The unbearable not-rightness of Bitesize

Whence cometh the 'C' in 'ICT'

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Stob Letters We received a shed load of emails in response to our jibes at the BBC's Bitesize website for GCSE sufferers.

Many came forward to explain the site's use of the term 'ICT' instead of the more usual 'IT'. Andrew Field, Head of ICT at a secondary school in Cambridgeshire, writes

We do have to call the subject ICT at school as this is the official term within schools. Of course communication is an inherent part of IT anyway, but I suspect the term was introduced to force schools to change the way IT was taught in the mid 1990s. This was to change it away from a focus on programming and more towards the internet and the wider world.

'Richard' offers a more cynical explanation

The only bit I'm going to defend the Beeb on with this is that the moniker ICT isn't their fault - it's our old pals at the DfES who decided about 5 or 6 years ago that no-one knew what IT was and everyone would be a lot less confused if they added an extra letter. My theory is that this was really motivated by the fact that videos, cassette players and gramophones can be classed as ICT resources, but not IT resources (£300m of "ICT equipment" looks a lot better than £50m of computers and £250m of battered old Japanese tape decks, Edison mk I phonographs and TVs)

Chris Miller is one of several to point out that ICT has escaped and got beyond education.

For reasons that baffle me, ICT seems to be the new 'gummint' approved terminology. Check your weekly rag job pages for lots of ads for ICT Managers in local gov (but who'd want to work there?)

ICT is still the official government term for all these techie things (and it does go a bit wider than things you would naturally class as IT).

Graeme "Regional ICT Specialist" (not a civil servant but delivering government services!)

ICT appears to be used as a synonym for IT almost exclusively in the UK public and education sectors. History does not relate why they have chosen this bizarre term. A search on Google for ICT UK will reveal this use. Perhaps it is a deliberate tactic to appear out of touch.

It reminds me of dealing with people who used IBM computers in the late 80s - they used different terms for everything. I think it was a strange tactic so that no-one could escape the IBM world because when they were interviewed they couldn't understand the interviewer and vice versa.

John Styles

Several readers took me to task for pointing out errors that they thought weren't errors. David B got straight down to syntax:

"'[A]n ICT system is a set-up consisting of hardware, software, data and the people who use them' (sic again, he means 'use it')."

Perhaps it would be best, before hurling brickbats at the language use of another, to just double check you bat is properly bricked. [...]

Your mistake seems to be to have read the people as using the ICT system (singular, and definitely an "it"), whereas the sentence only makes sense when the people are part of the set-up being referred to, in which case the verb 'to use' must be applied to the indirect objects of hardware, software and data, of which there are more than one, leading to the use of the pronoun 'them' as the direct object.

Shame, and six of the best with Greenbaum's OEG, for you!

Actually, he is sort of right - in a fudgey government kind of way.

ITIL, the government framework for IT service management, describes a system as "An integrated composite that consists of one or more of the processes, hardware and software, facilites and people, that provides a capability to satisfy a stated need or objective." [A Dictionary of IT Service Management Terms, Acronyms and Abbreviations; itSMF]

Of course, the question of whether ITIL definitions are of any real use to school-children isn't even debatable. The answer is no!

Níall Tracy

Craig Andrews, among others, found this gem that I had missed:

Consider Question 3 of the Viruses set, and specifically the answer "Use your virus checker to remove the virus from the floppy disk and tell your friend he probably has a virus on his computer and lend him your anti-virus software to remove it."

If you have the cheek to select this helpful sounding option, you get the following charming message:

"Hard luck. You should always act to remove a virus and let other people know if their computer is infected, but remember that lending your anti-virus software to someone else is breaking copyright laws."

By helping your friend to remove their viral infection, you are a criminal! Worse still, it could probably be proved that you directly assisted a terrorist organisation ...

I'm sure the folks a Grisoft, F-Prot and ClamAV will be thanking Auntie for their sage advice about 'sharing' software.

*sigh* :-)

Several people took up the challenge to think up an example that contradicted Mr B's assertion that computers that run in real time 'have to be very fast and have a lot of processing power'. They all came up with the same idea, neatly expressed by Ian Rogers

My old digital watch was neither fast nor high powered but worked in very real time. Regular as, err, clockwork...

Colin Keith, a latecomer to the party, noticed that something was amiss with my links

I'm not sure if its related to your expose, or not, but I noticed that the GUI test mentioned in your article returns a 404 error.

