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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  1. Stephen Hunt
    Thumb Up

    More of this type of teaching.

    1. This post has been deleted by its author

  2. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    It would help...

    if companies stopped farming out all their software dev overseas

    1. Anonymous Cowerd
      Unhappy

      Redundancy

      I still don't understand why it's illegal to make somebody redundant and then just give their job to someone else who's cheaper, but it's suddenly not illegal if their replacement is in India or the Phillippines?

      Speaking from experience, those cheap offshore developers are cheap for a very good reason - they're crap. By the time it comes to light, the arsehole who offshored it has pocketed their bonus and disappeared...

      1. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        It's because of the crazy tax breaks on Intra Company Transfers

        Companies are able to undercut UK nationals by up to 20% by transferring staff on less than the UK minimum wage, and then meeting the 25k minimum salary requirement for such staff by including rent, flights and costs for that staffer as "wages" (HMRC and our Government kindly allow this), also no employers NI or employee NI is payable in the first year (which is why they are rotated so frequently).

        As most companies will rent a house and then have ten or so sharing a three bed house the "rent" charged is what the company decides, the employee gets an allowance on top of their normal salary to make up for living expenses so everybodies happy, except unemployed UK IT workers and the Government should be due to the loss of tax revenue but they are obviously too stupid to realize or just in the pockets of big business for allowing what is essentially a legal tax scam to continue.

        I've got a few links on this but not sure of the posting policy here Computer Weeklys Inside Outsourcing column has a couple of good articles on this especially :

        "Offshore IT workers in the UK avoid paying taxes but are not breaking the law"

      2. Cowardly Animosity
        Pint

        @AC 11:54

        Ahh, but then the trusty contractor gets to pick up the pieces. Expensive? Yes, but then they shouldn't have offshored it in the first place, plus untangling the mess undoubtedly made by our foreign friends shouldn't come cheap.

        Beer, cos I can afford it ;)

      3. nyelvmark
        FAIL

        19 upvoters so far who live in a dream world.

    2. Arnold Lieberman
      Go

      If they could find the talent here, they probably would

      It's about time this happened. When I started looking around at secondary schools for my youngest I was appalled to discover that not a single one (including the selective schools) taught anything more than ICT. Only one independent school I know of teaches some c# at A Level. I don't know when in the last 25 years since I started high school this was dropped, but I still have fond memories of being given the task of wiring up my junior school's first BBC Micro 'cos the teacher knew nutin' (some things don't change, apparently).

      1. ThomH Silver badge

        @Arnold Liberman

        I can tell you that Pascal (via Turbo Pascal, anachronistically) was still on the roster for Computer Science A-Level when I left sixth form in 1999. I don't recall any programming cropping up at GCSE level or earlier but there weren't any sort of computer-related courses at my school so that may not be typical.

        At a guess, A-Level changes probably happened in or around the transition to fully separated AS and A2 curricula — around 2000.

        1. Mark 65

          @ThomH

          I remember finishing my GCSE in Computer Studies in 1990 and we had to write our own piece of software. Mine was a periodic table interface onto underlying element information implemented on an Atari ST using Fast Basic of all things.

          I guess this means we may finally be coming full circle.

          1. sheep++;
            Happy

            My, my. Old code

            I remember writing code in Z80 Assembler at Uni to produce a LAN system. Crikey, I used to be pretty clever. (Sound of personal trumpet blowing noisily). Of course I can't even open the Windows now... :-)

            I would carry on and say "Wow, see how sharp he is now", but I'll be shot down in flames probably.

    3. N2 Silver badge

      It would help

      If every company stopped farming out any activity overseas.

      1. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        re: If every company stopped farming out any activity overseas.

        funny they do, but only if it is senior management role

  3. Number6

    BTDT

    I trust that they'll have to show that their programs are equal opportunity, conform to health and safety laws, do not significantly increase global warming and all the other crap that seems to infest the modern science curriculum.

    I did computer science A level back in 1982 which had a programming element, so obviously things have gone seriously downhill since then.

  4. Christopher Rogers
    WTF?

    Definitely the way forward. In a more technology focused world, why is IT allowed to become irrelevant in schools???

  5. Lee Dowling Silver badge
    Thumb Up

    Yay!

    At fecking last.

    (From someone whose entire work career has come from providing IT to schools, witnessing IT lessons from age 5-18 and being utterly disheartened by them).

  6. BraynDedd
    Flame

    I am genuinely irritated about this.

    When I did my GCSEs way back in '03, we weren't even offered the option of IT. Nor were we at A level. I'm now on a software dev degree, and I'm struggling to keep up with the people 4 years younger than me who got to study it. It should have been part of the curriculum from the day they introduced computers in schools.

    1. Arnold Lieberman
      FAIL

      That's the stupid thing

      It was on the curriculum a couple of decades ago. I remember drawing flowcharts in "computer science" lessons and learning to count in binary as well as simple assembler-type languages. Now all the kids get to do is create stupid animations in Adobe something-or-other.

      You've been disadvantaged big-time compared to us old-timers.

      1. Gordon 10 Silver badge

        I was the first year to take computer studies GCSE in 1988. I can confirm at that time it had flowcharting (remember the hexil? stencils) and BBC Basic programming - I wrote some school library software.

        I also remember the porno version of the Frak! caveman yo-yo game being on all the networked Beebs in the computer lab. The monsters were naled women and instead of a yo-yo he used something more pokey.

        1. jon 72
          Coat

          Pre 1988 Geekery

          There was actually a small pilot scheme across the UK that the known as I.Te.C. that ran for several years teaching computer studies, electronics and office/ computer skills to school leavers that started way back in 1985.

          Classes were small, with tutors at the top of their game and at a time when many schools had merely one or two computers for all its pupils to share finding oneself in classroom with twenty kids that all had a BBC 'b' micro each plus all the toys was mindblowing at the time.

