UK's computing curriculum


Teaching young people about the importance of digital skills is a focus of the education system across the UK, but the delivery of these skills is different across England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland – who has it right?

With computing skills crucially important in today’s society and the focus on what is required changing so rapidly, most developed countries are on a journey to ensure their school curricula are fit for purpose.

Nowhere is this truer than in the UK, which, due to the devolved nature of government in each of its four regions – England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland – has seen a marked divergence in syllabuses.

Views of what constitute pros and cons differ based on where individuals are coming from in the debate. But what is clear is that all of the approaches are on a spectrum, with England and its focus on computer science as a dedicated subject at one end, and Northern Ireland with its emphasis on cross-curriculum digital skills development at the other.

Elizabeth Tweedale, chief executive of coding education startup Cypher, says that while each method “includes a lot of good concepts”, she favours the English system. “In my view, the most important thing is to have an understanding of the basics of computer science and computational thinking and to apply that in the real world,” she says. “So it’s about creating real projects using computer science as the basis, which involves thinking about it as a subject in the same way as maths and English, and then applying it to different problems.

The idea is that unless both learners and teachers have a fundamental understanding of computing and its underlying concepts, “they won’t know how to apply technology in a functional way in other areas”, says Tweedale.

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© Cath Everett

Elizabeth Tweedale