Improving Digital Skills Teaching In Welsh Education 

Mohammad Asghar AM Shadow Minister for Skills and Science

I thank the Cabinet Secretary for her statement today. I welcome the news that Swansea and Cardiff universities are to receive funding to expand coding in schools, colleges and communities. This will help these universities to be part of the UK Institute of Coding, created by the Conservative Government, which is a partnership deal with leading tech firms, universities and industry bodies in an effort to bolster future digital skills in this country. I'm sure the Cabinet Secretary will join me in praising this UK Government initiative.

Coding is a skill that every organisation needs. Today, code is so fully integrated not only across businesses, but also our entire lives, that almost all businesses have code at their core. So, may I ask how will she ensure that Government planning to provide Wales with specialised digital skills will keep pace with the scale of the challenges that lie ahead? Teaching youngsters how to succeed in the digital world is crucial. The Welsh report called 'Crakcing the code: A plan to expand code clubs in every part of Wales', made several commitments under each strategic heading. However, many of these commitments are vague, with no timescale for change, therefore making progress difficult to monitor. So, how will the Welsh Government monitor the progress of this plan?

The Welsh Government has committed to an increase in the quality and the amount of Welsh language support for schools for coding. Can the Cabinet Secretary confirm whether or not it has created a dedicated zone of Hwb to bring partners together with schools to create a repository of projects and resources? We need a coherent and a long-term commitment from the Welsh Government for digital Wales, from skills to infrastructure. Estyn has raised concerns that pupil progress in digital skills has not kept pace with technology in Wales. They report that opportunities to develop ICT skills across subjects are limited in many secondary schools and in a third of primary schools. In just under two thirds of primary schools, there are important shortcomings in standards of ICT. Though most pupils are confident using programmes such as Word processing and creating presentations, their skills are often limited to a narrow range of applications. How will the Cabinet Secretary address this issue and deal with the fact that the number of students studying ICT in Wales has decreased? There is also a huge gender disparity in the number of students studying computing at A-level. Three hundred and thirty nine students sat A-level computing last year; only 32 of these were women. Will the Cabinet Secretary commit to tackling this shocking gender gap?

One major issue is that our digital lives are changing so fast that educators are struggling to keep up with this. Digital skills are changing faster than formal education providers. Industry is developing at such a rate that by the time a curriculum is crafted and approved by the various bodies, and students finally graduate, you can be talking almost a decade from start to finish. How will the Welsh Government ensure that our educators keep up with the pace of change?

Cabinet Secretary, a person's level of digital ability is fast becoming a key determinant of their earning power, yet Wales is a patchwork of digital skills. The Barclays digital development index 2017, which analysed 88,000 UK job adverts and 6,000 adults, claims that Welsh employees score amongst the lowest of all UK regions for their digital skills. I hope we will receive regular statements from you on progress in putting Wales at the top of the league of digital skills in the United Kingdom. Thank you.


Kirsty Williams AM Minister for Education

Could I thank the Member for his questions? Firstly, I think it is really important that Wales plays its part in the development of UK-wide organisations. We should not cut ourselves off from participating in these initiatives, and I'm delighted that we've been able to successfully fund, via HEFCW, projects from Cardiff and Swansea universities. It builds on their strong tradition, strong presence in these subjects, and will allow them to participate fully in the development of the Institute of Coding. So, I'm delighted that we've been able to work via HEFCW to provide those resources.

The Member asked about the expansion of code clubs. We are seeing significant expansion of code clubs, but of course there is always more that we would like to do, and we've put resources into that. It's important to me, as well as, I know, to other Ministers, that those code clubs are a mixture of provision within school for schoolchildren and that we also look at community code clubs that are open to the more general population. We do recognise that there are benefits for adult learners, for instance, in being able to acquire these skills in terms of improving their employability.

With regard to specialist zones on Hwb, you don't need to take my word for it, Oscar, you just need to log on to Hwb. You can Google Hwb today, you can click on the zones and you will be able to see that we are continually populating the Hwb platform with new and innovative content, including work that is supporting our network of excellence in mathematics and our network of excellence in science and technology, and also, most recently, our new zone on Hwb, which is to support the spread of good practice regarding the foundation phase.

I absolutely recognise what the Estyn inspector's annual report says about the quality of ICT teaching in schools, but we should always make the distinction between ICT and computing. Taking exams in ICT and taking exams in computing are not the same thing, and that's one of the reasons why the digital competence framework—the very first part of our national curriculum—needed to be put out there first to address what the Estyn inspection report has to say.

There are two crucial things that schools need to do in this regard. They need to be able to look creatively at how they can use digital technology not in a stand-alone class, Oscar, but actually coherently through the entire curriculum. The school I went to this morning does not have a computer suite where children go off for a 15-minute period. Computers and digital technology are a fundamental part of how the entire curriculum is delivered, in every lesson and every single part of the school day, and we need to ensure that what I saw this morning at St Philip Evans is replicated across Wales.

One of the key reasons why sometimes that doesn't happen, especially in subjects outside computing and ICT, is the competence of the teachers themselves and the confidence of the teachers, especially if those teachers have done their initial teacher training and their professional practice before these technologies were readily available. That's why I spent a great deal of time in my statement talking about the development of national professional standards and a professional learning package to support those teachers, because they need to have the confidence, the skills and the knowledge. And I would say to all schools that there is a tool available on Hwb where you can test the capability in your school, as it currently stands, and begin to plan what you will need to do to improve your provision.

You also talked about women in these issues. You will be aware that the leader of the house, in part of her work on equality, alongside myself and the Cabinet Secretary for the economy, works closely with a group that is overlooking the implementation of the women in STEM report. We recognise that there is more to do to ensure that girls and women see a space for themselves taking these subjects at school and, crucially, pursuing careers with those skills that they have acquired within the classroom. We will continue to work with outside agencies and individuals to address those issues with regard to making sure that more girls see themselves as taking advantage of these opportunities and the career opportunities that studying these subjects brings.