          Students had one month in each area to get a taster, after that was an intensive crash course. As I recall nearly all were offered jobs shortly after finishing and some even had jobs offered before completion.

          I'll get my coat... it's the one with the orange flowchart stencil in the pocket

          1. yorkshireflatcap
            Headmaster

            ITeC

            Yes, I remember ITeC very well! it was part of the YTS scheme at the time - £35 a week!! At 16, it was a first introduction to computer programming and led me into being a COBOL programmer before the bleak mid winter of the early nineties arrived!! Went onto become a software engineer, after going to uni first, for which I still am! But I do recall having to learn Basic/Pascal and binary math for my GCSE's (24 years ago!!!!) and can't believe they dropped it!! But its all about targets and dumbing down education nowadays!

        2. sheep++;
          FAIL

          Flowchart stencils...

          Absolute nightmare. How can you write a prog when you can only fit ten boxes on a page. Who the hell invented that!

          And the sodding triangle, where you could only fit one or two words in there.

          Perhaps that was when "Goto" was invented. Goto the next bloody page, it won't fit here.

    2. nyelvmark
      Go

      >> It should have been part of the curriculum from the day they introduced computers in schools.

      Better - they should've been putting it into the milk (or into the water, after the evil witch Thatcher stole all the milk and mixed it with orphan blood to feed to her vampire ministers).

      It's absolutely horrendous the way that British governments seek to deny the populous the education which is their Zeus-given right. Not only do they force publishers to charge people for buying books, and libraries to charge for not returning borrowed books, they positively discriminate against the vast majority of people, denying university degrees to people whose only crime is not reading these scarce and hard-to-obtain books.

      I propose a mass demonstration in Trafalgar Square tomorrow. If you plan to join us, please bring a banner reading "We dont wanna no about you're education plans - gimme my digree now or were gonna pwn u all".

    3. Giles Jones Gold badge

      Sorry to hear it

      Back in the 80s we did Pascal, BASIC and logo.

      It's amazing how IT skills have faded in the curriculum. Of course, it wasn't perfect back then. I took computer studies in my forth year and was really disheartened when the course work was a feasibility study with practically no time on the computers. Needless to say it put me right off computing for a few years and I studied electronics for a few years (which I didn't end up liking much).

      If one thing would help the education system it would be stopping the governments messing around with it every 4-5 years and let somebody with a clue determine what is best for the education of children. Not just businesses getting what they want, we need a balance between people being able to live a meaningful life and people being able to earn a living.

  7. SJRulez
    Thumb Up

    Finally

    Finally they are going to teach kids how it works rather than how to work it. Maybe there is some hope for software development in the uk rather than india.

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      In my experience, they probably need to have the courses in India too.

  8. Individual #6/42
    Coat

    Didn't this used to be an O level in computer studies

    Mine's the one with "Programming the 6502 processor" in the pocket.

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Yes it was..

      ...we learned C&G Mnemonic code and BASIC and were lucky enough to have access to a PDP 8i via a teletype, and I bet that shows my age!

      I find it remarkable that programming is not taught any more. Even if you are not going to be a programmer it gives you an understanding of how things work.

      The big question is what DO they study? Apart from "This is how you use Word snd Excel"?

      1. peter_dtm
        Unhappy

        just and only that

        and don't you dare suggest they use something other than microsoft; the exams are set only using microsoft word; excel and powerpoint.. My experience (kids now 18 & 16) of school ICT is that there is no interest in anything outside 'teaching' microsoft office. They don't cover pc mainteance and don't you dare suggest they talk about networking. I get the impression most ICT teachers think networking is something you use facebook for,

  9. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    So what do they do now?

    Actually, I can't complain about the "kids of today". I didn't take IT at GCSE because it was all about how to use shitty wordprocessors and spreadsheets ("Mailmerge is so cutting edge!") on overpriced, low-end, not-quite-IBM-compatible PCs rather than writing programs. As soon as the Computer Literacy project ended, it was all about training children for "jobs in business" which apparently meant being able to push paper at Wernham Hogg.

  10. mccp
    Childcatcher

    Good idea, I'd vote for a curriculum that includes:

    1. Intro to assembler, preferably using an embedded system with ARM or Motorola CPUs;

    2. Intro to operating systems;

    3. Intro to basic design patterns;

    4. Intro to a high level typed language (no recommendation here to avoid flames);

    5. Intro to debugging and debuggers.

    Please no AI or parallel computing, just include practical basic skills and no multi-threaded code should be allowed.

  11. Asterix187

    When i was at school (left in 1992) we used to do programming (Basic and a bit of COBOL), database design and macro type coding albeit on Acorn Achimedes and ye olde BBC's. I just assumed this was still taught but obviously not. Lets hope they are teaching current or up and coming languages that will actually be useful in later life! Imagine a large batch of HTML5 coders hitting the UK sector in the next 3-4 years!

  12. CarlC
    Thumb Up

    Brilliant idea, let's just hope that it is deliver a bit better than current ITCS courses in schools.

  13. Valerion

    Optional

    When my daughter started at her high school a few years ago - her Specialist in Maths and Computing high school - I asked the head of IT what programming they taught. Turns out - none at all. I got briefly excited when I found out they would create some sort of website as part of their GCSE (or Aida or whatever it's called), but this is basically create it in Word and save as HTML.

    I was disappointed. My own Computer Science GCSE from many years before at least included BBC Basic coding!

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Still the same

      Sad to say the same useless crap is still taught IT specialist status schools. I work in one so the AC

  14. ScottAS2
    IT Angle

    What British curriculum?

    Pffft. I was writing COMAL programs in third year of secondary school. A Scottish Standard Grade in Computing has lots of programming. I'm perpetually amazed that England just teaches kids how to make Excel spreadsheets. For that matter, if you'll expand the definition of "programming" to include Logo, I was doing it in primary school.

    1. spodula

      It never used to.

