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That new 'Microsoft GCSE': We reveal what's in it

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Exam board AQA's head of accreditation Mary Jane Newman has revealed a few more details about the so-called "Microsoft GCSE", which will be taught in Britain from September.

The Redmond-backed ICT GCSE with-real-actual-programming aims to redress the big fall in pupils taking the qualification, counter accusations that the current syllabus is boring, and reverse universities' concerns over "soft" tech lessons in schools.

Microsoft was brought in to discuss general concepts and "what skills were relevant to industry", input that appeared to have been successful as the 200 schools who trialled the new curriculum loved it, Newman told the Westminster Education Forum on ICT education yesterday.

Sixty per cent of the marks for the new qualification will be awarded in the Practical Programming module. It will consist of two tasks, which kids can pick from gaming, web, mobile or traditional development. It's all about teaching youngsters to control devices rather than just using them, Newman said. The board won't prescribe any programming languages, leaving the choice up to the schools.

Fact-digesting will account for the remaining 40 per cent of the marks: Computing Fundamentals is a theory test that will be assessed by exam.

Also speaking on the panel was Professor Steve Furber of Manchester University's Computer Science department: he reiterated the findings of the Royal Society's investigation into ICT education 'Shut Down or Restart' from January.

Crucially the report investigated how the term "ICT" was a confusing name that lumped together "digital literacy skills" – basic training on using computers – with Computer Science, which could and should be a proper academic qualification.

"The main message of the report is that we want to be a nation of technology creators, not just technology consumers," said Furber, who designed the first ARM processor architecture and was a key player in the Acorn BBC Micro team that fostered a generation of Brit programmers in the 1980s. ®

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