable future. It will always be a mainstream subject.

    Electronics failed as a subject in secondary schools even though there were many teachers with an in-depth knowledge of the subject and could inspire students. Some schools which teach the subject at GCSE (or one of its relatives such as D&T Systems and Control) have students which almost always achieve high grades, but interest in the GCSE by both students and schools that do not teach it remains low. I am concerned that the rise and fall of Electronics could be a snapshot of what the future could hold for computer science.
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    (Original post by Arran90)
    Science teachers who do not have a good understanding of their subject and those which are uninspiring to students have been a phenomenon of British secondary schools for many decades. Despite their shortcomings, science (or Biology, Chemistry, and Physics) will not die or fail as subjects for the foreseeable future. It will always be a mainstream subject.

    Electronics failed as a subject in secondary schools even though there were many teachers with an in-depth knowledge of the subject and could inspire students. Some schools which teach the subject at GCSE (or one of its relatives such as D&T Systems and Control) have students which almost always achieve high grades, but interest in the GCSE by both students and schools that do not teach it remains low. I am concerned that the rise and fall of Electronics could be a snapshot of what the future could hold for computer science.
    My school taught Electronics GCSE but as a subject on Monday afternoons. 18 people took it in the end including me, out of 120 people. The subject was fun.
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    (Original post by Arran90)
    The British Computer Society is deeply concerned over the stagnation of number of Computer Science GCSE applicants.

    Figures released by Ofqual reveal that a total of 67,800 year 11 students were entered for the Computer Science GCSE in 2017. Only a slight increase over 61,220 year 11 students in 2016.

    http://www.bcs.org/content/conWebDoc/57904

    This has also been reported by the computer and mainstream media:

    https://www.theregister.co.uk/2017/0...boost_numbers/

    http://www.thinkdigitalpartners.com/...-gcse-courses/

    https://www.scmagazineuk.com/gcse-co...rticle/669401/

    http://www.information-age.com/numbe...ern-123466856/

    http://www.sec-ed.co.uk/news/the-cha...ence-pendulum/

    https://schoolsweek.co.uk/calls-for-...ake-up-stalls/

    http://news.sky.com/story/computing-...fears-10920070

    http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/technology-40322796

    http://www.independent.co.uk/news/ed...-a7808171.html

    Is this a temporary slowdown or do you think that in 5 or so years time Computer Science will be a marginal, unpopular, or even failed GCSE similar to Electronics? If you didn’t already know, Electronics was conceived around 1980 as a modern technology subject and replacement for the old woodwork and metalwork but it failed to catch on and is now taken by only a thousand or so students each year; offered by a small fraction of secondary schools; and is a GCSE that few people care about or even know exists. Could Computer Science go down the same avenue?

    It will be more helpful to compare Computer Science at GCSE with Science (or Biology, Chemistry, and Physics) rather than ICT which it replaced.
    It didn’t replace ict, ict was just discontinued for being too easy
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    (Original post by Reece.W.J)
    It didn’t replace ict, ict was just discontinued for being too easy
    To be ultra pedantic, yes.

    ICT departments in schools will have to change into Computer Science departments so you could argue that the Computer Science GCSE has effectively replaced the ICT GCSE even though they ran in parallel for a few years. This is despite them being very different subjects so a similar analogy doesn't exist to the Science GCSE replacing Biology, Chemistry, and Physics GCSEs in schools.
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    (Original post by Uranium Potato)
    I was a CS GCSE student who was part of the last cohort of a* graded exams. For me, although i did receive an a star by the grace of God, i did find it extremely long-winding and indeed BORING. Many people did not choose it as it seemed too 'geekish' and hard. The subject had no 'fun' element to it, when people thought if programming in my class, they'd moan. Maybe because of the teachers or because of the syllabus or the subject itself.

    I think people should do more to show that it could be a fun subject, not just programming and sitting in front of the computer all the time.

    Just a past students experience,
    UP
    I don't know what the answer is.
    when the first 8 bit 'home computers' came out a subset of kids thought it was fascinating to program them... BASIC interpreter was the only software a lot of them came supplied with anyway.
    generally no one got much of a big project completed because the disk drives were a huge extra cost comparable to the price of the puter itself so everything was lost when you switched off.
    Basically that was small self-selected goals driven by competition with your mates to see who could produce the best code in perhaps a couple of hours. Maybe you'd read a magazine article about a better search algorithm or something and you'd want to play with that for a bit.