      When i did GCSE computer studies in the late 80's, one of the modules i did was to make a sliding puzzle thing (Which could use an arbitary picture) controlled by one of those Concept keyboard things on the Archimedes in BBC basic. things like spreadsheets and wordprocessors were covered, but not in any detail.

    2. Gavin McMenemy

      Yeah me too...

      Why is this news? I was coding as part of my Scottish secondary education in the 90s.

      1. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        COMAL at Scottish secondary for me too from 1989/90. Worst thing schools ever did was stop using Acorn kit. It may well be out of date, but the basic principles of computing can be taught on it. The 6502 processor operations using a visual emulator of the Program Counter, Address Bus etc, on a BBC.

        The problem is, which school is going to fork out silly money to supply Visual Studio for all their PCs? With a Beeb you had BASIC built in and for a few quid they could all have COMAL ROMs or use COMAL over Econet from the file server. Yeah, ok COMAL was fairly crap but it's the principles of strict programming that it taught. And HTML is NOT programming, it's scripting.

        Not sure why they don't use some Linux machines with some very basic terminal programming. Learn to use text editors (GUI or terminal based) and then compile from the terminal/command line. All this Microsoft point and click nonsense needs to stop, they don't learn anything. Linux is free, GCC is free and they can still use their Windows PCs to teach how to type numbers and letters in to a spreadsheet. They can learn the advanced formulae stuff on a training course while signing on the dole.

        My niece uses Apple Macs and Apple Works at primary school, am impressed it's not Windows.

        1. Mark 65

          "The problem is, which school is going to fork out silly money to supply Visual Studio for all their PCs?"

          Maybe they could do something useful and get them started in Python?

        2. J.G.Harston Silver badge
          Happy

          BBC BASIC for Windows

          "The problem is, which school is going to fork out silly money to supply Visual Studio for all their PCs? With a Beeb you had BASIC built in"

          A large multi-user site license for BBC BASIC for Windows costs less than two hundred quid.

          http://www.bbcbasic.co.uk/bbcwin/bbcwin.html

  15. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    At GCSE level?

    GCSE is between 14 and 16: the old style O-Level. Better to do it at A-Level where it would be to a much greater depth and be more useful for uni.

    Perhaps one missed point too: do we have the staff who can successfully teach software engineering at our schools? My general experience is that we do not.

    1. BristolBachelor Gold badge
      Coat

      I did coding for both; I think that 14-16 was called "computing", but 16-18 was called "Computer science". I can't rember when, but we covered Cobol (shudder), Pascal, Fortran and possibly C. We also did wordprocessing using Tex in greenscreen. WYSIWYG meant that when you looked at the printout, that was what you got!

      I think I still have some Cobol coding sheets with the margin at column 7 that you hand-wrote code on for someone to type it up onto punched cars to run over the weekend at the local insurance company. After than it was RM 380Z / 480Z. We weren't supposed to do any machine code, but given that the thing had a built-in memory editor of course we played :)

      I can't believe that they don't even teach coding in schools?

    2. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: At GCSE level?

      "Better to do it at A-Level where it would be to a much greater depth and be more useful for uni."

      Yeah, that's right: at GCSE level the most you should expect to learn is how to update your Facebook status. Sheesh!

      In fact, children should be able to write programs at half that age, or at least know what programs are. The fact that adults can have difficulties relating to what a program is should be a serious concern in a modern society, and the fact that some of these people are teaching IT is particularly worrying.

      No-one expects children to leave school knowing how to produce large, complete software products, and a firm grip of mathematics is arguably better than any programming qualifications at all - you used to get people showing up at university thinking they knew it all and dropping out because they obviously didn't - but being exposed to programming isn't something that has to wait until sixth form.

    3. Philolai
      Childcatcher

      Disagree; everyone needs to have a taste of CS

      GCSEs (or equivalent) are compulsory, A-levels aren't, and A-level choices are informed by what GCSEs the kid liked doing. If they've had no exposure to computer science, they're only going to choose it as an A-level if they already had an interest.

      FWIW, I'm interested in computing but wasn't going to drop two A-level slots on double-award A-level Computing.

  16. Chris Harries
    FAIL

    Maths Vs IT

    The comparison I always make is that I found Maths a bit tough, not hard hard but it wasn't natural. However, for GCSE I needed to do trigonometry and quadratic equations, and all kind of fun stuff, and I wasn't good enough so only got a C, you had to be fairly good to get an A. However, in IT there is this belief that it can't be "too hard" so anyone can get an A. I saw people in my school who didn't really know anything about computers come out with an A. It's disgusting, you'd never see that with Maths, or even science really.

    A-level IT (AVCE, computer science) wasn't much better, in-fact the AVCE which counted as 2 A-Levels was frankly TERRIBLE

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      during my IT A level

      I noticed that the kids with litte/no interest in computers were scoring consistently higher than everyone else. I also noticed numerous glaring innacuracies in our text book. funny that

      Oh well, at least if I run out of toilet paper, I now have a copy of this:

      http://www.amazon.co.uk/Level-ICT-Pat-M-Heathcote/dp/190446713X

      It has many uses, some others I can think of:

      > mopping up spills

      > protecting the desk when working with small power tools

      > learning about IT? not so much.

  17. Techs UK
    IT Angle

    only found out this recently...

    ... having to teach my kids (who want to learn it) coding myself.

    i was writing machine code on a zx spectrum and hand compiling when i was 12

    I told their IT teacher about Microsoft Dreamspark, and how concerned I was about it. they'll teach the A-level students some programming though.

    great.

  18. CD001

    Umm...

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

    Over the past century the UK has stopped nurturing its polymaths. There's been a drift to the humanities ... engineering and science aren't championed.

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

    Surely a polymath would do humanities AND sciences (and art)? Like a Flash/Flex app developer who does the graphics and the programming, or the two chaps that made "Space Pirates And Zombies"...

