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'Collapse' in trainee numbers threatens computing plans

news | Published in TES magazine on 22 February, 2013 | By: Kerra Maddern

PGCE recruitment crisis may jeopardise delivery of new curriculum

The government’s plans to revolutionise computer science in schools are in jeopardy after a “collapse” in the number of applications to teacher training courses, experts have warned.

Graduates are shunning courses designed to prepare teachers for a new curriculum backed by technology giants including Facebook, Microsoft and IBM, figures reveal, despite scholarships of £20,000 for the best recruits.

The number of people applying for computer science PGCEs in England is down by a third compared with applications for the old ICT course at the same time last year. The number of applicants last year was itself down by more than 50 per cent on 2011, which suggests a continuing crisis in recruitment.

The falls follow a period of uncertainty about the future of the subject in secondary schools. Education secretary Michael Gove announced in January last year that the “demotivating and dull” ICT curriculum would be scrapped ahead of the introduction of a new qualification in computer science. Although Mr Gove promoted the importance of computer science at the time, he did not include it in the English Baccalaureate performance measure. That decision was reversed last month.

Internet pioneers, including Eric Schmidt, executive chairman of Google, and Tim Berners-Lee, the man credited with inventing the world wide web, have called for better computer science teaching in Britain’s schools.

The Department for Education has said that recruiting “outstanding new teachers in this vital subject” is a priority to “ensure Britain competes and thrives in the global race”. But the BCS, the chartered institute for IT, which has been integral to establishing the new teacher training scholarships, is concerned about the lack of interest in courses starting this September.

“There has been an almost instantaneous switch from ICT to computer science; this is fantastic and we are very supportive,” Bill Mitchell, director of the BCS Academy of Computing, said. “But there is a gap, a shortfall in recruitment to PGCE courses this year, which is serious.

“I am starting to feel nervous that we might have two years in which we won’t have sufficient people going into the workforce.

“There have been so many mixed messages… that people are now confused about what is going on. A lot of people thought ICT was being scrapped and that meant computing wouldn’t be taught in schools. That is wrong,” Dr Mitchell added. “We’ve got to do all we can to get our message across. The current situation is frustrating because there is going to be a massive demand for computer science specialist teachers in the coming years.”

Just 125 people had by the end of January applied for more than 800 places on courses starting this year, the latest official figures show. Staff from the Teaching Agency, the body responsible for teacher training, met with the BCS yesterday to discuss the situation.

Dr Mitchell said that even if all the training places are filled, it will still be a significant task to improve the subject knowledge of teachers in all schools to prepare them for the new curriculum, due to be introduced next year. The draft primary curriculum, published earlier this month, said children should learn basic coding before they start secondary school.

Helen Boulton, who will run the computer science PGCE at Nottingham Trent University, said applications are “significantly down”. “The challenge now is to fill the places and fill them with the best people,” she said. “It is important we recruit but so far it is very slow.”

Kevin Mattinson, pro vice-chancellor and head of teacher education at Keele University, said he has “real concerns” about recruitment. “This is an ongoing collapse from last year,” he said.

Mr Mattinson added that the situation had been worsened by delays in allocating places for subject knowledge enhancement courses, which can give trainees a way to get on to courses if they do not have up-to-date or relevant qualifications.

Members of the Association for Information Technology in Teacher Education want the Teaching Agency to launch a marketing campaign for computer science PGCEs.

“Potentially there is now a bigger demand for computer science teachers,” Kate Watson, the organisation’s chair, said. “Schools will be looking for them. If we are not producing them then I’m not sure where they will come from.”

A DfE spokeswoman said: “Computer science places for 2013-14 have been allocated in response to providers’ capacity to run new postgraduate computer science courses and to meet schools’ demand for School Direct places in the subject.”

In decline

  • 459 - Applications for IT PGCEs in England, Wales and Scotland, January 2011.
  • 218 - Applications for IT PGCEs in England, Wales and Scotland, January 2012.
  • 189 - Applications for ICT PGCEs in England, January 2012.
  • 125 - Applications for computer science PGCEs in England, January 2013.


Original headline: ‘Collapse’ in trainee numbers could crash computer science plans

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Comment (2)

  • Number of ICT jobs advertised on the TES this week: 66 nationally.

    Number of English teaching jobs: 359 nationally.

    Speaks for itself.

    Unsuitable or offensive? Report this comment

    22 February, 2013


  • Interesting article. GTTR figures till month ending January 2013 state 155 not 125 -

    Lets think about the school environment that trainee teachers might train within. Will trainees be placed in schools following the National Curriculum or placed in Academies/Free schools etc with no such obligation? Will placement schools teach GCSE Computing and/or BTEC Computing/IT qualifications? Trainees are paying £9,000 for this experience, if ITE providers can not provide answers/assurances regards quality of the placement experience to inquiries by potential applicants, we really shouldn’t be surprised that inquiries or expressions of interest aka BCS 400 figure for potential scholarships, do not get converted into applications.

    Here is the list of ITE providers and there allocated number of ‘seats’ for 2013-14. You will find virtually no information regarding the content and composition of the PGCE Computing. Try asking directly!

    Of the 800 allocated places to ITE, can they guarantee the quality of placement? If trainees are not learning how to impart technical knowledge such as programing, networking theory etc what are they learning to teach?

    The TES article raised the question of ‘subject knowledge enhancement’ courses. Unless these courses are QAd by the BCS I’d be very worried. I asked the TA the following questions:
    Can you clarify if providers running these courses are required to pitch them at an agreed level e.g. 1st year undergraduate Providers are not required to pitch the courses at an agreed level. Subject knowledge enhancement (SKE) courses are programmes which run alongside and support recruitment to post-graduate initial teacher training. They are focused on subjects where there are particular challenges to recruit sufficient well qualified teachers or where there are particular technical demands for subject knowledge. They are designed to enable prospective ITT candidates to meet Standard 3 of the current Teachers’ Standards – demonstrate good subject and curriculum knowledge.

    Do they lead to a meaningful award e.g. Certificate of Higher Education or carry transferable CAT points for individual modules? This is not a requirement but some providers may choose to award certificates or CAT points.

    Is the subject content of these courses common regardless of which provider an individual attends? As the courses are designed to enable prospective ITT candidates to meet Standard 3 of the current Teachers’ Standards – demonstrate good subject and curriculum knowledge, there will be some common elements but the programme content will not be exactly the same. Providers often undertake a training needs analysis and will try, where possible, to tailor the courses.

    How do you breakdown a 36, 28 week course regards contact hours and directed learning. SKE courses are designed to be flexible to meet the needs of individual candidates. This means that they can be delivered in a variety of ways and the content and duration can be focused on the knowledge required to enable each candidate to gain sufficient subject knowledge to meet standard 3. We generally describe the duration of a course in ‘units’, where one unit is equivalent to 50 hours of study activity, or 2 weeks full time academic work. We do not expect all providers will deliver units as two week blocks, the flexibility requirement means that this may be delivered part time.

    The shortfall in recruitment is to be addressed by recruiting candidates without a CS/IT degree (say Business studies as an example) who then study an unaccredited course, with no nationally agreed content, whose learning outcomes vary from one provider to another making a national audit impossible. It would be more effective, and efficient to study A level Math and Computing in 36 weeks and sit a recognised exam. Importantly, this would demonstrate their grasp of subject knowledge. The methods by which trainees were taught would reflect ‘subject pedagogy’ at a level relevant to which they are being trained.

    Unsuitable or offensive? Report this comment

    24 February, 2013


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