back to article to build child army of software coders

IT and computer science in schools is in serious need of reform, the creative industries minister Ed Vaizey said today, thereby indicating that changes to the school curriculum were on the agenda. The government needs to invest in video games and visual effects talent to help keep the UK "at the forefront" of that business …


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  1. Pete 2

    First: teach the teachers

    Fine words indeed: let's just train a new generation of softies - why didn't anyone think of that before?

    However, in order to train all these new games programmers 'n' all you first have to provide some qualified teaching staff. That would tend to imply that some people somewhere will have to be trained in the dark arts of writing software (and the darker arts of writing software that works properly).

    BUT THEN you have to persuade these newly qualified and eminently employable people to not dash off and themselves take all the jobs that their freshly qualified pupils were meant to fill. Jobs that pay lots more than they'd get as teachers. Tricky.

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Those Who Do

      Out source to India and think of the huge savings to the taxpayer!

  2. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    @ Pete 2 - Indeed

    I think this would require existing designers/coders to be given incentives to cross train into teaching rather than try to retrain none qualified teachers. The only potential issue I see there is in identifying the right kind of designers/coders and providing sufficient incentives (baring in mind that developers who don't have the personality of a brick tend to attract salaries towards the higher end of the scale).

  3. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Computer science has never been taught very well in schools, reform would be a good thing. But before they start giving Comp.Sci lessons, they need to start properly teaching the prerequisite skills like Maths and English and plenty of hard science subjects too.

    As far as I can see, the UK school system is not teaching my kids any skills that will make them employable when they leave education. I don't my kids to be happy and content at school and leave with 10 grade A-star-super-double-plus grades in worthless subjects. I want them to learn the true meaning of hard work and hate every minute of it, but come out with a good technical skill set that will enable them to succeed in life.

    1. Richard Taylor 2 Silver badge


      busted ourselves royally in order to be able to afford it, I have to say the we have had a very good return from private education - in terms of maths, sciences and humanities - we took our eldest child out of our local state school because of the poor provision (for example, no seperate sciences - just a mish mash of 1 or 2) and although my beer budget has suffered and we could have paid the mortgage off four years ago I have not regretted it.

      What I do regret ios that four years of trying hard to have an influence on the school through parents meetings, governors and other routes was of no value at all. More than half my son's year have moved into the sixth form to major in sports science and other such subjects.

  4. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    This is not a new thing

    After sitting my O-Levels (1987), I read an overview of the GCSE Computer Studies. It seemed to concentrate on using software rather than developing it. My O-Level Computer Studies included learning how to program in BBC Basic and assembly language. The change of focus was horrific.

    This realisation by Gov.UK the coders that taught themselves or studied subjects where programming was taught are getting older and younger people are not entering the market is not a surprise. Why would anyone waste an O-Level on learning how to drive the current favourite office productivity software when I could learn a skill for earning a living.

  5. Jacqui

    If you can

    do - if you cannot, teach!

    1. kissingthecarpet

      Think you're on the wrong site I think is the site you're looking for

  6. Tom Wood

    In reality

    they'll give some books to existing IT/technology (and hopefully mathematics?) teachers and expect them to teach the stuff.

    I just hope that they don't focus too much on "how to program in [choice of language]" or the "games" angle. Teaching "computer science" which actually turned out to be just "games programming" would be like teaching art that was actually just watercolour painting, science that was all plant biology, geography that was all volcanoes, etc.

    Of course games programming is exciting to a certain subset of kids but computer science obviously has applications far beyond the world of games and you can't have an education in the subject without delving deeper - and there's no reason for Britain to neglect other parts of it's tech economy in schools either.

  7. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Bung! This ministerial message is sponsored by...

    Instead of some minister getting all worked up about "video games and visual effects" as if they're the final frontier of human endeavour, how about delivering some high-quality education to address the actual needs of a modern society? While the Chinese gear up to deploy stuff in space, for example, the small-minded British minister in question (regardless of party affiliation - remember Mandelson?) will presumably be satisfied with a blue screen, "whoosh" noises and everyone pretending to be in space instead. I mean, why bother actually doing stuff when you can pretend to do it and meet all your favourite fictional characters at the same time?