    The IT market in this country was saturated years ago... you can earn more as a plumber than a programmer these days, so _why_ would you want to go into programming (unless, like me, you're one of those weirdos that actually enjoys it).

  19. a cynic writes...
    Thumb Up

    About bleeding time...

    Back when dinosaurs ruled the earth, it was part of the O-level. Bloody stupid it was ever stopped.

  20. Miek
    Linux

    Any idea what language/platform they will be targeting?

    1. DJ 2
      Flame

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

      1. mccp

        @ 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.

        1. Hatless Pemberty
          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 ;-)

    2. Mike Richards

      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/

    3. Charles Manning

      Probably Python

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

  21. Anonymous Coward
    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.

  22. Philip Skinner
    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.

  23. cyborg
    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.

  24. Anonymous Cowerd
    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"?

  25. Anonymous Coward
    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.

  26. This post has been deleted by its author

  27. Anonymous Coward
    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.

    1. Anonymous Coward
      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.

  28. This post has been deleted by a moderator

  29. mittfh

    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 :)

    1. Anonymous Coward
      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.

      1. Anonymous Coward
        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.

  30. JimmyPage Silver badge
    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.

  31. Alienrat
    Thumb Up

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

  32. Dr Bod
    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...

  33. Sam Liddicott

    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.

  34. Anonymous Coward
    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

  35. Steven Raith
    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

    1. Phil Endecott 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.

      1. Tom 7 Silver badge
        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.

  36. Martin
    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 !

  37. butigy
    Linux

    at last!

    Presumably from the department of the bleeding obvious.

    well better late than never!

  38. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    But

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

  39. Anonymous Coward
    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.

  40. Cyberspice
    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.

  41. deshepherd

    @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

  42. Anonymous Coward
    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

  43. Pat O'Ban

    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.

  44. 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!

  45. James Hughes 1

    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.

    1. Mr Anonymous

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

      1. James Hughes 1

        Anyone can make a computer..

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

        1. nyelvmark
          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?).

    2. Anonymous Coward
      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.

  46. meatballs

    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.

  47. Anonymous Coward
    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.

  48. Anonymous Coward
    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?

  49. Christian Berger 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.

    1. James Hughes 1

      Dead?

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

      1. Anonymous Coward
        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.

  50. pete23
    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!

  51. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Not sure what happened.

    I've been writing programs since I was 5 on the old speccy in basic, and for some reason was never allowed near a computer in first or middle school. My dad always claims my first words were 'Load "" '.

    I had to choose my GCSE subjects in '96. There was no option at all for an IT GCSE otherwise I would have dropped Drama or other such nonsense to do it. I seem to remember they were brought back in '99. The bastards.

    This was a massive blow to me as I had successfully garnered control over most of the Acorn A3000 network (MPE rabbit for those who want admin access to a long dead system), I had managed to bypass most of their "new" Windows '95 networks security and I was generally a big PITA to Sys admins. (Once had a race with the sys admin at high school, how much of _his_ porn could I print to the network printer before he locked me out the system? No, really. Most fun 15 mins of my school career, sold the pictures too!). I wanted to learn, but there was no IT course at school for me.

    After leaving school with practically nothing, the only option I had was to do a GNVQ in IT. This was bullshit to be honest. I thought it was going to be about programming, hardware and cool stuff. What we ended up doing was lotus 1-2-3 and changing the config.sys files. Oh and learning how to plug in a mouse. Big wow.

    It was only when I did an A level in computing that I really managed to get anywhere. It was all very interesting, but nothing, in my mind, of any value. I taught myself more in those 2 years than the lecturer did. I did find out, through some lax FTP server security, he was having an affair with a member of staff at another college though, and found the College IT budget info. Which was nice. Why you would put email backups on an FTP server I have no idea. I also managed to troll the teachers message board on the LAN website, long before the phrase Troll ever existed. I knew I'd get in trouble, so I left a proxy written in VB6 on a library machine, waited for some poor sap to login, then logged into the machine opposite them to hop past the web login through their machine. By the time the admins turned up I was long gone.

    This leads me to suspect that IT courses in this country leave a lot to be desired, but we have to have the enthusiastic knowledgeable teaching staff to go with it. Sort the infrastructure out first, then we can do the work. Engage the kids, show them what computers can do.

    What I'm trying to say with all these stories is that I had a natural feeling and gift for IT, and there was nowhere for it to go. There was also no helping hand to guide me. No one was interested that I could do this stuff. (Well the admins were but that's different).

    Before anyone downvotes me, yes I was a complete arsehole of a child. I'll hold my hands up to that. But there was no way for me to better channel my interest in the subject. Not an excuse, but if it was actually channelled positively, where would I be now?

    I'm probably not the only one with stories like this either.

    As Anon (as I can be) for blatantly obvious reasons.

  52. Marco Mieshio
    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.

  53. arrbee
    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.

  54. Lamont Cranston

    Did my A-levels in 95/96(ish),

    only took A/s Computers, so learnt about database design and spreadsheets (boooooring) whilst the A-level students got to learn PASCAL, or somesuch.

    Bad decision on my part, but I was 16 at the time (and had just given up trying to teach myself AMOS). Whoever decided to drop "proper" IT from the curriculum, deserves a good shoeing.

    Still not looking forward to doing battle with my own kids for control of our home network, though!

    1. 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.

    2. L.B
      Meh

      I am quite surprised by the number who say they did any programming at school in the 70s & 80s.

      Until I got my first full time job as a trainee computer operator back in January 1982 (about 7 months after leaving school, never bothered with that university thing) I had never even seen a computer, apart from those depicted in TV/Films.

      1. arrbee
        Pint

        In the early 70s it required your school to have links with a local university or large college which by then would have its own minicomputers in various departments (including CompSci of course) and also have either a mainframe or access to one shared between several institutions.

        Of course this was long before any idea of a national curriculum - an enthusiastic teacher with the ear of the headmaster could get stuff done with zero form filling ! Oceanography was another subject I remember being added to the GCE list around that time, and Astronomy at O level.

