Video games legend Ian Livingstone OBE, chair of the hi tech industry campaign Next Gen Skills, today (30th April) called for the Mayor of London to set out a radical new vision for computer science and programming in London schools so that every child in London can learn the concepts and principles of Information Technology and Computer Science from primary school age onwards, and later to specialise in Computer Science if they wish.

In its submission to the Mayor’s Education Inquiry, Next Gen Skills argues that a modern ICT and Computer Science schooling is key to the future growth of London’s economy.  As highlighted by the influential ‘Next Gen’ study digital industries currently face a real skills gap in this area, creating a barrier to the competitiveness of hi-tech Britain.  Despite the importance of the knowledge of the fundamental principles underpinning the digital world, there is a mismatch between the students schools and universities are producing and the needs of London’s industries.  Despite being home to some of the most dynamic creative industries in the world, the available evidence suggests that London suffers from the same deficits in Computer Science provision as other areas of the country.

The Department of Education is currently considering whether to remove the outdated ICT curriculum as a requirement in September this year – potentially making room for computer science – however the Next Gen Skills says that London needs a strategy across its 1700 primary and 350 secondary schools to ensure that schools take advantage of the opportunity to teach kids the skills London’s digital industries need.  At the very least, warns the campaign, the Mayor and boroughs need to ensure that schools don’t retreat from teaching ICT to focus on subjects their success in league tables is assessed upon.

While all London maintained schools have a duty to teach the current set ICT curriculum, it is not known how many schools plan to pursue Computer Science in the future, nor how many allow for computer programming now, nor the quality of current teaching.  Evidence from the Academy sector shows that ICT is more likely to be dropped by schools in favour of other subjects perceived as core to the school’s success, with only a few ‘early adopters’ taking up Computer Science.   The study of STEM subjects (science, technology, engineering or maths) is low in London state schools, while ICT teaching in secondary schools has recently been criticised by OfSTED.

Campaign chair Ian Livingstone OBE, one of the founding fathers of interactive entertainment (see below) said:

“High-tech, knowledge-based industries are major generators of jobs and growth for London, and need skilled computer programmers to maintain their growth. At the moment London’s schools just aren’t producing enough students with the right knowledge and skills that industry needs.  Creative industries, for example, are crying out for graduates who know how to programme and are forced to recruit from abroad. 

“Since the 1980s there has been a long retreat from Computer Science being taught in our classrooms,  a point made in our ‘Next Gen’ review.  We need to ensure that the flow of high calibre talent from education to industry is enhanced and not allowed to decline any further.  For this to happen we need real intervention in schools,  right here in London which is why we are calling for a big debate,  led by the Mayor of London, on digital knowledge in schools.”

Key recommendations and London Call to Action:

-          The Major of London should set out a Vision for Computer Science in London outlining the proper role for London government and industry in achieving shared outcomes.

“Every child in London should learn the concepts and principles of Information Technology and Computer Science from primary school age onwards, and later to specialise in Computer Science if they wish.”

-          If the statutory ICT Programme of Study and Assessment is dis-applied by the Department for Education (DfE) in September this year, then London policy makers must build assurance by establishing a strategy to (re) establish Computer Science in London schools from 2012 to September 2014 and beyond – including monitoring the take up of Computer Science across the 32 boroughs.

-          The Next Gen Skills London Call to Action also states:

*         All pupils must be digitally literate before they leave school.

*         Computer Science should be recognised in London schools as a rigorous, high-status school subject discipline, on a par with Maths, Physics, or History. Like the other sciences, it will have a practical as well as a conceptual aspect and should be taught alongside compatible subjects like Maths, Physics, Art or Design.

*         The Mayor should asking all school governing bodies in London to discuss how they teach digital literacy, ICT and Computer Science in schools.

*         With industry, professional bodies, schools and universities the Mayor should set an ambitious target for Computer Science in London schools by the end of his or her next term, (e.g. half of all schools teaching Computer Science by 2016).

*         This goal should be pursued with industry through both formal channels (the school curriculum and qualifications) and informal ones (e.g. after school clubs, hack spaces, hobbyist learning).

*         Adequate investment should be secured to kick-start the training / re-training of a new generation of Computer Science teachers in London schools.

Notes to editors:

1.       The Mayor’s London Inquiry Call for Evidence ends 24th April at 5pm http://www.london.gov.uk/priorities/young-people/education-training/mayors-education-inquiry

2.       The UK’s digital deficit is set out in NESTA, Next Gen:  Transforming the UK into the world’s leading talent hub for the video games and visual effects industries A Review by Ian Livingstone and Alex Hope (2011). http://www.nesta.org.uk/library/documents/NextGenv32.pdf

3.       Ian Livingstone OBE is one of the UK’s founding fathers of interactive entertainment. In 1975 he co-founded Games Workshop and launched Dungeons & Dragons in Europe. In 1982 he co-designed Fighting Fantasy,  and co-wrote The Warlock of Firetop Mountain, the first in the series that sold in excess of 16 million copies in 25 languages. Following a full listing on the London Stock Exchange in 1995, he served as Executive Chairman of Eidos plc until 2002, and is now Life President. At Eidos he helped to secure many of the company’s major franchises including Lara Croft:Tomb Raider. In 2011, he co-authored ‘Next Gen’, transforming the UK into the world’s leading talent hub for video games and visual effects.