    Once again, an already-spoilt industry lobby tugs the strings and the clueless minister's mouth moves, the public wallet opening to dispense cash to a bunch of people whose business model involves paying obscene amounts of money for stupid brand and "franchise" licences, whipping the minions doing 20 hour days, putting out the same old first-person shit, and then whining that people don't want to pay for it and that the government should jail everybody.

    Sure, children should be taught actual computing alongside the mathematical skills to make proper use of it, instead of parking them in front of Word and PowerPoint and pretending that they're "really doing stuff". But none of this should be done purely for the benefit of the wider entertainment sector, as if that will somehow be driving the economy in the unlikely event of everyone in China wanting to sit down and twiddle some knobs at the mere sight of "Britards Dancing - Celebrity X-Box/Factor Edition".

  8. Field Marshal Von Krakenfart

    The government needs to invest in video games and visual effects talent to help keep the UK "at the forefront" of that business sector, The economic and cultural value of the UK’s video games and VFX sectors is clear and the long-term potential of their global markets present a great opportunity for UK-based businesses," Vaizey said

    What an idiot, while Vaizey is correct in targeting the games sector as possible growth sector he seems to be not able to see the trees for the woods.

    Does he think that the IT industry needs is a bunch of kids that can program in Cg or Microsoft's HLSL????? How many people are employed writing games code? How many people are employed in writing and maintaining financial systems software?

    What kids need is a good general grounding in IT, especially the un-sexy stuff like big commercial databases and even Cobol. And I would challenge the notion that the skills needed for video games and visual effects talent also apply to biz software, telecoms, engineering, design and social media sectors.”

    Interviewer: “Hi, come in and sit down, Now tell me what you studied in college?”

    Interviewee: “3-dimesional polygon shading and programming vertex and pixel shaders in Cg and HLSL.

    Interviewer: “Do you know how to route traffic using iptables?”

    Interviewee: “No”

    Interviewer: “NEXT!!!”

    1. Tom Wood

      Who are you trying to recruit?

      Routing traffic with iptables is sysadmin stuff. Important but it's not exactly innovative software development.

      I thiink the point is that we should be training kids to be good computer scientists, or perhaps software engineers, rather than IT technicians.

      At least our games industries are innovative... but they're not the only innovative tech industry we should be trying to develop.

      To use your example, we shouldn't be teaching kids how to use a firewall configuration tool, rather we should be teaching them the basics of how a network works and how someone might try to attack it and what a firewall does. Then they may be interested enough to study such things further and eventually one day design a better firewall, or a new way of defending against various attacks (or if you fancy working in a certain area of the industry, a new way of attacking systems...), or whatever.

    2. Ru

      Iptables? Hurrrgh

      So you disapprove of people who've learned what is a reasonable facsimile of a programming language on a rather awkward platform, and you approve of people who've learned the configuration syntax of iptables?

      I see.

      Given your definition of a 'broad understanding', you seem to be conflating 'IT' with 'Systems Administration'. I'm not sure why your example had a programmer applying for an infrastructure job either...

      1. Field Marshal Von Krakenfart

        Is that not a job for the system administrator??????

        Granted, its a crappy example, but is is interesting that you both seem to relegate sysadmin tasks as lesser tasks suitable only for "technicians"

        But there is a lot more to programming that just programming, there databases, scripting languages, tools to learn, and systems knowledge to be acquired, project management methodologies to be mastered and a host of other things such as writhing your own personal development plan and managing user expectations.

        and if you're not sure why I had a programmer applying for an infrastructure job, we call it the graduate training program.

        Gota go, It's nearly 3 AM and 've got a PFY to guide through his first production cock-up.

  9. Seanmon

    Video games etc.

    I agree that the gaming/CGI side of things is the a trivial (athough profitable) side of the IT sector as a whole, I kind of took it that the minister was trying to promote the sexy side of programming as a means to lure the kids in. One you get them in, the ones who are interested (and more likely to be good) will progress naturally.

    Not sure you need to worry too much about teaching either, not before undergrad level anyway. Just provide the means. Natural engineering curiosity will out. As a kid, I was forever taking the backs off stuff and taking bikes apart to see how they worked. Then a TRS-80 CoCo arrived one Christmas and the rest is history.

    Formal education can start once you've got kids safely signed up to an IT degree.

    1. kissingthecarpet

      There's always the boring(but clever) kids though

      They'll have to be told its OK before they do anything, & what the approved textbook is etc.