    3. Lamont Cranston
      Thumb Up

      The only thing missing from this story

      is the part where you brought a Barbie doll to life.

      I really do hope that an aptitude with computers is not something that would go overlooked, in this day and age.

  55. Disco Trev

    When did they stop teaching programming at GCSE?

    I didn't even realise that they didn't teach programming at GCSE level any more. I remember (way back in 1990) doing GCSE Computer Studies, part of the coursework was writing our own program in BASIC on a BBC Master.

    Which of course came after first learning the basics of getting the turtle to move around the screen and draw things using LOGO.

    And who remembers how to do 2's Compliment subtraction

  56. robin penny
    Megaphone

    More than programming required

    While this is a huge and welcome step, students also need to learn about other things such operating systems and IT security.

    Too few people can only use the applications on their PC (well some of them anyway) and have no idea about the operating environment - creating their own folder structure, setting up backups, scanning in documents, dealing with security issues, reinstalling the operating system.

    What virtualisation (plenty of free tools to play with). Virtualisation is very much mainstream now in the business world, but I'm not aware of it being covered in schools at all.

  57. 27escape

    You might not like it

    But why not teach them Javascript with HTML/CSS

    This means that they do not have to learn any of the clunky 'windows' GUI concepts.

    They can just focus on logic and printing things to the 'screen'. They can then make things funky with HTML/CSS.

    They don't need any clever environment, no need for a server to run it on, just code single pages.

    Bonus is that most computers come with a browser and a basic editor, so the cost of entry is zero.

  58. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    About time...

    Back in the 80's I did my 'O' Level computer studies project in 6502 machine code.

    The teacher couldn't even read it.

    I was a precocious little sod.

    These days I continually bump into degree holding youngsters who look at me with some kind of suspicion when I open a command prompt up and do something magical like a use wildcards on a move command.

    *rolls eyes*

  59. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Forget teaching programming at school

    It's a nice idea, but the reality will be a Government syllabus that awards an A* for anyone who can make the computer display "Hello World!". If you can't work it out and stick a post-it note on the screen with 'Hello World!' scribbled in biro, you'll still get a C. If you shout "Hello World!" through an old kitchen towel tube aimed at the screen and then claim the sound bounced off it, thus technically meaning your teacher received "Hello World!" from the computer screen, you might still actually get an E.

    There was a time - THIRTY YEARS AGO - when every kid at school could go into Dixons and enter a bit of Basic to flood the screen with obscenities ("20: goto 10"). Boffins would be able to add a few extra lines to make it beep annoyingly and disable the keyboard, forcing frustrated sales assistants to clamber behind the shelves to switch it off at the mains. Today, the average school kid couldn't do anything like that to a display PC in Currys, despite being in an age of USB sticks which could allow any 13-year-old to get a local web page onto a PC and display actual porn to all the customers. All my generation could do at 13 was make "Brian Jenkins is a spack! And so is his mum!" appear all down a green 12" CRT. We've gone backwards. Backwards!

    Kids don't want to program computers, they just want to listen to their iPods and daaaaance to dub step in their own happy world.

    And if you are going to teach programming, it should probably become part of maths again at that level. In my experience, people who can't do maths can't do basic Javascript, it just makes their brains hurt. So it would probably be a good idea to let the Maths-6 kids spend two years completing 'Hello World' whilst the Maths-1 kids do some simple web apps or maybe even compile a little Java. Either way, those destined to become programmers are going to find their own way whatever happens.

    It's the same as having general 'science' lessons for the kids who don't need to understand physics, chemistry and biology are separate sciences, with even more specialist divisions within.

  60. Reue

    Started A-Level computing in 2003

    And we done Visual basic with a bit of assembly language, alot of access databases and tonnes of binary/hexidecimal. Thrown in amongst the standard hardware and networking stuff.

    It was a huge step up from the gcse ICT which taught us how to open word/excel and print a webpage.

  61. Select * From Handle
    Thumb Up

    Defiantly a step in the right direction.

    I wish they had taught me programming at GCSE, instead of hours of formatting word:(

    It my bring a whole new generation of script kiddy's to the table but its defiantly better!

    1. JohnBaxter

      And you *definitely* should have learnt proper English before touching a computer.

  62. ey86798

    OK, so, who are they going to get to teach this?

  63. Quentin North
    Go

    O level in Computer Studies

    When I was at school in 1973 we all had to do a year of Computer Studies and then we could opt to continue to do in O-level (GCSE you would call it now, but as a written exam). At 11 we were taught a pseudo assembler called CESIL (Computer Education in Schools Instruction Language) and at 12 we started to program in BASIC. All this was done on coding forms that were sent off to the local polytechnic for punching and batch processing and we got the results back a week later. At 13 we were introduced to timesharing systems and at 14 we got FORTRAN and GINO-F (Graphical packages for plotted Input and Output).

    Why they stopped doing these courses I do not know, but computer education in schools has a long history and is certainly not a new initiative.

    1. The Brave Sir Robin
      Happy

      Golly

      I remember doing CESIL for 'O'-level computer science on a PDP-11 at the local FE college. We had to catch the bus from school to go to the college for lessons as we only had 2 BBC Micros, a Spectrum and a 380Z at school. I also remember writing a stock control system in BASIC for my 'O'-level too. Lots of fun using a line editor on a VT-52 terminal.

  64. KenB

    KenB

    So everyone here believes that the whole world should know some programming just because they are likely to use a computer? On the same logic the whole world should know something about the design & maintenance of every commodity item - cars, televisions, etc.

    If you go back far enough (senile cackle) you only learned to program after university. It worked very well and there were a lot of programmers about in the '60s.

  65. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    @What went wrong?

    I agree, I started aged 16 in 1981, in the back of the class with our new school computer after my O levels, while our teacher taught 4th years, and the 5th years had left early.

