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Exclusive: UK faces severe shortfall of computer science teachers

30 Jan 2013
Students and teacher working with computer

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Also, he explained, the DfE's announcement in October that it would axe funding for "outdated" ICT training courses, and instead give the funding to courses labelled as computer science, has added to institutions' confusion on course design and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.

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