  10. Kubla Cant Silver badge

    About Time

    I've had the misfortune to help two GCSE candidates with their IT. In both cases the syllabus seemed to consist mostly of using MS Word to create brochures. It's as if the Economics syllabus taught nothing but typing, and the Physics syllabus was five years learning how to weigh and measure things.

    The reference to "video games and visual effects talent" shows a typical politician's failure to grasp reality. It's just like Abominable Blair and his Army of Millennium Bug Busters all over again. Video games are important, and I'm full of admiration for the people who create them, but I don't think they're the main contribution that IT makes to the UK economy.

    1. James Anderson Silver badge

      Oh yes it is!

      Compared with the average IT activity which goes on in the UK.

      Using a Chinese built machine with an American operating system to configure a German software package? We really are adding value to the UK economy there.

      Sadly the games industry is in decline worldwide, pity they did not think of this before we sold our dear Lara Croft to the evil French.

  11. DJV Silver badge


    'keep the UK "at the forefront"'

    All them other buggers in front of us must be wearing invisibility cloaks then!

  12. daviduk

    Schools need to adopt the Raspberry Pi with a couple of useful languages: ARM code, Cobol (yuck) being towards the top of the list.

  13. Boris the Cockroach Silver badge

    I cut my

    teeth writing games software, learning really obscure stuff like using interrupts to simplify the animation and sound output, then coding the programs to scan the key board/ joystick for button presses.

    Real useless stuff I was told when I should be learning howto touch type in wordperfect etc (this was the 1980's)

    Comes in real handy now when I have to program 2 robots to synchronise their movements to each other and the work pallets going in and out of the machines.


    wait for PLC signal 1;pallet in postion

    wait for robot2 PLC signal 12;finished its unload and clear

    Robot 1 PLC signal 1 ;run its loading routine and clear, ready to reload pallet

    (ok I may have simplified it a bit.... and missed out all the safety checks )

    Shame the pay stinks but hey ho

    1. Field Marshal Von Krakenfart

      Nothing obscure in using interrupts, well not when I learned to program anyway, of course the real trick was to get your hands on your friends 5 1/4" boot disk long enough to install a TSR or edit the dos command table to swap the commands DIR and VER.

  14. Bainshie

    So much fail in this thread.

    Firstly: How the hell do space ships get into the sky in the first place without programmers? You know the mega ton of on the fly calculations needed to be done by computers with not enough resources to do so (FYI you can't just stick a super computer on a spaceship already tight on space. Good to know that all those physicists are also proficient in several programming languages.

    Secondly: Please, everyone ignore Field Marshal Von Krakenfart. In fact if a moderator can add a warning to the top of his post stating 'This post is 100% bullshit, reader beware!.' it would probably help unsuspecting readers thinking he actually knows something.

    For starters ipconfig, HLSL are both not languages. ipconfig is a piss easy linux based firewall (That fails compared to more robust programs against important attacks like DDoS) that my dad can use (And he does terrible terrible things to if statements in his 'code'). HLSL is a library designed to be used with a C based language.

    Secondly. Asking a programmer (Who programs games lets say) if he can use ipconfig is like asking a theoretical physicist 'But can you add 2+2?'. Honestly system admin isn't hard, it's a job most companies outsource to people who can't program. If I got asked that question at a interview (for a software engineering job) I'd be the one shouting 'NEXT!'

    Thirdly: Programming isn't like other subjects. You don't learn to Program with X language. You can gain experience in X language, but what you learn is programming overall. Whether you decided to start with java, c++, C# cobol or even LOLCODE, the basics the underpin the entire theory of programming stay the same. There are differences, but the core stays the same.

    Fourthly: Programming video games is a very very versatile subject, one that can move between industries easily. A game programmer can program financial stuff with a few teething problems. The visa versa can't be said. A video game can contain the following subjects.

    Data management. Efficient programming, AI, Graphical interfaces, Security, server management, etc etc etc.

    And lastly: This is freaking 11-16 year old kids we're talking about. Not 20+ year graduates. Which do you think is going to get more people interested in programming (And eventually going onto computer science)?

    "Lets program bankers programs (Who we all hate) in a command line language. Yay!"

    "Lets program pacman in java!"