It certainly is related, Colin, and you'll find an improved version of the test here, now with added dropdown combos.

So the BBC felt able to fix some of Mr B's faults, but not the important ones. Very many of the emails - literally dozens - explained that my ire was largely directed at the wrong target.

Your assumption seems to be that BBC Bitesize is wholly to blame for the errors. Whilst I'm not saying that it ISN'T, who's to say that the GCSE syllabus isn't also culpable - and Bitesize is designed to get you through the GSCE, not provide factual information that might actually cause you to fail.

It may have been a long time ago now, but I seem to recall that the GSCE I did in "Computer Studies" was pretty low on relevancy to modern computing of the time and full of vague half-answers and misinformation...

Rob Darke

Hi Verity,

I have just read your article and I couldn't agree with you more! I am only 21 and so it's not been too long since I was using sites and resources from BBC bitesize for my revision. I remember getting angry and frustrated at the revision 'aides'. I am afraid that the exams aren't much better than the revision. I can tell you that my knowledge of computing was more than sufficient for my exams, but I often got bad marks because I had to second guess what the examiner really wanted to know. The lack of clarity in the questions is appalling and as your say, penalises those who know the accurate answers.


What you're forgetting is that these sites are generally written directly from the GCSE syllabus. So not only does the BBC's Bitesize site blatantly make stuff (note: I'd rather use a rather ruder word here but politeness forbids it) up, but this whole pile of, um... bull excrement (that'll do, won't it?) is going to be making up the required answers for a few tens of thousands of kiddies' exams.


What's worse than the issues you detailed is that this appears to be taken from the current GCSE curriculum, in other words this misinformation is not limited to an obscure website, but is in fact being taught to kids in the classroom.

Now many of those sitting in these classrooms will know this is crap, however often the teachers that have the dubious honour of passing out this rubbish are not particularly IT literate, and will castigate any student that informs said teacher of the problems with the subject matter.

Worse, because probably half the class (possibly more) will have no IT knowledge whatsoever, not only will a knowledgeable student's attempts to correct the teacher be derided, they will leave the classroom convinced this misinformation is fact.

Ultimately these people end up in front of a computer in the workplace, which is where I'll find them - wondering how they managed to get so confused.

The bottom line is that at some point this misinformation may end up costing these kids their job when it becomes apparent that their GSCE in "ICT" is a bunch of crap.


I'd just like to note that these questions are being asked by teachers in schools today. In my school for example the subject is really called ICT, students are handed worksheets with Windows 95 screenshots or other hopelessly outdated material. Last year for example my school upgraded all its computers from Windows NT to 2000, and in the process wiped all dual-boot installations Linux installations that Dell had shipped and even downgraded some computers with Windows XP. I quit "ICT" this year after realizing that the way schools are teaching this subject in most places is simply not good enough.

Seán Labastille

Do not think the BBC is any way special here; I have found greater errors in text books quoting from actual GCSE papers. The trouble is that these people (text-book writers, examiners, etc.) know a little about the subject, but then go on to write some absurdity because they have stepped over the boundary of what they know without realising it. The difficulty in doing these examinations is that there is never an option for "none of the above" or "it depends on what you mean by..." or "you have never studied quantum chromodynamics have you".

Being an electronics engineer, the teaching about electrical safety, fuses in particular, frightens me. The correct answer to the question is always, "If you think you know the answer (from the information given), then you are not qualified to answer it".

Is it surprising that the kids are voting with their feet and staying away in droves?

We have progressed from "Mindstorms: Children, Computers and Powerful Ideas" to the ICT suite.

Alan Barnard

Welcome to the hallowed halls of the anti-idiot fumigants - I'm a charter member... see http://www.winface.com/acm_draft.html for a review of eight IT "textbooks" (from which, no doubt, your guy learnt everything he needed to).

Fuming can be stress relieving, but do you have any ideas about how to go about getting something done? If so, I'd love to hear them.

Paul Murphy

As to Paul Murphy's question, in the style of the old Python sketch I think we jolly well should tell all the teachers to teach IT properly and not make up rubbish any more. In the unlikely event this fails, I may need to return to this subject.

Thanks to the hordes of you who wrote about this, and apologies to those who weren't answered personally. I was overwhelmed by quantity.®

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