Since the launch of our Call to Action on 11 July, Next Gen Skills has been contacted by MPs and local policy makers asking for a steer on how to start a discussion locally.

Here are some tips, based on our experience with the schools and local authorities we have visited.

Develop your local evidence base and explain the challenge

Statistics from across the country show that take-up of Maths, Computing and other STEM subjects are worryingly low.  While the data is held nationally, we often neglect to develop this local evidence-base to spur leadership.

A local discussion needs to set out the local challenges, framing the event in the light of publicly available information around:

  • The speed of the Digital Revolution and pace of technological change
  • Changes in the local economy and labour market
  • Changing curriculum around ICT and Computer Science
  • Take-up of hi tech skills locally

Get your local authority to champion hi tech skills

It might seem counter-intuitive at a time when government reforms are decoupling schools and education authorities that councils should have a role in a new area of study – but local government, with its renewed focus on growth and economic innovation and its continuing links with educators and local firms, can play a key role to help get schools – and children – coding again.

Local authorities are digital players in their own right:  they should be currently developing approaches to be ‘digital by default’ in their customers services, remain large purchasers of IT and regularly work to attract digital firms to the area.  Even if the don’t have a digital strategy, they are likely to have skills and expertise in the digital arena which you can employ.

  • ask the Chief Executives of local authorities what they are doing to support the future of the local digital economy
  • ask the local authority to identify an named officer to help co-ordinate activity and the evidence-base

Bring local digital and creative firms involved

Believe it or not there are very few places where digital businesses, educators and policy makers meet in one place to discuss how technology is taught in schools, and how to link it to local job opportunities.

Most growing businesses will have a digital element at their core, these are not necessarily ‘new media’ but also include advanced manufacturing, pharmaceuticals and research-driven enterprises.

  • ask your local council’s regeneration team or the local Chamber of Commerce to help identify key local businesses

What a local conversation looks like

A conversation could be triggered by a series of keynote speakers, addressing perspectives on how to advance Computer Science locally.  A key element of this is to explain how the educational policy context is changing over the next two years, with the reform of ICT and the introduction of the new National Curriculum.

  • School leaders – Head teachers and school governors are key in setting school priorities and deciding where resources are allocated.  It is critical that they understand the change in the ICT curriculum from September 2012 and the need to give Computer Science and STEM subjects a boost
  • Digital firms – The CEOs and recruiters from local firms can explain the need for hi tech skills on a daily basis
  • Further Higher education – Local universities will have Computer Science departments, and may be a valuable resource for teacher training and support.  Discussion with FE and HE may also highlight barriers in the education system and the need for further support
  • Use local creatives – Combining Computer Science with Art and Design&Technology is key to the future of creative industries, but so often children are forced into choosing between science and the arts at 16
  • Get the Digital Voluntary Sector involved:  up and down the country people are starting up ‘hack clubs’ and other sessions to get kids coding – the mix between formal and informal learning is key to stimulating the creative spark
  • Young People – the enthusiasm and thirst for knowledge of young people is infectious, hold the discussion at the end of a ‘hack day’ or visit an after-school club to see kids coding live – allow young people the chance to show you what they can achieve with just a little support

Set Outcomes and Challenges for the Future

There will many aspects to local conversations, differing from place to place, and it is useful to determine desired outcomes, e.g.:

  • Increasing schools’ take-up of Computer Science (encouraging schools to offer new GCSEs in Computer Science, or moving away from the old Programme of Study in ICT)
  • Understanding what schools need to develop or refresh their ICT, Computer Science or STEM curricula
  • Enhancement of understanding about digital career opportunities (how to get into a career in digital industries, and the skills and qualifications students need is not always obvious)
  • Identifying the needs of digital employers locally

Use the discussion to identify key policy challenges for the future, so you can follow up and monitor progress:

  • Do local stakeholders need further help understanding digital change?
  • How can discussion move beyond the enthusiasm of ‘early adopters’?
  • Do schools need extra resources for CPD for existing teachers?
  • Do firms need help engaging with schools and with work placements?

For helpful background materials on all of the above see our Computer Science Resources section of the Next Gen Skills website.