Computing teaching in staff meltdown?

27 February 2015

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Last week, I wrote about the House of Lords report, “Make or Break: The UK’s digital future.”  I – and many others - have written about the problems facing recruiters in the IT industry caused by the lack of young people, specifically women, coming through the education system.  However the problem is more deep-rooted than that… 

Scotland IS reported a story from the teaching industry’s main newspaper, the Times Educational Supplement (Scotland) from November last year, stating that “computing is suffering a ‘recruitment crisis’ in schools, at a time when such expertise has become more crucial than ever.”

The number of teachers of computing has fallen by 14% over the last two years.  The standard reaction has been a demand for an “urgent recruitment drive to increase the number of student computing teachers entering the education system.”  This is admirable, but as the TESS story explains, it’s a case of trying to shut the stable door while the horse is bolting.

Computing at School Scotland (CAS Scotland) made a Freedom of Information request to all 32 local authorities in Scotland.  The results revealed that Scotland is losing computing teachers hand over fist.

A survey in 2012 found that numbers had fallen by 11 per cent in the five years since 2006-07, from 866 to 773. In the last two years however, the decrease has accelerated further, to just 664 teachers.  Local authorities are reporting very poor numbers of applicants, with one council able to fill only one of eight vacant posts and another filled only nine jobs from 17 vacancies.  And if this is bad, then the statistic that only 20 postgraduate students were training to be computing teachers in Scotland last year is even worse.

Add in the fact that secondary pupils study computing for less than one period a week according to CAS Scotland and then consider that the digital/computing industries in Scotland will need tens of thousands of new IT professionals in the next five years and the word ‘crisis’ is not an exaggeration.

The government, as all governments do, claims that they have plans and initiatives to help address these problems.  However, the House of Lords report is not wrong: no matter which way you look at it, there are not enough teachers specialising in computing and IT.  Part of the problem is that IT professionals can make far more money in the private sector than they can as a teacher. 

If you agree that the country needs to maintain and develop its digital/computing capabilities, then we need the seed corn to grow and develop. Without enough teachers to teach and inspire, this is going to be very difficult.  Government cannot make people become teachers, but they can provide incentives.  Lots of other areas of education will claim to be equally important, but government is about making not just difficult decisions, but the right decisions.  On all current projections, we don’t have enough IT professionals coming through our education system.  If these TESS/CAS Scotland figures are correct, the situation is going to get worse, not better.

Gareth Biggerstaff, MD, Be-IT Resourcing

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