Houses of Parliament in London at night

The UK is in the fast lane to the future and teachers are in the driving seat

By Cindy Rose, UK CEO, Microsoft Ltd

The Chancellor’s Budget today shows that the Government and Microsoft share the same goal: to build a hi-tech UK that’s fit for the future.

We welcome the announcement by the Chancellor to triple the number of fully-qualified computer science teachers from 4,000 to 12,000. There is an urgent need for the UK to tackle its digital skills gap and use technology to nurture the creativity already embedded in the next generation.

Teachers across the country need more support to deliver the plans laid out today in the Budget. They need the skills to pass on to their students, the tools to enable them to engage young minds, the freedom to experiment in class and find the best way to engage youngsters, and the professional support to ensure they can get help if they need it.

A YouGov survey published last month found that 67% of primary and secondary school teachers can’t teach coding because of a lack of “skills and teaching tools”, and just under 40% don’t have access to the right hardware and software.

School provision of GCSE Computing in 2015-16

School provision of GCSE Computing in 2015-16

Microsoft is working to ensure everyone can benefit from the Fourth Industrial Revolution, and has launched a programme to help people across the UK improve their digital skills to ensure the country remains one of the global leaders in cloud computing, AI and other next-generation technologies.

Philip Hammond has promised to put Britain in the “fast lane” with funding for artificial intelligence, computer science education, driverless cars and digital skills.

The road to making the UK a leader in the Fourth Industrial Revolution will be a long one, but we are on it together.

It’s also important to remember that the country is not starting from scratch, and the UK is built on a strong foundation of innovation. From Ada Lovelace, through Alan Turing to Sir Tim Berners-Lee, Britain has always shown itself to be at the cutting-edge of science and technology.

You only have to look at cities such as Dundee, Manchester and Cambridge to see that this trend continues today, and the Government should be applauded for its work in creating a digital economy in which our brightest minds can shine for the benefit of everyone.

Learn more about Microsoft’s Digital Skills Programme

Girl using Microsoft Surface Book

A large part of that vision was set out in 2012, when the then-Education Secretary Michael Gove used a speech at BETT, one of the largest educational technology conferences in the world and at which Microsoft had a large presence, to introduce computer science into the curriculum. He said: “Imagine the dramatic change which could be possible in just a few years … We could have 11-year-olds able to write simple 2D computer animations … by 16, they could have an understanding of formal logic previously covered only in university courses and be writing their own apps for smartphones.”

Fast-forward “a few years” and we are at a crucial point in building a country fit for a future that will be underpinned by technology. A recent Royal Society report, which was co-funded by Microsoft, found that a tenfold increase in computing education funding is needed or the UK risks seeing an entire generation fail to have the right technology skills.

The fact that more than half of schools in England do not offer a GCSE in Computer Science should concern us all. It’s not just about coding or learning to use established programs, it’s important children learn computational and critical-thinking skills that have value well beyond computing. An economy is only as strong as the skills of the people within in.

Student uptake of GCSE Computing in 2015-16

Student uptake of GCSE Computing in 2015-16

Being “future-ready” means ensuring children leave school with a strong foundational knowledge in STEM and computer science. This means ALL children. Just 20% of Computer Science GCSE students in the past year were female, and only 10% of those continued to study the subject at A-level. Microsoft believes the UK’s digital skills gap is unacceptable and we are working tirelessly with our partners to encourage more girls and those from minority backgrounds to study STEM subjects.

It takes a range of skills and personalities to achieve success, which is why we also welcome the formation of a National Retraining Scheme, including a multi-million-pound commitment to digital skills courses using AI. Microsoft has been a long-standing advocate for and supporter of computer science education, working with the Royal Society, the British Computer Society, Computing at School and others in the technology industry. Government, schools, the voluntary sector and industry need to work together to ensure every child has the chance to fulfil their potential in a future transformed by digital technology.”

The UK’s future is bright if we empower teachers to do what they do best – teach.