Elizabeth Truss speaks at Google demonstration day

This speech was published under the 2010 to 2015 Conservative and Liberal Democrat coalition government

Education Minister Elizabeth Truss spoke to computer science teachers about the importance of computing skills.

Thank you to Google for hosting today’s event and supporting the Turing exhibition.

We need a young generation that are not just inspired by ‘Turing’s Cathedral’ - but are capable of building it.

I was looking at the 3D printers on display, and learned that these designs come from the US and China. Let’s make sure the next generation comes from the UK. Let’s make sure our young people are creating the software and the hardware behind the next generation of computers.

Computing linked to maths and science

It’s important to recognise that computing has a basis in many subjects. We’re working on improving the maths curriculum, the science curriculum, and the design and technology curriculum - all to reflect the needs of the modern world.

That’s why we are promoting arithmetic in primary schools, making sure that children have a sound understanding of ratios, proportions, algebra - all of those things that underlie modern logic, the foundation of computing.

That’s why we want more students studying maths until 18. At the moment in England we have a low proportion of 16- to 18-year-olds studying maths - only about 20%, while in countries like Japan and Germany, it is over 80%.

We are creating a new core maths qualification for 16- to 18-year-olds, so those who do not want to do A level maths will be able to continue the subject.

This will help with things like coding, understanding risk, analytical thinking - essential computing skills.

New computing curriculum

Of course, the new computing curriculum is perhaps one of the most dramatic changes that we are putting in place.

The idea is that from primary school-age children will be acquainted with programming - using things like Scratch and Raspberry Pi - will be able to understand what an algorithm is, what a list of instructions is.

When they get in to secondary school they will learn to use 2 programming languages. Just as we’re making sure that all students are learning to speak foreign languages, the language of computing is one we need for the modern world.

The new design and technology curriculum exposes students to things like bio-mimicry and 3D printers - and that will enable schools to create really exciting and interesting lessons that engage students and cross over between those disciplines - between design and technology and computing to maths to science to music to art.

Support for schools

I am delighted to be able to announce today that we are establishing a new £1 million programme to support computing in primary schools: a computing readiness programme with the British Computer Society.

It will provide online resources and exemplars to help primary school teachers get up to speed. The British Computer Society will be recruiting and training volunteers and running workshops with the aim of supporting 20,000 school teachers.

I went to school in the 80s and 90s when computers were new. We used to have great fun in our computer laboratory programming BASIC, or looking at the early versions of Windows.

There is a lot of latent expertise within our schools, and a lot of teachers who are real enthusiasts. As well as having programmes that help teachers understand about the curriculum, we also need to relight that enthusiasm that is there, waiting to be tapped, in many schools - and I think the BCS programme will really help to do that.

Maths and computing skills more important than ever

One of the messages I really want to get across is that these skills in maths, computing and physics are now universal skills - not just for a minority who might work in fields of interest.

Whatever career you follow, it’s important.

I was struck that over 60% of children say that they want to go in to business, for example.

Well, we need to get across that it is not just to be a scientist or an engineer that you need to be studying these subjects - but also if you want to be a successful business person.

If you go in to agriculture, you need to know how to program a computer. If you go in to fashion there is a lot in modern design that involves computing. If you go in to retail much more of that is now computer based.

If you want to understand how the world works, if you want to be a part of the modern world, you need to study those subjects - because they will help you get the job you want, whatever it is.

Especially important for girls

And we need to make sure that message gets to girls in particular. We need to make sure they know that maths, physics and computer science are exciting subjects - and that they are also subjects that can command some of the highest earning premiums.

We need to provide inspiration, the motivation and the encouragement for girls to carry on doing those subjects.

Because we do not have a good record in this country. I am sure you are going to hear about our record in computer science. The record in physics and maths is not much better. Even though girls start off just as good at maths as boys, they do not have the same level of confidence. Of all the students that get an A* at physics GCSE, half of the boys go on to do physics A level, but only 1 in 5 of the girls do.

So it’s up to all of us to encourage girls and say, you are just as good as the boys, you can do it - carry on going. It is going to be really important to help you have a really successful, fulfilling career in the future. It is going to support your future achievements.

Science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) skills need to be universal

And I am keen to work with everyone in this room to help get that message out to our young people.

If we are to make these skills truly universal - if we are to produce the next big technology - the next idea beyond 3D printers in this country - we need to make sure that it’s a truly universal skill, that we all have, and all take seriously - both boys and girls.

So, I thank Google and everyone here for your work. There is a great buzz and a fantastic atmosphere today. I think we can do it and I am delighted to be here. Thank you.