    I too surged, went from RMS 380Z basic, and was writing Z80 by the end of term. I suffered withdrawal symptoms over the summer hols, and then I was writing CPM system code at my new sixth form six weeks later with another one.

    Where did it all go wrong? I suspect it went wrong because government isn't interested in do-ers.

    1. Alister Silver badge

      @KenB

      No not the whole world, but anyone who chooses to do the ICT curriculum should be taught programming, just as those who choose to do "Design Technology" or whatever metalwork's modern equivalent is, should be taught how to do basic car maintenance, those that choose physics can be taught how televisions work and those that choose "Domestic Science" should learn how to cook.

      It seems that modern school education doesn't teach any practical skills like this.

      Maybe this is why this country has lost the innovative, inventive lead in technology that it used to have.

    2. The Brave Sir Robin
      Unhappy

      Or could it be because the Government of whatever colour is full of useless arty-farty muppets who're only interested in furthering their own advancement by the production of much hot air and interfering in the name of 'change' whether that 'change' is needed or not. Either that or interfering based on the back-handers of interested third parties with their own agenda.

  66. Spoddyhalfwit
    Childcatcher

    I was writing code on the wall of my cave when short trousers hadn't even been invented etc etc

  67. Richard Porter
    Flame

    Fabulous initiative

    "In the 1980s the BBC not only broadcast programming for kids about coding, but (in partnership with Acorn) shipped over a million BBC Micro computers into homes and schools. That was a fabulous initiative, but it's long gone."

    Because the government of the day decided to get into bed with Microsoft and turn its back on the British computer industry. The BBC Micro was designed to be programmed with BBC Basic (including assembler capability) built in. By contrast IBM PCs and clones were a nightmare.

  68. Paul Gomme

    You'll like this one...

    I left school at age 16 in 1990 to take a BTEC ND in Computing at the local college. The careers teacher at my school informed me and my best friend (who also left), that "there's no future in software".

    Said teacher went to the same school, did their teaching qualification, then returned to the same school and gave careers advice. Go figure.

    Last I heard, he was in charge of IT there. Still, I'm sure everything that he uses was developed before 1990... (eh, Jim...?)

  69. Antidisestablishmentarianist
    Stop

    Teachers

    So where are they going to get the teachers for all this. Next we'll be complaining that the 'those that can't, teach' syndrome will be mean they're just learning crap.

    So any volunteers to the job properly then? .......

  70. Sooty

    Sounds like

    They are going to go back to teaching the things I was taught in my Information Systems GCSE 16-17 years ago...

    Not exactly a lot of practical programming in it, but all the theory behind it, data structures, algorithms, interface theory, doing sorting and searching algorithms, trees & linked lists, hashing etc. It was pretty basic stuff to be honest but at least, beyond the first couple of months, it didn't focus on the basic use of applications. Although it was justified back then as these were Archimedes computers, and no-one really had a pc at home.

    We even did the interview trick of breaking down the tasks involved in making a cup of tea.

  71. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Google

    Nellie the computer from 1969, Proper computing, disk oil temperatures and a scary binary count.

  72. Anonymous Coward
    Thumb Up

    It's a start the right direction

    What I hope is they teach programming mentality and parrelels with other situations. Like planning ahead, optimising resources and other life leasons. Also it needs to be rewarding and in give quick rewards so some form of robotic programming even something like bigtrack has alot to teach even elementary school children and that is programming. Programming is a mindset and not some fixated single computer language.

    Still, its a start in the right direction and allows me to relive the 80's again :).

  73. Onid
    Happy

    Good but ideally....

    Step in the right direction but why just trial it in such few schools? What's going to determine the success of the trial? if they get a job in 10 years? it needs to be done much more urgently and spread out as wide as possible.

    From 3rd grade onwards kids should be able to make anything with constructor kits/ lego technic /meccano whatever other brand exists. By 6-7 grade they should then be upgrading to mindstorm or other simple programmable units then from 8-9-10-11 they should be full on in arduino board/ embedded programming/ prototyping and the like.

    Also curriculum should look to actually making/augmenting open source software for the use of their own school as an actual project. eventually they'll have best of class software at Zero cost to them and they get full work experience. Get the whole school in a fully automated process to get it's running costs down.

    Then you get a generation of robot builders and what not - THEN you can compete against any low cost labour country on the planet - and all production comes back to the UK.

    That's what needs to be done... Germany is pretty much doing it already I think - there's so many robotics stuff going around there in their schools with various constructor kits etc...

    Also shops should be banned from selling any single use toys - everyone should just be able to make their own - want a toy - make the tool to make it first !!! :-)

  74. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Learning coding

    The reality is that this will never be main stream. The problem is I have done GCSE ICT, A-level ICT and now a BTEC National Diploma extended in IT practitioner 2nd year and there is a serious lack of qualified teachers in this field. Many of the teachers have little or no understanding especially when I am being taught to program in VB.Net. The reality is that everyone wants to be a computer scientist without realising that there needs to be a greater focus on the conceptual side of computing i.e. matrices, algorithims etc. Britain is seriously mistaken into thinking that it is good to encourage children to become programmers. The reality for me now is that programming is mostly out-sourced as you can get better talent cheaper i.e. outsourcing. An the IT employers of this country want people working in IT to have multiple discipline skills such as Business, interpersonal etc. The type of programmers we need are not ones that learn a little bit about procedural language but rather integrate the programming side into subjects like Maths or Physics, Creating programmers with advanced knowledge comes both from independent learning and problem solving. The most these kids will probably do in reality a little bit of VB.NET or Visual Basic in 60% coursework. If you want good programmers get teachers who know their stuff and tell students to get set text books and do it yourself. Furthermore, what about an emphasis on the other branches of computing such as Cisco networks etc. Programming is just one part of computing as a field. No wonder why Government IT projects are such an epic fail.

