Lacklustre teaching of IT in English schools is resulting in thousands of students leaving secondary education without the skills to pursue a career in technology, according to a report by Osted.
In more than one-third of the 74 secondary schools surveyed by the national education inspectorate nearly half of the students left without "a sound foundation for further study or training in ICT", the report found. Students at these schools were either not offered the chance to study the IT National Curriculum, the report said, or could only take a single vocational examination course that failed to challenge more able students.
The teaching of IT at more than half of secondary schools was judged to be no better than satisfactory, with the report finding that a limited number of teachers had the ability to teach key topics such as programming. Overall ICT teaching skills within secondary schools have failed to improve since Ofsted last surveyed them between 2005 and 2008.
Weaknesses in the ICT curriculum are also highlighted in the report, with failings such as students having to repeat work from previous years and a lack of focus on the needs of more able students. There are also few examples of schools engaging with local IT businesses to bring relevance and context to classroom studies.
The report also identified "insufficient" integration of IT skills with other areas of the curriculum. Also few of the schools assessed systematically the benefit of ICT on pupils' achievements.
The report's findings are borne out by a continued fall in the number of students studying ICT at GCSE and A-level since 2007. Despite better performance in examinations than boys, fewer girls chose to continue to study ICT beyond the age of 14.
The number of students entering for vocational awards in ICT subjects has "increased considerably" since 2007. However the Ofsted report said that these vocational courses "narrowed the learning and limited the achievement of the students" and that "important topics such as control technology or data handling were not given sufficient attention or were missed out completely".
IT teaching is better in primary schools, with the overall effectiveness of ICT rated as good or outstanding in over two-thirds of the primary schools visited.
Schools minister Nick Gibb acknowledged the failings identified in the report: "Too many young people are not being equipped with the skills and knowledge they need for further study and the workplace. It's clear that ICT teaching is far too patchy – with outstanding work in some areas but real weaknesses in the quality of courses, curriculum and teacher training in others," he said in a statement.
"We want to move away from the over-focus on buying computer hardware, which dates rapidly, and towards teaching pupils to be technologically literate and quick to adapt. We are looking very carefully at ICT as part of the National Curriculum Review and have listened closely to the computing industry's calls for more rigorous computer science courses to help tackle the skills shortages facing high-tech industries."
The government hopes to address the shortcomings of the current IT curriculum with its proposal to offer a GCSE that will focus on teaching schoolchildren core principles of computer programming.
The sub-par IT curriculum in English schools drew criticism from Google chairman Eric Schmidt earlier this year.
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