Tag: department for education

UK gov rejects web porn ban

The government has rejected demands that internet service providers place automatic filters on pornographic content online to protect children.

Following a joint consultation conducted by the Department and Education and Home Office, ministers have agreed that ISPs will not be required to put default blocks on pornography, with the responbility lying with parents.  

There have been calls for a process whereby adults would have to ‘opt in’ to see certain content, rather than being freely available for any users to access, including from UK PM  David ‘Dave’ Cameron himself.

According to the report outlining the government’s response to the consultation, ISPs will continue to use an ‘active choice’ system being put in place by ISPs such as BT, Sky, TalkTalk and Virgin Media.   This involves encouraging and allowing parents to set controls on content, rather than being putting it under the remit of the ISP.

A consultation showed that only around a third of parents would back the placement of default blocks to be put in place by ISPs, but this was not deemed high enough by the government to warrant blocking of data for all users.

The report stated: “There was no great appetite among parents for the introduction of default filtering of the internet by their ISP: only 35% of the parents who responded favoured that approach.”

The report also highlighted the difficulties in actually putting blocks in place, with an overzealous approach also filtering out content pertaining to other topics such as as sexual health, for example, yet failing to block all the pornographic content on the web.

The proposals also came under fire from privacy advocates. Nick Pickles, director of Big Brother Watch, one of the campaign groups opposing the filtering, commented that the government has taken measured approach to the situation. 

“This is a positive step that strikes the right balance between child safety and parentalresponsibility without infringing on civil liberties and freedom of speech,” Pickles said.

“The policy recognises it is parents, not Government, who are responsible for controlling what their children see online and rightly avoids any kind of state-mandated blocking of legal conten,” he said.

He added: “Companies are already responding to demand from some parents for filters and emphasising that choice is rightly the focus of Government policy.”

Most schools will struggle with teaching computer science

Education Secretary Michael Gove has finally announced that computer sciences will be introduced back into the curriculum, though the ability of schools to actually teach the subject has drawn criticism.

Following a long campaign to reintroduce computer sciences, Gove announced a massive overhaul of the way IT will be taught in schools, scrapping ICT in its current form.

In his speech, Gove recalled the work of mathmatician and computer scientist Alan Turing, catching up on the harsh criticism laid out by Google CEO Eric Schmidt last year which condemned the UK’s creative decline in the industry.

Since then there have been many calls to shake up the curriculum and encourage programming for creating, rather than to use and consume, software. That had been the case with the outdated ICT programme over many years.

Game developer David Braben has been vocal about making changes with his RaspberryPi USB computer to aid teaching in classrooms. Other Ministers throughout government have put an emphasis on the importance of computer sciences, with Ed Vaizey highlighting the need for a ‘Dr Cox effect’ to reignite interest in the subject.

The decision has been welcomed in the industry, but the ability to actually put a working programme back into classrooms for all pupils has drawn heavy fire.

According to Bill Mitchell at the British Computing Society, there is a “critical shortage” of teachers able to teach this long overdue subject. He claims the majority of schools will struggle “massively” to implement it.

“The challenge we have is a critical shortage of teachers who can effectively teach computer sciences in the classroom,” Mitchell said, speaking to TechEye. “There are around a third of schools which have been labelled to be high quality ‘outstanding’ schools in the country by Ofsted, and these will be able to cope with the demands of the computer science curriculum. But what about the other two thirds?”

Mitchell says that the government has taken a careful approach with its commitments. “Schools have the freedom to choose to teach computer sciences if they wish to,” Mitchell says, “however, I suspect that the two thirds of schools outside the top category will be put off.  If they are already struggling to deliver the rest of the curriculum then they will massively struggle with teaching computer sciences.”

According to Mitchell the decision to actually put the subject back into schools has been long overdue, with successive governments failing to pick up on the benefits.

“It’s absolutely shocking that computer science is not being taught on the curriculum considering the history in the country for development,” he told TechEye. “As Eric Scmidt said ‘Why are you not teaching this in schools?’”

Pressure mounts on government to support computer sciences

The pressure on the government to make changes in the way computing is taught in schools increased today with the launch of the Next Gen Skills campaign.

The Livingston Hope Skills Review back in February has seen a raft of major technology and creative firms since throwing their weight behind the cause.  Companies like Microsoft, Sony, Nintendo and Google are just some of the names involved in the campaign, headed up by Ian Livingston and Alex Hope.

Some critics in the technology community are a little worried about the lack of creativity in teaching computer skills in schools.  The problem is that students are being taught how to use existing software as part of ICT teaching – rather than understanding the mechanics of how to build.

In turn, there’s a lack of people progressing to higher education in computer programming.  The numbers of university applicants choosing computer sciences continues to drop, and this has led the likes of Google Chief Eric Schmidt to lament Britain’s decline in this field.

According to co-author of the Livingston Hope Skills Review, Alex Hope, it’s vital that there is a change in the way that computing is taught in order to support a wide variety of industries within the UK.

“It’s very useful to understand how a machine works, and why it works the fundamental operating principles f something allow you to use that tool better,” Hope said, speaking to BBC Radio 4 today.  “The tool of the last century was the last century was the pen or the pencil, the tool of the 21st century is the computer.”

In comparison, Hope said that ICT can often just be “passively pressing buttons”.

There have been other calls from within the UK to change the way computer skills are taught, with a return to the seventies and eighties heyday of school age programming.  For example, Elite creator David Braben has spoken to TechEye about his £15 PC, the Raspberry Pi, which offers a simple and fun way to teach the basics of creative programming.

There have also been calls from within government.  Department for Culture, Media and Sport Minister Ed Vaizey outlined the need for a figure to lead a resurgence in computer sciences, and was present at the launch of the Livingston Hope Skills Review earlier this year.  Universities minister David Willetts also spoke about a computer science trial that would run in a limitied number of schools across the country.

So far there hasn’t been much action from where it matters most, the Department for Education.  The Next Gen Skills campaign will further calls to put computer science back within the framework of the National Curriculum, as well as a review of ICT skills teaching.

TechEye put similar concerns to the DfE in the past couple of months and it was revealed that there will be a review of the curriculum.  It was also revealed that the Department was in talks with Microsoft.  However little, if anything, has been committed to by the Department.

The UKIE, the trade body behind the campaign launch, has indicated that there is likely to be a response from the government at some point today.

With so much pressure mounting to make changes to the education system it seems there could be little choice.

RM Education announces 300 job cuts

RM Education has confirmed that up to 300 jobs will be axed as a direct result of the government education cuts. RM started life in Mill Street, Oxford.

RM, supplier of IT equipment to schools across the country since time immemorial, has announced that it will be making the cuts following an internal review.  The Oxford-based firm has previously expressed that the review was a direct result of the controversial ending of the Building Schools for the Future programme.

The scheme was one of the first major education shake-ups brought in by the Conservative government, and brought much criticism from industries affected as a consequence of spending cuts.

Now RM Education has had to act having seen its income take a big hit.  The company issued a statement concerning the redundancies:

“As announced in our strategic review and after extensive group consultation, we have advised employees whose jobs are now at risk of redundancy.” 

“The next stage is individual consultation with those employees.  The number of jobs at risk is in line with the figure given when the strategic review was announced – between 250 and 300. We are doing everything we can to help those affected.”

“Despite these losses, which are an unfortunate but necessary part of RM’s adaptation to tough market conditions, we remain completely focused on the needs of the education market – supporting teachers to teach and learners to learn.”

TechEye contacted the Department for Education, but were told that it would not comment on knock on effects of its policies.