    1. Field Marshal Von Krakenfart

      "Secondly. Asking a programmer (Who programs games lets say) if he can use ipconfig is like asking a theoretical physicist 'But can you add 2+2?'. Honestly system admin isn't hard, it's a job most companies outsource to people who can't program. If I got asked that question at a interview (for a software engineering job) I'd be the one shouting 'NEXT!'"

      And then you'll be shouting "next, and do you want fries with that"

      It seems to me that the common thread here is that sysadmin tasks are trivial, in my 35 years experience I have seem more problems caused by botched admin tasks than by botched application programs. If the application has borked the database well you can always recover the database, botch the database back-up and you have nothing.

      Programming in a language is like learning to speak a language, most people can lean enough to get but few ever get truly fluent in the language. I have two programmers out of a a team of 14 that I would describe as truly fluent in the programming language we currently use on this project. The most efficient code is not the fastest code to execute, its the code you can look at a 3AM when there is a problem and understand what is happening.

      I'm sure programming video games is a very very versatile subject, and you are right it's what most 11-16 year old wantabe programmers want to do. However employers don't want versatile programmers that can program anything they want programmers that are proficient in a specific subject area.

      SO you have 30 years experience of working on mainframe banking accounting systems, sorry we were looking for somebody with mainframe banking mortgage system experience.

      Be very careful with the first job you take, it has a nasty way of following you around, welcome to the real world.

    2. John Smith 19 Gold badge


      "Lets program pacman in java!"

      I seem to recall that was *exactly* the plan for one of those games programming degrees.

  15. John Styles

    I am with Bainshie completely

    Oh why can I not keep away from these posts?

    1. Education is not training. Repeat after me 'education is not training, education is not training, education is not training'. Thank you. Education is not about being able to leap into a job knowing how to configure ipconfiglinuxfoetidcommandlineshitebadgerbadgerbadger on day one to save the employer having to spend a penny on training. It is about teaching people fundamentals (and clearly how networking works is one of those) and giving the intellectual tools to learn throughout life.

    2. I fear that the RaspberryPi is going to be the new fetishised item of the UK geek community (particularly the beard, glasses and real ale segment). Whilst there is nothing not to like about a 20 quid ARM device easy to set up and get going with, Britain is going to need more than the next Elite to make up for the demise of our manufacturing industry and the imminent shafting of our finance sector via a Tobin tax.

    3. In particular, whilst maybe a RaspberryPi educated teenager may come up with the next Angry Badgers, the computer games industry on the whole requires big teams and two things that Britain is piss-poor at, management and access to capital.

    4. I suspect that as ever the IT skills shortage in this country is of 22 year olds with 5 years experience of technologies that have been around for 1 year who will work 70 hours a week for peanuts without answering back.

    5. It would be more reassuring if our politicians did not orgasm in their pants at the first mention of a photo / press release opportunity featuring Google or Microsoft.

    6. It is also unfortunate that the one tech organisation in this country that seems to have its shit together with regards to reaching horizontal markets is the BBC which

    a) is disliked by the government

    b) is disliked by a large section of the geek community (particularly the aforementioned beard, glasses and real ale brigade - you know, the ones that used to infest cix) for

    i) oh noes, teh TV tax

    ii) oh noes, I cannot run iPlayer on my Tesco Value Toaster (and other varieties of FOSS / information wants to be free irksomeness)

    Clearly, although on some level 'distance is dead' and on another it isn't and the fact that the 3 major platforms (now that Symbian has finally died) are based 9000 miles away is a bad thing. It is harder to go down the pub and ask Bert if he knows anyone who can explain P if Bert is 9000 miles away.

  16. alwarming

    The gaming industry would benefit from it in the short run.

    That's just a "useful" side effect, eh ?

  17. steeplejack

    Follow the money.

    I suspect that if you (journalists) delve deeper, you might come face to face with... Microsoft. I heard an identical push for computer education in the States, on this-morning's news. Microsoft WERE behind that push, so I guess they've also been on the phone to the British education minister. In which case, this is just about software sales and raising another generation of Microsoft junkies.

  18. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    " to build child army of software coders"

    Presumably since Child Chimney Sweeps are SO 19th century then?

  19. Richard Fletcher


    Teacher pay scales (non London) 2011, £21,588 - £31,552: I doubt the quality of teaching will be up to much in general.

    I suppose there's the holidays, and short days, and grading code should be easy, but where are the mix of sociable programmers who see teaching as a valid career choice with pay like that?

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