Every young person should have the opportunity to experience and learn real computing between the ages of 5 and 19 in the same way as they do mathematics or science, says the Royal Academy of Engineering, which has classified – for the first time - computing resources and qualifications to help schools in England identify which ones to offer their pupils. This provides schools with impartial and much needed advice at a time when the ICT curriculum is going through significant and rapid change.

The Academy believes that pupils should learn digital literacy, information technology (IT) and computer science. However, schools should distinguish carefully as to whether the qualifications they offer to 14-16 year olds are concerned with digital literacy or with IT and computer science. Studying digital literacy alone does not provide for subsequent progression in computing.

The Academy has produced a guide in association with the BCS Academy of Computing, the Computing at School working group (CAS) and Next Gen Skills to help schools make sense of the sometimes confusing landscape of computing qualifications.

The teaching of computing in schools has been in the spotlight in recent months, following the publication of the Royal Society’s Shut Down or Restart? report, which said that the current ICT curriculum in the English National Curriculum can encourage a ‘pedestrian approach’ that overemphasises the use of tools such as word processors. It said that courses should instead promote the acquisition of broader computing knowledge and engineering skills, which would keep Britain at the forefront of the global digital economy.

The Academy has classified the composition of publicly funded Level 2 (GCSE and equivalent) qualifications for 14-16 year olds in England in terms of their digital literacy, IT or computer science content to enable schools to think carefully about the purpose of the computing qualifications they offer to pupils.

The guide shows that of the 27 qualifications that will count in the 2014 performance league tables (excluding Level 1 courses, IGCSEs and Level 3 courses):

  • 11 are a mix of IT and digital literacy
  • 10 are a mix of IT, computer science and often digital literacy
  • 3 are devoted to computer science
  • 2 are devoted to digital literacy
  • 1 is devoted to IT
  • 6 are GCSE qualifications, 5 of which include an element of computer science.

In an effort to promote computing skills in schools, the Academy and its partners have also produced a guide for teachers with links to over 50 resources that can help young people start learning real computing. The links are clustered into themes, including animation, coding, curriculum enrichment schemes, robotics and online teaching resources and are useful to primary and secondary schools alike.

Professor Matthew Harrison, Director of Education at the Academy, says: “Every young person should have the opportunity to experience and learn real computing so they can make sense of the digital world around them and compete for the best jobs – which will increasingly be enabled by technology. However, we must get the right curricula and the right qualifications in place as well as attracting and training more teachers to meet this computing challenge. The success of the drive for real computing in schools is critical for the next generation so we have to start making a difference now.”

Notes for editors

  1. A copy of  Computing qualifications included in the 2014 Key Stage 4 performance Tables: a guide for schools (959.68 KB) is available.
  2. A copy of  Get coding! (898.55 KB) is available.
  3. The reports were prepared by the Academy, BCS Academy of Computing, the Computing at School working group (CAS) and Next Gen Skills.
  4. The definitions of IT, Computer Science and digital literacy in the reports are based on those already used in the Royal Society’s Shut Down or Restart? report, which are:

    - Computer Science: The rigorous academic discipline, encompassing programming languages, data structures, algorithms, etc.

    - Information Technology: The use of computers, in industry, commerce, the arts and elsewhere, including aspects of IT systems architecture, human factors, project management, etc.

    - Digital literacy: The general ability to use computers.
  5. The Academy FE STEM Data project identified 10 level 2 publically funded Computing qualifications being used in schools in England in 2009/10. It focused on these qualifications, which are broadly equivalent to A*-C grades at GCSE because this is the level for a 16 year old that provides options for further progression in computing. The right of individual schools to choose what is best for their learners is acknowledged and respected.
  6. The Royal Society’s  Shut Down or Restart is available and the Academy’s  Press release on the report is available.
  7. Founded in 1976, The Royal Academy of Engineering promotes the engineering and technological welfare of the country. Our fellowship – comprising the UK’s most eminent engineers – provides the leadership and expertise for our activities, which focus on the relationships between engineering, technology, and the quality of life. As a national academy, we provide independent and impartial advice to Government; work to secure the next generation of engineers; and provide a voice for Britain’s engineering community.

For more information please contact

Sarah Griffiths at The Royal Academy of Engineering
Tel. 020 7766 0655