back to article Schoolkids learn coding at GCSE level in curriculum trial

Teenagers could be taught to write their own software programs at GCSE as part of a major overhaul of the UK schools' IT curriculum. The new approach is being trialled with 100 students in a two-term experiment that will be rolled out across the UK if it proves successful. Launching the “Behind the Screen” scheme, science …

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Linux

Any idea what language/platform they will be targeting?

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Flame

Well obviously it won't be something useful, but it will be free. so PHP?

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@ DJ2

PHP would be fine, then maybe in a few years I would be able to hire a PHP developer who knew about MVC and OO.

Right now I can barely find any PHP developers of any type around Cambridge.

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Unhappy

Free Market?

@mccp : "Right now I can barely find any PHP developers of any type around Cambridge."

Cambridge is not exactly short of IT talent Many of them are to be found queueing at Giles House* (they are the ones looking at their feet and wishing they had an invisibility cloak)

Surely you would agree that a six-figure salary would get you what you want, right? So the problem is not really availability but economics.

I'm not trying to flame you. Just saying that the practicalities of "procurement" are an important part of any design and you seem to have chosen one** with components that cannot be had for whatever money you're willing to spend.

* That's the local JobCentre, for those who don't know.

** Also, PHP is crap but I guess that's just me ;-)

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Silver badge

Make it Scratch

A great little language, easy to pick up, it produces great results in very little time for the attention starved youth of today, you can create multimedia projects and games, share them with people on almost all hardware platforms and you get to learn the fundamentals of program design as well as event-driven, multi-threaded programming.

The biggest problem with Scratch is getting kids to stop playing with it.

http://scratch.mit.edu/

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Probably Python

Python is being pushed quite hard by most universities as a starter language and with any luck the universities will be consulted.

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Anonymous Coward

Manchester Grammar School?

Really?

When I was there the IT labs were run by the students more or less, I still remember the admin password. (owls, should any young Manc be reading and interested, Go ahead, they might not have changed it). Well assuming they have a better Sys admin than a biology teacher who happened to own a laptop it might not go so badly this time around.

Anon, because I never got caught when I was there and I don't want to be retroactively expelled.

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WTF?

GCSE/Standard grade

When I did my standard grades we programmed in Comal, this was around the year 2000 so schools couldn't yet afford huge numbers of pc's and we were still working on acorns.

I thought this was normal? Are you telling me that kids taking GCSEs don't actually write a single program? Thats f**ing shocking.

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Thumb Up

I remember in primary school...

I used to finish all the work assigned early - without sounding too big headed I was way ahead the rest of the class - and spend the rest of the day on the BBC Micro writing shitty little BASIC games. I started this from age 7.

So forget GCSE - get them in primary school; but otherwise a laudible initiative.

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WTF?

News?

I took an O-level in computer programming in 1982 (got a grade A too!).

So, I'm not sure this qualifies as "news"?

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Anonymous Coward

How about instead of wasting everyones time with lessons on coding, they spend an awful lot more money on teaching English/Maths & the 3 Sciences

With a better and more complete understanding of those 5 subjects younger people could go on to become outstanding programmers without the need for dedicated high school classes in programming, which i'm willing to bet wont really teach you about software engineering but teach you how to use one particular Language & IDE (probably an MS based one) and will ignore other languages and approaches as well as probably several key concepts.

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Anonymous Coward

Doesnt this already happen?

When I was at school (Im 28 now) - We were taught the very fundamental basics of programming using Logo (basically a turtle that you gave it instructions in order to make it draw shapes on the screen, after that we were taught BASIC, I was around 8 when I was taught this.

I do think programming should be taught from a younger age - or at least Programming paradigms.

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Anonymous Coward

but what if your school botched Logo

I seem to remember that in my many years spent sitting in IT suites, we managed to get about half an hour's use out of Logo, and the teacher didn't bother explaining to anyone that you could use recursion to draw spirals and patterns. So a totally wasted opportunity then. As the majority of the class asked themselves why they would want to manually move a turtle around the screen using the keyboard, when the mouse would obviously be much better at doing that.

When yours truly did manage to get some nice spirals, the kids adjacent were interested for maybe 5 seconds until they realised that they would have to understand recursion. At which point they quickly gave up. Lord knows what the teacher was doing, I think he (she?), had simply asked us to open Logo, then done a runner in the hopes that we'd figure it our for ourselves. And you wonder why I hate school so much when every teacher I ever had sold me out in that exact same fashion.

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This post has been deleted by a moderator

At last!

A KS4 IT qualification which isn't about MS Office, MS Office and, erm, MS Office.

I looked through the specs for about half a dozen courses a few years ago, and pretty much all focussed much of Year 10 on "productivity software", i.e. designing databases and summing spreadsheets; with a bit of wordprocessing and presentation software built in. In the second year, they may branch out to web design (Dreamweaver), basic Flash animations, basic photo editing (PhotoShop) and basic video editing (usually in WMM).

Maybe have a module on how to use spreadsheets and databases, but I imagine most pupils won't be designing them or writing complex SQL queries in later life. Javascript would probably be the best language to teach 'em nowadays, what with the web app being king. Perhaps better than how to edit videos would be to how to shoot interesting videos that people will actually want to watch :)

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Anonymous Coward

Spreadsheets definitely

They use functions.

