30 Jan 2013, Rosalie Marshall , V3
The number of computer science teachers qualified to train students in the subject is set to drop to an all-time low in the next couple of years, V3 has learned.
The problem stems from several issues. Firstly, universities have reported government cuts to the computer science teacher training courses they normally run.
Government policy has also appeared to cause confusion among universities over the number of student applicants they are allowed to register for such courses, and the course content they are allowed to provide.
According to the Graduate Teacher Training Registry (GTTR), an admissions service operated by UCAS, this January alone has seen applicants for IT and computer science teacher training PGCE courses decline by around one third.
In contrast, the GTTR reported a growth in applicants for other science subjects, such as chemistry and physics.
Meanwhile a large number of UK universities have reported that their courses to train computer science teachers have been greatly unsubscribed this year, and in some cases this has led to them being cut altogether.
The problem has been exacerbated by the Department for Education's (DfE) late confirmation of allocation numbers to teacher training courses.
This has meant universities are unsure of how to design the courses and unable to start recruitment, according to Graham Jarvis, communications officer for the Association for Information Technology in Teacher Education (ITTE) committee.
Also, he explained, the DfE's announcement in October that it would axe funding for "outdated" ICT training courses, and instead give the funding to courses labelled as computer science, has added to institutions' confusion on course design and recruitment.
"The allocations suddenly changed as well as the courses universities were able to offer, and because of all this confusion, there was not enough time for universities to get high quality education courses together," Jarvis told V3.
"If you want to provide high quality courses you need high quality lecturers, and you need to know what subject they will be teaching and how many course students they will have."
Allocations for Subject Knowledge Enhancement (SKE) computer science recruitment courses, for example, were only confirmed by the DfE Teaching Agency (TA) on 20 December 2012.
SKE computer science courses are designed for those graduates without a computing background to become qualified to teach ICT,
Universities that planned to run six-month SKE computer science course would have need to have designed, validated, marketed and recruited to the courses by February at the latest.
Many of these six-month courses are now not running because universities could not carry out such course design and recruitment in the space of one month.
"ICT has over the years traditionally recruited late, but this looks even worse than last year, with a 41 percent drop in applicants and many providers not meeting targets," said an ITTE mid-January newsletter, seen by V3.
"SKE has historically been important for recruitment, but last year's uncertainty and late allocations meant numbers are down, which will impact on this year's PGCE recruitment to Schools Direct and core PGCSE."
Carl Simmons, computer science subject co-ordinator for Edge Hill University in Lancashire, told V3 there had been large cuts in allocation numbers for undergraduate SKE computer science teacher training courses.
"All places nationally have been cut - this is a real blow to us at Edgehill as we usually recruit at least 25 students. We had already interviewed many promising A-level students when the decision came through," said Simmons.
"I think it's a travesty that A-level students who see teaching IT as a vocation have no direct route into IT and so will possibly choose another initial teacher training (ITT) subject."
Meanwhile, a computer science co-ordinator for a London-based university said, "We were allocated 40 places in 2011 and recruited 45, 25 places in 2012 and recruited 10, and 15 places in 2013 - but so far I have received only one application."
Another institution in the Midlands said its computer science teacher-training course could not run because it did not receive a single suitable application. A Russell Group university said the same.
A further six UK universities reported similar findings to the ITTE that computer science PGCSE and SKE courses had to be axed because of the confusion over allocations at the end of last year, and the resulting lack of applicants. V3 has seen a copy of each report.
The poor state of ICT teacher training has not been lost on lecturers of other subjects.
Bethan Marshall, a senior lecturer in English education at King's College London raised the issue on a teaching website.
"The [courses] that have been most severely cut are all those that do not appear on education secretary Michael Gove's English Baccalaureate. ICT, which was big in the days of the last government, does not appear in the EBacc and now it has had its places on the PGCE almost halved. The £9,000 bursary that students got, to encourage them to teach, has also disappeared," said Marshall.
The ITTE made a number of recommendations in its most recent newsletter on how to improve the state of computer science teacher training.
Not only does the government need to make course allocation decisions much earlier this year, but bursaries for Computer Science SKE and PGCE ICT courses should be made equal to other STEM subjects in order to avoid losing potential computer science graduates to maths or science, said the ITTE.
The DfE would not comment on the reported lack of computer science training courses on offer in the UK.
However, this lack of computer science teachers is only likely to add to the growing uncertainty facing ICT students in schools.
Currently the government is reforming the ICT curriculum, which was removed from schools in September last year, but has yet to launch a consultation on the contents of the new course.
V3 has launched a Make IT Better campaign, which is calling on the DfE to give the ICT curriculum reform process transparency and to include the views of more teachers, education advisers and IT professionals from the start.
V3 is also calling on the government to give the subject "EBacc status" at GCSE level. The new English Baccalaureate Certificates system has been hyped as the modern day O-levels, and will replace GCSEs in core subjects, first English and maths and then sciences and modern foreign languages.
The first EBaccs will be sat in 2017 and are expected to be more challenging and a better assessment of pupils' abilities than GCSEs.
At the moment it appears that the subject of computer science, along with the likes of music, drama and religious education, will still continue as a GCSE, a system that has been heavily criticised by the government.