    From your UK student who has now given up the idea of bothering to do Computer Science at University.

  75. Werner McGoole
    FAIL

    Educational standards

    Unfortunately, there are quite a lot of things that should be taught to kids before we get to anything as complicated as writing computer code.

    I was siphoning some homebrew the other day and my daughter took a great interest because she'd never seen a siphon working before. I had to explain to her how it worked.

    She's only got a masters degree in Earth Sciences, poor girl, so you can't expect her to know about these simple things.

  76. Matt Horrocks

    I did A level Computing (AQA) in 2001/2002 and we did a little bit of assembler, some pascal and some prolog stuff. We were taught VB for doing the projects (first year the exam board gave us a problem to solve, second year we had to find our own problem). Although the school dropped this course after I finished as there weren't enough people interested in it and of those who were only a few were intelligent enough to cope with it.

  77. IrkedOne
    Linux

    O Level Computer Science

    My O Level Computer Science project included a load of 6502 assembler to do graphics work on a Commodore 64 back in 1995/1996. I ended up as a Linux kernel bit twiddler. Nowadays kids have no notion of how to programme a computer and hence it leaves out IT industry short of many good quality low level engineers. Bring back challenging qualifications!

  78. peter_dtm
    Coat

    Optional

    To all those who have just discovered that they don't teach programming anymore.

    They don't teach

    English Language

    English Literature

    Maths

    Physics

    Chemistry

    Biology

    either

    They show politicised science via video. No experiments; no basics; no theory of science. Questions asking about what you think is important; or what somebody thinks is the correct answer to a political question.

    They think maths is arithmetic; and do obscene things to make division simple ('long division' is apparently conceptually way too difficult to do)

    English Lit is a series of disconnected simplified passages from 'significant' (political term) 'modern' books

    English Language - would appear to be English as a 2nd or 3rd pigdin language; no grammar; and the use of a full stop and capitalization is considered to be advanced; and clever (and therefore to be sneered at).;

    And having given up French ('cos I'm useless at languages) before O levels; my French is still seriously better than either of my kids GCSE passes.

    In short; the modern school system is an absolute disgrace.

    (O levels 1970; A levels 1972)

  79. John D Salt

    I went to a very old-fashioned grammar school in the 1970s -- everyone did Latin for the first two years, and Ancient Greek was offered at O level.

    Everyone did SMP maths, and the SMP maths curriculum at the time included a chapter on programming -- strictly as a paper exercise, for this was before the days of Acorns and Superbrains and Spectra. In the O level year, 1976 for me, everyone did a General Studies certificate which included a class on computer programming, done in Algol-60 (with the stropped punctuation) on coding forms. The nice people at CIBA-Geigy then let the school borrow some of their mainframe time, and our programs were punched on to card-decks, returned to us for dry checking, and, if they seemed OK, eventually run. I still have the card deck for my first executed program lying around somewhere.

    Everyone had to do this -- even the people doing Latin and Greek, who usually went on to be barristers.

    Myself, I date the Great Competence Evaporation to about 1984, but people who can remember times before then will also recall that happy time when this country could quietly do a few useful things without making a howling pig's breakfast of them.

  80. Iain Purdie

    UK?

    By "UK" I assume they mean "England and Wales"? Scotland are already re-writing the Computing and Information Systems syllabi - and in fact combining the two streams to offer pupils an even narrower range of IT-related courses.

    Incidentally, games development - using the aforementioned Scratch - is fairly commonplace in S1/S2 (first two years of secondary) up here, and programming is taught as part of the Standard Grade and Intermediate 2 qualifications (both GCSE equivalent courses, though both to be replaced in the next couple of years).

  81. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    The trouble is...

    ...where do you get the teachers to teach the kids proper computer science and proper programming skills ? The education system doesn't pay well enough to attract someone with real industry experience so there's no source of teachers there. Unless, of course, they get retired people to teach it.

    Also with kids having only been taught crap over recent years, where do you get young teachers with the relevant skills to teach anything other than Word and Excel ?

    To really fix CS/IT teaching the government need to raise salaries in teaching enough to attract industry experienced people and also to pay them the going wage while they are doing their teacher training. They'd also have to have a decent curriculum prepared in advance so these experienced people would want to teach it and they'd have to have decent equipment/labs available in the schools.

    As someone who has recently been recruiting people to work in my development team I need people who can assimilate any given programming language quickly, can install and configure various operating systems, understand and configure networks, understand low-level bits/bytes etc and have a full, rounded experience of IT in general. Its very hard to get all these skills any more. I came out of University with all of them back in the late 80s but these days all you get is people who can code in Java and know nothing else. This means we always end up recruiting older people who got taught correctly all those years ago or foreign people who still get taught properly.

    The whole CS / IT education system from school all the way up to Uni needs fixing.

    If I could keep my current standard of living I'd leave industry to teach proper computer science but there's no chance of that right now.

  82. JohnBaxter
    Stop

    Stop and think for a minute...

    Who's going to teach this then? Anyone who's vaguely competent at programming probably isn't going to be working as a teacher... So students will be taught by dullards who have no real-world experience of programming and this will therefore soon degrade into copying examples from a book with no explanation of how/why they work. The reason why the GCSE curriculum is so application focused at the moment is because this is all your standard IT teacher (lower 2nd degree in Comp Sci if you're very very lucky) is capable of.

    School group sizes are roughly 25 pupils of mixed ability, the majority of this group will struggle to write fluently in English let alone something as totally abstract as Visual Basic. Furthermore a significant proportion of the group will be Polish/Lithuanian/Romanian which will make this even more difficult. At least two members of each group will have substantial behavioural problems and will need constant supervision to make sure they don't try to self-harm/masturbate/fight/start fires during the lesson.

    Schools get Microsoft software for a massively reduced rate so will all choose to use either Visual Studio or something like Small Basic. Not necessarily a bad thing but there will certainly be no Java.

