Elizabeth Truss speech to the ASCL/Microsoft conference

Education Minister Elizabeth Truss on the importance of computing at the Association of School and College Leaders/Microsoft conference.

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

The Rt Hon Elizabeth Truss MP

Thank you - it’s a pleasure to be here.

I want to start with potatoes and turnips. In particular, I want to talk about an engineering firm that produces agricultural machinery called Herbert’s, who are based up a single track road in the middle of the Norfolk Fens. (I don’t know if any of you have been there - it’s a beautiful area!) Many years ago they invented a machine to select and sort potatoes based on size and shape. Potato-picking, this most traditional of jobs, is now controlled almost exclusively by computers. They adapted that same technology to be used for turnips.

Not only that, Herbert’s have used the innovations gained from turnip processing to create a new security device for airports. When you put your coat through the security scanner, the tray that held it will now automatically be returned. Next time you’re at Stansted, have a look for Herbert’s on the side of the machine. They’re also exporting this technology to Dubai and China too. This is a great example of one of the oldest industries using the newest technologies to successfully innovate and flourish. The blurring between services, manufacturing and different industrial sectors is being replicated in every corner of our economy.

What is central is the role of computing skills, which demands analytical, programming and problem solving skills. Even agriculture - not exactly famous as a hi-tech business - is affected.

And it’s not alone.

Look at retail.

Tesco are using face-scanning technology at their petrol station tills to analyse their customers’ age and gender. Or take healthcare.

Google can now predict the spread of flu: when people search online for certain symptoms, it’s an exceptionally accurate predictor of their physical health.

Or crime.

Many police forces have started to use ‘future crime maps’, using crime data to spot patterns and predict where and when burglaries or muggings might happen. In places like Trafford, that’s reduced crime by a quarter.

Whatever the business, whatever the organisation - computing is at the centre.

A new world

And it’s changing the shape of the economy, too.

Across the world, the trend is towards an ‘hour-glass’ shaped labour market. The number of managerial and technical jobs has gone up by 30%. There are still manual jobs which are not easily automated. But those jobs in the middle are being squeezed - jobs which were once blue-collar skilled labour are now white-collar managerial or technical jobs.

It’s a big change - but we shouldn’t be afraid of it.

If we can nurture a highly-educated population, we can create and win those high-skill, high-pay jobs. Analysis by the OECD, for example, shows the association between academic performance and growth rates increased by a third between 1960 to 1980 and 1980 to 2000.

So with the right education system, technology is a huge opportunity.

If our children have the knowledge and skills to manipulate and master technology, they can thrive in tomorrow’s global economy.

That’s why we are raising expectations across the curriculum and qualifications system

These changes are essential to social mobility - to getting more children attracted to the best jobs.

That is why we have changed ICT to computing.

The curriculum will equip pupils to understand and apply the fundamental principles of computer science, across their school years. When I was at school in the 90s - there was one computer pushed round on a trolley - that was our computing lesson.

Now at primary, computing means teaching children to work with code. They will learn how computers function - about what programmes are, and how to write them using sequencing, selection and repetition - and how to apply logical reasoning to detect and correct errors. This is in contrast to ICT - instead of learning how to use software, students will be creating it. There are plenty of free and user-friendly resources that children can use, like Scratch, or the cat developed at MIT.

At key stage 3, students will be taught to use at least 2 programming languages.

They’ll gain confidence writing programmes and instructing computer devices, and learn how computer systems store and use instructions.

As well as this, pupils will be taught how to stay safe online.

And GCSEs and A levels will be rigorous. Pupils will be immersed in core concepts - like logic, algorithms, or data manipulation - and use abstract, computational thinking to solve complex problems.

From 2014, computer science GCSE will be part of the Ebacc.

This is the league table measure that encourages the subjects most employers and universities require. I’m delighted that just this week, Edexcel’s GCSE in computer science received approval for inclusion in the Ebacc from 2015.

Inclusion in league tables show we see computing as a full equal of other core subjects.

In other words, from 5 to 18, the curriculum will show students how computing creates the world around them - and how they can contribute.

It’s the means to understanding that an iPad or laptop or iPhone is something that’s the product of human ingenuity - something they could maybe go on to help create.

But crucially, the curriculum guidance is slim; it’s much shorter than the old ICT curriculum. Because we are clear about what the knowledge we want students to acquire by certain ages.

But we want to give teachers much more freedom about how to teach.

That gives teachers and school leaders freedom to teach in innovative ways.

And in particular, think about how computing links to other subjects.

I think there are lots of opportunities to teach computing and design and technology together. Our design and technology curriculum exposes children to the most exciting new technologies: 3D printing, biomimicry, computer-aided design.

These techniques are changing industry, and by immersing children in their use, we’re showing the practical applications of science, across industries, from agriculture to fashion.