They use conditionals.

A cell acts like a scalar variable.

A range acts like an array.

That makes them a great way to introduce programming concepts.

They also make it easy to simple summary calculations like budgets so they also have practical value.

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Anonymous Coward

Re: Spreadsheets definitely

Spreadsheets are an interesting thing to look at, but for programming they are absolutely toxic beyond the basics. Sure, use them to model how computers work, even introduce various concepts with them, but then break out the text editor and interpreter/compiler/assembler.

The last thing we need is more spreadsheet jockeys with ad-hoc lash-ups masquerading as "systems" and the inevitable chorus of whining when someone suggests that such people wean themselves off Microsoft Excel.

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About time they started teaching something about computers again in schools, rather than how to use MS office.

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Anonymous Coward

Brilliant news ... but make sure its not just for GCSE but bring some element of programming in lower down in the in curriculum so everyone gets some exposure to it. My older son is doing GCSE and has now dropped ICT but upto that point the closest I ever saw him getting to "programming" was a "design a web site" assignment which basically required using the google web building tool to make 3 linked pages containing text and images with one also containing an embedded youtube video

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I did computer programming at school, aged 15-16

My final project was some school bank software on a BBC micro that saved data to an array instead of a disk (ha ha) and I cleverly promoted negative deposits as a last-minute "documentation fix" as a feature to overcome the difficulty getting past the "no overdraft" limit.

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WTF?

Seriously?

I did Standard Grade and Higher computing in scotland between 96-00ish, and was taught all about programming, memory registers, hardware interaction, network topology etc - I can honestly say it's what gave me the interest to do what I do today.

This is nothing new - they just seem to have forgotten about it for ten years, surely?

Steven R

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Unhappy

What went wrong ?

I wrote my first computer program in 1980 - aged 13 - for an ITT 2020 ... in BASIC

By age 15 I was writing in 6502 assembler

My O level project was a disk-based stock control database.

Now I meet kids who are "IT experts" who don't even know what a programming language *is*, let alone how to code.

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WTF?

When did it stop?

When did they STOP teaching how to program at GCSE level? My Computer Studies GCSE, back in 1989, included masses of BBC BASIC...

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Silver badge

Re: When did it stop?

Yes, that's the right question - When Did It Stop? Seriously, some idiot somewhere must have woken up one morning and thought, "we shouldn't be teaching programming to GCSE students because $REASON". I want to know who that idiot was, and I want to know whether they have been fired for it yet.

Ditto for making French optional, which I suspect happened at about the same time.

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Pint

French alway was optional

I sat through 6 years of french didn’t learn a thing.

Beer cos there’s no point in going anywhere without real ale.

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Linux

at last!

Presumably from the department of the bleeding obvious.

well better late than never!

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Anonymous Coward

But

what Micro$haft language are they going to teach them?

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Thumb Up

Excellent!

I learnt to program at school, because we had a maths teacher who taught us Algol. Had to prepare our programs on paper tape and take a minibus to the local polytechnic to run them once a fortnight. Still remember the hilarity when someone wrote the following.

IF A<10 THEN GOTO HELL ;

....

HELL: ....

Make it fun, and you'll remember it !

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FAIL

Too old!

By the time I was a teenager I was programming in multiple languages and at least a couple of assembly languages. At a minimum these kids should be being taught from 11 years old if not earlier.

Even if you teach ICT rather than computer science you should at least make it more generic and not the microsoft training course it seems to be right now.

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Anonymous Coward

@At GCSE level?

When I was at school (admittedly one of the first schools to take computing seriously) everyone learny to program in what would now be called year 8. And I think the idea at that time was via languages like logo and turle graphics children would sonn learn programming at primary school.

Problem is that education in recent years has switched for gaining knowledge to being a preparation for the "real world" ... i.e. no need to learn about programming if 99% of people won't ever write programs after school but instead teach them how to use MS-Office, or in Science concentrate on teaching how to interpret newspaper reports on Science rather than learning the underlying science since only a minority of pupils will actually go on to need Science at A-level/Universtiy/Work.

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@Aboute bleeding time

>Back when dinosaurs ruled the earth, it was part of the O-level.

>Bloody stupid it was ever stopped.

Quite agree ... bloody stupid that they stopped O-levels

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Anonymous Coward

Very strange they chose manchester grammar school seeing that my son is currently in 6th form there and hasn't seen one IT lesson since joining 6 years ago and computer studies / science/ whatever its called now isn't even offered at gsce or A level

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It already happens.

My kids learn to program at school and will do CS GCSE. My wife has just persuaded the head to adopt CS GCSE. No harm in more promotion mind.

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LPF

Thank God

As some poster already, when I was at school we were taught Logo and Basic, however when then introduced the GCSe they changed it to learning productivity software. I was so angry with the patronising attitude of the new teacher that was brought in to teach us, as the old IT teacher probally left in disgust. I wanted to punch the new bloke in the face. Yes most of the class loved it as they had more of a chance of passing now it had been dummed down to bateria level!

