Education is at the heart of discussions about digital skills and computing.

One year on from the Royal Society’s report on computing education, After the reboot (PDF)the Royal Society hosted an event to discuss how the landscape has changed, and what more there is to do.

We wanted to discuss how local schools work together with businesses, what skills are needed, and how we can build a coherent system. The dream is to have some way to enable teachers to navigate the landscape, and businesses and others to figure out where they fit into the landscape.

Here are my take-away points from that event:

Professor Simon Peyton-Jones speaking at the event

We have a lot to be proud of

The UK is leading the world in computing education. England’s national curriculum explicitly enshrines the vision that computer science is a foundational subject discipline that every child should learn, alongside mathematics and natural science, from primary school onwards. No other country articulates that goal as clearly.

Our teachers are our heroes and heroines

Turning that aspirational vision into a reality in every classroom in the land is a huge challenge for our teachers. It amounts to establishing an entirely new subject discipline as a core part of the curriculum, one in which few teachers have any qualification or training.

Being a teacher is hard. Being a computing teacher is harder, because of the step change that the new curriculum (and the changes in qualifications) imposes. They are stepping up to that challenge. For our part, we owe it to them, and to our children, to support and equip them to teach computing with confidence and inspiration.

The room is full of hope

CEOs of BCS, STEM Learning and Raspberry Pi forming the consortium of the NCCE

I was struck by the extent to which, despite the challenges, everyone in the room wanted the new curriculum to succeed, and (crucially) was willing to commit time and resources of their own to help make that happen.

The elephant in the room at the moment is the new National Centre for Computing Education, just announced with around £78m of government funding, over four years. This is a huge shot in the arm, and it will have a transformational impact.

But I think there was a common realisation that if we all now sit back and think ‘job done – the NCCE will handle it’, we will fail. £78m is only £400 per teacher per year; not much in the grand scheme of things.

Businesses supporting computing education in schools

Businesses showcasing how they have been supporting computing education in schools

Employers are actively keen to get involved

In particular, there is an enormous reservoir of expertise, goodwill, and resources in our employers across the country – and that was the focus of the morning. Many companies are acutely aware of their reliance on digital infrastructure, and of the important of a well-educated workforce. They want to help, both because it is so clearly the right thing to do, and because it is in their self-interest.

We heard some frankly-inspiring stories from Microsoft, ARM, Morgan Stanley, BT, and Cisco, about what they have been doing already, and the evidence they have of its impact.

The question is: how to harness that expertise and goodwill more broadly, by helping a much wider range of employers to join the party.

Several speakers stressed that to have impact at national scale we have to work together. Having 50 or 100 initiatives across the country, each led by a single company, leads to confusion, duplication, lack of sustainability, and low impact. As one speaker put it: “Please, I beg you, do not invent another new shiny thing.” If we work together under a common banner, our impact will be far greater.

Education is complicated, and the road is long

As Paul Kett (a director general at the Department for Education) said, it will be 2024 before the first student emerges from Year 11 having started with the new curriculum in Year 1. Education is a long game, and it is a complex one, rife with unintended consequences. We need to be thoughtful and humble, and our input needs to be sustained not episodic.

There is everything to play for, and boatloads of expertise and commitment. We just need to turn all that potential into reality on the ground.