Whether it’s 3D design in art, data analysis in business studies, software in economics, computational biology, running regressions in urban geography - whatever the subject, computing has a role.

Technology also has a role to play in art and music - fashion students, for example, are using sophisticated design packages. Careers in these industries are increasingly requiring high-end computer skills.

The new flexibility in the curriculum means that teachers can inspire young people. academies and free schools have even more flexibilities to achieve this.

Technology makes traditional academic education more important

But the paradox of a tech-driven economy is that traditional academic knowledge is actually more important, not less. It’s why we’ve made big changes to maths.

Maths commands the highest earning premium at 10, 16 and 18.

That’s why we’re developing a new core maths course. At the moment, students who have a C in GCSE maths rarely go on to take A level - the gap is just too big. They will now have new qualifications to choose from, specifically developed for post-16 study. One option for doing this is to study online through the International Baccalaureate.

Literacy and numeracy

The UK recently ranked 39 out of 42 countries in the OECD in terms of the number of hours of maths taught in schools. The recent PISA study on adult literacy and numeracy was not good news for the UK either.

All of this is why we’ve placed additional emphasis on spelling, grammar and punctuation. And why we’re making these changes to maths.

At primary, we’re encouraging fluency in times tables at an earlier age, and we have removed calculators from primary tests - so children understand the principles of what they’re doing, rather than relying on a magic number box.

Supporting curriculum changes

Advanced computing is fundamentally mathematical, while most high-end industries will rely on advanced thinking, problem-solving, abstract reasoning and analytical skills. But we realise that the computing curriculum represents a big change and that the government has a role to play in signposting schools to good materials and resources. We’re going where teachers are going - Twitter, SLT chat and podcasts with teachers sharing their approaches to the new curriculum and what they’re doing in their classrooms. If there is anyone in this room who would be interested in making a podcast we would like to hear from you! We are making sure that talented graduates are attracted to teach computing.

From 2014, the amount and availability of scholarships will increase for those going into computing.

100 grants will be available, awarded by the BCS. Full scholarships are worth £25,000; graduates with firsts and 2.1s can get bursaries of £20,000.

Only maths, chemistry and physics have similar levels of funding for teachers to train. A scholarship to become a computing teacher is now almost the same as the national average wage.

Teacher training providers will also develop Subject Knowledge Enhancement (SKE) courses - so that prospective computer science trainees from non-computing backgrounds can go on to enter PGCEs in the subject.

And we’re supporting existing teachers, too.

Last year we gave a small grant to BCS to establish the Network of Teaching Excellence for Computer Science teachers. It’s forged links between schools, universities and employers - and I was delighted to see BCS win pro bono support from organisations such as Microsoft and Google.

We’re now increasing that support. We’re spending £2 million to fund Master Computing Teachers, working through the network to go out and train primary and secondary teachers in the new curriculum. It will reach 16,000 computing teachers over the next 2 years.

And we’re seeing many other organisations keen to support schools.

I recently visited a social enterprise called MyKindaCrowd.

They work with employers to launch ‘challenges’ to young people. They submit their ideas, and the best ones win prizes - and in some cases, get offers of jobs or apprenticeships.

The challenge could be something immense - like rethinking energy use for BP.

It could be something intriguing - like designing an environmentally-friendly toilet for WaterAid.

Or it could be something imaginative - like finding a way for Milton Keynes to install driverless cars in 15 months.

All of them are brilliant classroom material. And MyKindaCrowd are getting companies to come up with challenges specifically designed to support the computing curriculum.

What is great about MyKindaCrowd is that they are bringing businesses into the classroom and are helping young people understand that all the good jobs that are out there are using skills in subjects like computing, maths and physics.

I’m very keen that we encourage more young people to take these STEM subjects.

We have to recognise that as well as intrinsic motivations for studying these subjects, a lot of young people also need extrinsic motivations so they understand the opportunities that these subjects open up to them.

That’s the way we will get more students to take STEM courses beyond GCSE.

Future success

If we focus solely on computer literacy - on superficial skills, like typing, copying and pasting - or how to use individual word processing or spreadsheet programmes - then we will miss a huge opportunity.

Computing should be seen as a subject where children can unleash their natural inquisitiveness and inventiveness. Just think about some of the great British pioneers of computing.

Like Alan Turing, whose revolutionary work helped win a war, the father of modern computing. That’s about as inspirational as it gets. Or Tim Berners-Lee. The man behind the internet. Few individuals or inventions have changed the face of the world more.

Or Ada Lovelace, the first ever computer programmer.

Computing is an inherently inventive subject.

We have a chance to create the trailblazing technologists of the future - both boys and girls - our next Turings, Berners-Lees, or Lovelaces.

Computing is the central point of the modern economy.

We want our children to be active creators in a world turned upside down by technology.

I am very happy to promote the new curriculum and very happy to answer any questions.

Published 15 November 2013