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Raspberry Pi

Can I suggest those interested in teaching children (and others) programming look this up? A charity with this exact aim, and hardware to match.

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How about Arduino, they can make their own computer too.

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Anyone can make a computer..

It's making one for $25 that's the difficult bit.

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Anonymous Coward

I'm sure this scheme, promoted by a minister in association with big industry brown-envelope-stuffers, erm, I mean partners, is the kind of gold-plated initiative whose sole aim is to reinforce "brand messages" in front of the impressionable youth while claims are made that "something is being done" about a problem Microsoft and pals helped to create in the first place.

Supporters of such industry love-ins would rather see genuinely interesting and beneficial projects like Raspberry Pi silently disappear so that they can pitch yet more kit at the education market once their political stooges have loosened the purse strings. The last thing they need is someone telling their target demographic that they don't need to spend hundreds of quid on 8-core CPUs, Windows licences and "edutainment" solutions.

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Meh

Anyone can make a computer..

I could easily make you something which is, technically, a von Neumann digital electronic computer for 5 bucks. If you order 10 million of them I can make them for 2 bucks, including the power suppy unit. It depends on what you think "computer" means (hint: does it need a 1280x1024 capacitive LCD touch-screen, or a GPS interface?).

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Primary School

Kids can start learning basic programming skills at primary school. At that age I was re-writing games from a book into my BBC giving me a decent understanding.

Nowadays there are things like Scratch http://scratch.mit.edu/ which is accessible to an even wider audience of teachers (the kids will pick it up fine)... However a programming literate primary teacher is even more rare than a secondary one.

You are more likely to find programming skills in a maths lesson at schools if they take them in to the computer room to teach Logo.

As for teaching Assembly - a lot of universities dont cover Assembly anymore. I believe the Computing A Level may still have elements of it but only a few grammar schools and some indp. schools run the course anymore. It should still cover a reasonable amount of high level programming.

A level ICT isn't worth a lot, and don't get started on things like the OCR Nationals/DiDA.

Me: Ex-ICT Teacher > Software Developer > Pen Tester.

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Anonymous Coward

On an off day I was in WH Smiths

and I picked up one of the GCSE Computer Studies revision guides where I was introduced to the concepts of CD ROMs and Digital cameras. At no point did it mention any kind of programming. I was disheartened to say the least.

(Without wanting to sound old) O Level Computer Studies included 2 lessons a week on programming in BBC Basic and assembly language - some sort of simulator. It wasn't as bad as it sounds, it was similar to 6502.

The GCSE now tells you how to use computers, rather than how make them work. If I compare that with GCSE English, do they teach you how to hold a pen?

@ El Reg,

"Anonymous cowards cannot choose their icon"

What's this about?

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Silver badge

It's essential

Of course not everybody will go into commercial programming, that's a dead market anyhow, but people will learn how to use command shells to increase their productivity.

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Dead?

On which planet? We can't get enough decent programmer from the UK for love nor money.

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Anonymous Coward

Well...

if you just want people up to date in about eight different technologies and with recent experience, you (and your predecessors) are/were part of the problem.

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Anonymous Coward

And who is going to teach programming...

The reason that the current ICT GCSE consists of such high level tasks as:

- sending and email and getting a reply.

- creating a spreadsheet with a pie chart.

- creating a poster

- etc...

Is simply because that is about the limit of what the teachers can do, most regard using the keyboard for Cntrl-C, Cntrl-V for copy and paste is "advanced".

-------------------------------------

To the guy above who said he was not offered ICT at school;

Take it as a compliment!

ICT has been used by all schools as the way to get the dumbest kids to gain a few (up to 4 GCSE equivalents), mostly kids who would otherwise leave with nothing. This has been the rule for maintaining school league tables for about 10 years.

The current gov. changed the rules recently and introduced the English Baccalaureate, which also means only the core subjects like English, Maths and separate sciences are now used for league tables. As a result nearly all schools started to cut back or even stop offering ICT, as it was only used as a tool for raising their status.

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Alert

In my day

In my day, programmers wore sandles and chequered shirts and had beards. Now they wear suits, play hardcore music and think facebook is great. The difference between then and now is that to work in computing you no longer need to be intelligent.

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IT Angle

I'm not fussed about training up the next set of programmers - the talented ones will auto assemble, the untalented ones can be bought in the 3rd world for 2p/kilo - but an understanding of code and how it works should be a mandatory part of the pre-GCSE syllabus, just at the

10 print "about time"

20 goto 10

level. At GCSE hopefully there'll be Raspberry Pi for everyone!

I suspect given the level of GCSE maths these days I'm being damned optimistic. Paging Frank Chalk to the thread... Syllabus rearrangement is to some degree a deck chairs/titanic affair. At least the Feng Shui of this arrangement is pleasing.

Icon: IT? bleh. Computer Science forever!

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L.B
Happy

There's probably a university somewhere in the UK that does a degree in Feng Shui!

As a backup for media studies students.

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Meh

revolutionary idea

Not unlike learning to program at school in, err, 1971 ( ye gods, thats 40 years ago ).

Its possible I've been coding in Fortran 4 ever since.

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