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Employers' group: New comp sci GCSE driven by vendor agenda

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Employers have criticised the government’s computer science GCSE work for having a vendor agenda which means that it may fail to deliver business-ready IT graduates.

The Corporate IT Forum has told The Reg it feels IT suppliers have a "very significant" degree of influence on the Department for Education's work on the new GCSE.

The group represents 320 organisations – altogether employing 145,000 professional IT staff – ranging from McDonalds and Balfour Beatty to GCHQ and HMRC. The group said it thinks the proposed GCSE runs the risk of turning out students qualified to support Microsoft or Cisco products rather than for serving businesses outside of tech.

The corporate IT group told us it wants more input from its members about the new qualification.

Meanwhile, the forum has advised against the education department’s proposal to end the current ICT curriculum in September.

While the ICT course has been panned by all for not turning out suitably qualified students, the forum believes killing it before the new GCSE arrives is dangerous.

The Corporate IT Forum, which participated in the DfE’s ICT curriculum consultation that closed Wednesday, told The Reg that killing the course before 2014 would allow individual schools too much scope to simply not bother to teach any form of ICT course.

The DfE’s new GCSE is currently being developed with the help of a programme called Behind the Screen – devised by eSkills UK – that is working with a range of employers. Among these employers are Microsoft, Cisco, Deloitte, Hewlett-Packard, IBM, John Lewis – which is also a member of Corporate IT Forum – with the National Grid and Procter & Gamble.

Cisco, meanwhile, has pledged to train 4,000 students in its network technologies by opening academies in East London and the Olympic boroughs in what it is calling an “investment legacy” after the Olympics. The network giant is an Olympics sponsor and is providing the Games’ network infrastructure.

However, Corporate IT Forum executive director David Roberts told El Reg: “We’d like to raise the consciousness of government to the extent it may be influenced by suppliers to the point there aren’t any other ways IT is being used... For the Forum it’s about the need to raise the profile between IT and making UK PLC more productive.”

He said that compartmentalising schoolkids' qualifications by type of technology is a bad idea and that pupils would need skills that are transferable between different employers and which cater to the needs of business.

“It seems the business aspect of how IT is used is completely left out of everything – those things are not included in something that’s supplier-dominated,” he said.

The group plans to produce a set of recommendations for the DfE on 10 key IT activities it believes that all schoolchildren should have by the age 16; this will be based on forthcoming research the group plans to conduct by July.

As part of its participation in the DfE’s consultation process on the September termination of the ICT curriculum, meanwhile, the forum has recommended a number of steps to give students and teachers more experience of technology in a non-vendor-specific and more business-aware context. These included offering ICT teachers work placements with employers, mentoring and coaching for schools and teachers, and employers providing input into teaching materials.

Joanna Poplawska, the forum's performance director, said that the idea is to “make the seesaw between suppliers and IT users more balanced". ®

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