    What IMO sucked the fun out of the old DT O levels that I did was that you were required to produce and document a design project which always seemed contrived and was a longwinded bore when you wanted to be having fun learning some more new stuff.
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    (Original post by Joinedup)
    I don't know what the answer is.
    when the first 8 bit 'home computers' came out a subset of kids thought it was fascinating to program them... BASIC interpreter was the only software a lot of them came supplied with anyway.
    generally no one got much of a big project completed because the disk drives were a huge extra cost comparable to the price of the puter itself so everything was lost when you switched off.
    Basically that was small self-selected goals driven by competition with your mates to see who could produce the best code in perhaps a couple of hours. Maybe you'd read a magazine article about a better search algorithm or something and you'd want to play with that for a bit.

    What IMO sucked the fun out of the old DT O levels that I did was that you were required to produce and document a design project which always seemed contrived and was a longwinded bore when you wanted to be having fun learning some more new stuff.
    The first computer programs I wrote were stored on punched paper tape, I then progressed to audio cassettes.
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    Look at it from this perspective.

    GCSE Science (and Biology, Chemistry, and Physics) are:

    1. STEM subjects
    2. Deemed to be academically rigorous subjects
    3. Valued by higher education and employers
    4. Academic subjects rather than life skills

    GCSE ICT is:

    1. Not a STEM subject. It could be argued to be the modern day typing and office skills course that schools taught in the 1960s.
    2. Generally deemed to be a soft subject
    3. Not valued, or even counted, by higher education and employers. A GCSE in ICT is not required to study ICT or Computer Science in higher education and applicants with a GCSE in ICT are of no advantage over those without it.
    4. Often promoted as a life skill

    GCSE Computer Science ticks boxes 1, 2, and 4 for GCSE Science. As it is a new subject then only time will tell whether it ticks box 3.
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    Well STEM is a bit of a red herring IMO, e.g. if you want to be a teacher they'll ask if you've got a science which means strictly physics, chemistry and biology.

    BTW there was a 'computer studies' O level in the 8 bit BASIC era which did involve a bit of learning to code. I didn't do it and tbh most of the kids who were really into computers didn't either. my mates big sister (who did) told me it was soft and involved a lot of essay writing about the sociological implications of technology etc... as well as the dreaded project.
    Mates big sister left school at 16 and went to work doing 'data entry' at an insurance company fwiw.

    The best thing about computer studies was that it gave the school a reason to have about 10 TRS-80 micros which at my place we were allowed to use one lunch hour per week while the teacher sat in the room eating his sarnies to make sure a riot / theiving spree didn't break out.

    http://www.edtechhistory.org.uk/hist...ogramming.html

    ---
    just noticed this on the above webpage...

    Lamb (1985) summed up the general approach at that time to programming: " The ability to program is the most obvious skill that a child might acquire from school computing, but it is not necessarily an instant passport to a job. Although surveys of the computer industry continually allege that there is a severe shortage of programmers. systems analysts and engineers, school-leavers often find it difficult to get a start in computing. Employers want skilled staff and are reluctant to spend money on trainees. ln any case, few school children will join the sunrise industries of computing and electronics. Even if they do work with computers, they will not need more than an acquaintance with the standard typewriter keyboard in order to cope with the technologiy. ln the longer term, detailed knowledge of computers wilI become even less relevant as manufacturers strive to cut out the complexities of computer operation and make their machines more "user friendly".

    (my emphasis)
    TBH the entreaties of the BCS etc should probably be treated with a degree of scepticism today as well tbh.
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    (Original post by Joinedup)
    Well STEM is a bit of a red herring IMO, e.g. if you want to be a teacher they'll ask if you've got a science which means strictly physics, chemistry and biology.
    Do you know of any instances of people being rejected because they didn't have a traditional science GCSE but they had an alternative science GCSE such as astronomy or environmental science?

    I read somewhere that Computer Science officially counts as a science at GCSE.
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    (Original post by Arran90)
    Science teachers who do not have a good understanding of their subject and those which are uninspiring to students have been a phenomenon of British secondary schools for many decades. Despite their shortcomings, science (or Biology, Chemistry, and Physics) will not die or fail as subjects for the foreseeable future. It will always be a mainstream subject.

    Electronics failed as a subject in secondary schools even though there were many teachers with an in-depth knowledge of the subject and could inspire students. Some schools which teach the subject at GCSE (or one of its relatives such as D&T Systems and Control) have students which almost always achieve high grades, but interest in the GCSE by both students and schools that do not teach it remains low. I am concerned that the rise and fall of Electronics could be a snapshot of what the future could hold for computer science.
    GCSE electronics failed because it was pointless. Electronics was not nessecary if you wanted to apply for electronic engineering at uni and I am very doubtful that it even gave applicants an edge in the application process.
 
 
 
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