    Technical support in schools is very poor (pay peanuts principle in effect) so when the software/hardware fails it will not be fixed until the end of the school year and students will have to share computers.

    To me this sounds like a very good idea that just hasn't been thought through... I'd love nothing more than for students to be taught programming and computer hardware as part of the GCSE curriculum but the simple facts are that many of them still don't have an adequate grasp of basic maths or English by this stage..

    It's also quite clear that those proposing this grand idea and the majority of people commenting here (teach them to program in assembly language etc.) really have absolutely no idea of just how bad the UK education system is....

  83. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Many missing the point?

    "there are quite a lot of things that should be taught to kids before we get to anything as complicated as writing computer code."

    and

    "Programming is a mindset and not some fixated single computer language."

    Amen to both of those, but a big wet raspberry to those who think learning programming is about language A vs language B.

    It's about being able to read and understand vague descriptions and ask relevant questions to clarify.

    It's about being able to think logically and be numerate.

    It's about understanding the importance of correct language vs incorrect language ("should of" rather than "should have", etc).

    It's about being able to think "what if" e.g. what if the user input is unexpected format, what if the network fails part way through...

    It's about being able to work out how you check whether what you've built will actually work.

    Most of these aren't particularly IT skills. But they are "thinking straight" skills, often lacking even amongst so called programmers.

    All of these are essential pre-requisites to any serious design+programming project, and to overlook them is to build on sand rather than rock. Which could be part of the reason why so many software projects are not just massively overbudget but fail completely.

  84. Joe Montana
    FAIL

    I remember GCSE "IT" class

    I did GCSE IT in 1996, and they basically taught us how to use wordperfect for windows, that was it... I understand modern GCSE is no better, or perhaps even worse.

    I learned more in the after school "computer club" than in actual classes, where the teacher (the same guy) was free to teach what he wanted.

    While teaching basic programming is useful, they have to do it properly... They need to teach logical constructs and general ideas, rather than getting bogged down in the specifics of one particular language.

    Similarly while it's useful to teach students stuff like word processing, it would be far better to teach than the general concepts rather than the specifics of one particular application. You never know what applications, and what versions thereof students will end up using once they leave school so the more exposure to different programs they've had the better. Our wordperfect and quattro pro classes were all for nothing, i've not seen a single company using this software since leaving school.

  85. Cliff

    This is a good thing

    Not that any particular syntax/language is going to be of any relevence by the time they come to use it a few years later, but the sheer fact that computers become slaves not masters is what's most important. Knowing a computer can bend to your whim as opposed to forcing you to comply with its ways is so empowering, and provides the crucial link between hardware and applications.

  86. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    "everyone did Latin for the first two years"

    Beginner's Latin is actually great for this kind of thing, as well as for other modern European languages.

    Strict and (largely) consistent and formalisable/analysable grammar, just like most programming languages.

    Need to understand the difference between subject, and verb, and object, just like in programming.

    Need to be able to construct a grammatically correct sentence, unlike in Powerpoint, but just like in a programming language.

    Etc.

    [grammar errors above may or may not be intentional]

  87. mwmentor

    In my opinion kids brains are being allowed to atrophy at a time when they should be most active in the learning cycle. Part of this atrophying process, and bear in mind that this is my opinion, is through the proliferation of non-learning and anti-social games. I think that kids would find it far more interesting and exciting to make computers do things - and of course that means that you have a far larger community of school-leavers capable of joining application development teams when they leave school, even if they are not necessarily able to go to a university or tertiary college for whatever reason. And that is important. The UK has a rich history in the IT world - it would be very good if that could be used as a catalyst for even greater things.

  88. Zmodem

    2 years to code a c++ notepad or forum in php is more work then making a stool in DT

  89. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    i did it

    I did programming at school.....BBC Basic - at home I learnt Spectrum basic - close but very different beast. i started z80 assembler too.

    the kids these days think that things 'just work' and seem to think little of how

    the interface they are using actually comes about.

  90. Andus McCoatover
    Windows

    Microcode, anyone?

    Had to understand that when I was a kid (OK, 21), to repair Nicolet 440 series spectrum analysers. 44-bit word. Never forget in the paper copy of the program, the bit that started the 'butterfly' bit of the FFT started with the comment "Zeroth Iteration". Wish I had kept a copy, but the paper copy would've filled a small suitcase.

    Never was taught it, or anything like it at school, just had to use a bit of the old grey matter.

    Just recently (re)found a program I wrote for the INS8060 (SC/MP) to decode and display the time from Rugby MSF. Wrote it over 30 years ago in assembler. Paper version. In pencil. When I looked, I couldn't believe I wrote such compact code...220 bytes. Again, self-taught.

  91. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Wont someone think of the precious little snowflakes

    But , But You mean I have to understand what happens instead of just pressing the shinny buttons? Only geeks or nerds do that you stupid or something . I want my A* for turning up now!

  92. ComputingTeacher

    I'm TEACHING GCSE computing at school

    In My school we're running the OCR GCSE in Computing.You can choose your language of choice - I'm doing C# because we get visual studio express for free.

    RDBMS, networks, security, algorithm development and programming, fetch-execute cycle, binary maths... it's all there.

    what I'm miffed about - no-one has mentioned all the schools running this GCSE. There are 3 in oxfordshire - so it's NOT just a 2 term trial, or whatever was mentioned in the article.

  93. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    "using Visual Studio Express, because it's free"

    gcc and Eclipse are also free, and you can use them on a lot more development systems and develop for a lot more targets, not just on/for a Window box and whatever else MS choose to support on any given occasion (IA64? Now you see it, now you don't. Handheld PC? Now you see it, now you don't. MIPS/PPC/Alpha? Now you see it, now you don't.)

    But using non-Microsoft software where Microsoft allege they have a comparable alternative will probably break some educational discount agreement your school has with Microsoft.

    Be grateful there's no one with a clue on your board of governors.

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