Pupils as young as 11 are to be given lessons in online security that will prepare them for careers fighting cyber-crime and online attacks, ministers revealed today.
The Department for Business, Innovation and Skills believes that improving education in "cyber-security" is key to the UK's economic future and is calling for schools to teach it as part of the new computing curriculum.
The department wants to reach pupils at a much earlier age as part of its latest plan to fill the growing skills shortage in the digital industries, of which cyber security is a growing area.
Under the plans, teachers will also be given more training to help deliver the topic as part of the wider computing curriculum.
Universities and science minister David Willetts (pictured) said: “Today, countries that can manage cyber-security risks have a clear competitive advantage. By ensuring cyber-security is integral to education at all ages, we will help equip the UK with the professional and technical skills we need for long-term economic growth.”
Sir David Pepper, who represents the professional institutions in the Cyber Security Skills Alliance, welcomed the move, adding that it was a growing area of concern for businesses, and would help industry in "the fight against the growing threat from cyber crime”.
Mr Willetts' department has pledged to work with businesses over the next year to develop teaching and learning materials for 11-14 year-olds.
The aim is to target children early enough to influence their GCSE option choices. A lack of pupils, particularly girls, choosing science, technology and maths subjects is highlighted by the strategy as a key reason for a lack of cyber-security skills in the UK.
Naace, an ICT association, and e-skills UK, a training quango, are being funded to provide the new materials and training for teachers, “equipping them to include cyber security when teaching the new computing curriculum”.
Miles Berry, board member of IT subject association Naace and principal lecturer in computing at Roehampton University, said it was the right move, adding that it could even be included earlier in a child's education.
"I'm sure we need to have more home grown talent working in cyber-security, and it is an area that will continue to grow," Mr Berry said.
"There will be some who, having been taught it at school, will want to go into a career in cyber-security but making sure everyone keeps their data safe and secure is vital to everyone online these days. There is no reason it couldn't be taught at Key Stage 2 or even as young as Key Stage 1."