Andrew Corbett

Technical Baccalaureate Announced

News   •   Apr 23, 2013 11:52 BST

  • Tech Baccalaureate to plug gap in post-16 education
  • Computer Science A-level in decline
  • Demand for tech specialists rising at 4x national rate

Education Secretary Michael Gove and Skills Minister Matthew Hancock have announced the launch of a new Technical Baccalaureate which is aimed at closing the gap in the IT skills market by providing a vocational qualification that employers will value.

The new award is to be a performance measure for schools and will demonstrate that the students have credible technical skills. The award will not be a separate qualification but will incorporate maths skills, a written research project and high quality vocational training which will demonstrate vocational skills on a par with ‘A’ levels.

With the current growing IT skills gap the Tech Baccalaureate may well be a way to partially plug the gap alongside apprenticeships and re-training schemes.

Many critics believe this is only the first step along the way to creating a future workforce that is able to meet the needs of the UK and the EU. Google CEO Eric Schmidt fired a broadside at the UK education system in 2011 when he said: “Your IT curriculum focuses on teaching how to use software, but gives no insight into how it is made. That is just throwing away your great computing heritage”

The UK IT heritage that Schmidt is referring to goes back longer than most people realise. Charles Babbage worked on his first difference engine in 1822 and since then the UK has been at the forefront of the computer revolution with great thinkers and engineers such as Alan Turing and Tim Berners-Lee turning science-fiction into reality.

Given the history of IT achievement in the UK, it seems perverse that in the UK schools currently offer almost no computer science skills as part of the curriculum. Students are leaving school with no employable skills in digital literacy. Even in post-compulsory education the number of students studying IT has been in constant decline. In the educational year ending in 2012 only 3,420 people completed a computer science ‘A’ level, a fall of seventy three percent since 1998.

A growing need for IT specialisation is being met by a decline in young people attempting to pick up professional IT skills. The IT jobs market shows that the need for IT professional is growing at four times the rate of opportunities in other UK jobs markets.

New products such as the Raspberry Pi are promising to give future generations a stepping stone into the world of programming and genuine IT literacy, but it will take 10 to 15 years for those children and their skills to reach the workplace.

With around half of the UK’s youth not attending University, the recognition of vocational qualifications by employers will work well alongside other initiatives such as apprenticeships and the UK IT Association's Recycle Me project aims to help raise awareness and ensure that the needs of the IT workforce are met this sooner rather than later.

The introduction of the Technical Baccalaureate is one small step in the right direction. Let us hope it is not accompanied by two steps back.

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