Programming set to be core of new computing classes for English kids

The UK government has detailed plans to teach schoolchildren in England programming and networking skills.
Written by Nick Heath, Contributor

A plan to teach all schoolchildren in England basic programming and networking skills has been published.

The draft curriculum (PDF), published by the Department for Education on Thursday, proposes a new course of study for children aged between five and 16.

The curriculum would see children aged between five and seven being taught what algorithms are and how they are implemented as programs.

And by age 14 children should have mastered a range of computing skills including:

  • designing computational abstractions that model the state and behaviour of real-world objects;
  • understanding at least two commonly used algorithms for sorting and searching;
  • using two or more programming languages, at least one of which should be a written programming language, to solve a variety of computational problems. They should be able to create data structures such as arrays and use functions to write modular programs;
  • understanding how simple Boolean logic, such as AND, OR and NOT, is used to determine which part of a program is executed;
  • understanding the hardware and software components that make up networked computer systems and how they interact;
  • understanding how various data types can be represented and manipulated in the form of binary digits.

The government scrapped the previous ICT curriculum in September 2012 after accepting criticism that its heavy focus on office skills was putting children off from pursuing a career in IT. Between 2003 and 2010, the number of students taking computer science at university in the UK fell by 27 percent (PDF).

Questions remain over how well qualified existing IT teachers would be to teach an IT curriculum with a heavier emphasis on programming and computer science: a report by the national schools inspectorate Ofsted in 2011 found that only a limited number of teachers in English schools have the ability to teach programming.

Since the scrapping of the ICT curriculum in September last year, teachers have been able to decide on how they teach the subject, but there are signs many have not focused on computer science. Last year a survey of 770 IT teachers in primary and secondary schools found that only 14 percent felt programming skills should be a high priority in their new IT curriculum.

The draft computing curriculum for England will be subject to consultation before the final version is introduced in September 2014.

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