Half a year has passed since the launch of the ‘Next Gen’ skills review, and the accompanying report that made 20 reccomendations to educators, government and the games industry.
The review, instigated by Ed Vaizey, culture minister, Communication and the Creative Industries, Ian Livingstone, life President of Eidos, and Alex Hope, managing director of Double Negative, set out to devise ‘a compelling plan’ for how the UK can transform into a world leader in both games production and visual effects. At its heart is the ambitious Livingstone-Hope report, the findings of which were made public six months ago at the review’s launch.
Here Develop catches up with Livingstone, and looks into how implementing the findings of the report is going.
Develop: The reaction to the Livingstone-Hope report seemed overwhelmingly positive. How have you succeeded in maintaining enthusiasm across the games industry, government and education for realising the report’s proposals?
Livingstone: The identifying feature of Next Gen is that it resonates with so many people across government, industry and education. The timing of the report was great as there was a general recognition of the failings in the way computing skills are currently being taught.
The report highlighted these failings and gave practical, evidence-based recommendations to remedy them. Next Gen has gained traction because it’s not just a report about the needs of the games industry. Computer science and digital art skills are fundamental to all creative and digital industries and therefore essential to the growth of the UK’s digital economy. But writing the report is one thing; it’s the implementation of the recommendations that’s the challenge.
With the support and backing of UKIE, we have formed a steering group which I chair. The group is made up of stakeholders from industry, government, Skillset, e-skills UK and UK Screen to take the recommendations forward. We are making a lot of noise and even the CBI referenced Next Gen at the recent Creative Industries reception.
Perhaps the most significant proposal was to bring computer science into the National Curriculum as an essential discipline. How is this going?
In a world where computers define so much of how society works, I would argue that computer science is ‘essential knowledge’ for the 21st century. It just seems so relevant and obvious to include it in the National Curriculum.
We cannot build a digital economy with a nation of digital illiterates. As for progress, my colleagues at BCS tell me that DfE might be willing to consider including computing as a non-statutory programme of study within the curriculum. What we would like, of course, is for computing to be included as a statutory programme and to be included in the English Baccalaureate.
How is implementing and expanding the ambassadors program going?
UKIE is now working with STEMNET to ensure that video games ambassadors are signed up as STEMNET ambassadors. This is great news. We are looking for opportunities to get more ambassadors into schools and events. It is important that teachers, parents, guardians and career advisors see games development as a viable career option and to understand what qualifications are needed to achieve this.
Most are unaware of the opportunities the industry has to offer. But we need more volunteers, more champions of our industry, to inspire children to turn a desire to play games into a desire to make them.
Could you detail some of the progress with the other proposals you deem most significant?
Of course all 20 recommendations are significant but getting computer science into the schools national curriculum remains our number one goal as everything evolves from that. We continue to lobby strongly for this and for computer science and art to be included in the English Baccalaureate.
In terms of some of the other activities we are working on, the STEMNET ambassador programme and helping to establish after school computer clubs are both gaining momentum. And backing the university accreditation work of Skillset and the skills academy work of e-skills UK remains a priority. We continue to encourage young people to think of the industry as a great career opportunity and introduce them to the workplace.
It is important that the industry promotes itself, and we would encourage more industry initiatives like UKIE’s sponsorship of this year’s Dare to Be Digital competition and working with BAFTA to promote their Young Games Designer Award.
The report set out long term goals and proposed sustainable progress, but what has the immediate impact been?
The impact has been significant in terms of the breadth and depth of support for the report. And the buzz continues. We highlighted the problems of an education system that was failing the needs of industry and I have been really encouraged by a universal desire to effect change. Importantly, we have a commitment from the three main government departments – DfE, BIS and DCMS – to jointly make a full and formal response to Next Gen by the end of summer.
Have the Livingstone-Hope team met with the DfE and engaged with Michael Gove? If so, what has been the DfE’s response?
We have had great support from Ed Vaivey, the Culture Minister, who has made it one of his top priorities and we’ve had good engagement from John Hayes, the Minister for Skills and Lifelong Learning at BIS. We are also making contact with civil servants at DfE and hope to have them attend the next Next Gen steering group meeting.
We know Michael Gove is beginning to see the value of video games as learning tool – his Royal Society speech was an indication of this, and I have written to him off the back of this. Using games is one thing but making them is another and we await his formal response with interest. He recently highlighted the importance of Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg’s schooldays, in which he studied Greek and Latin alongside maths and sciences.
What went unreported was that Zuckerberg’s school also taught computer science, a subject which not only gave him practical skills but provided the intellectual underpinnings of his incredible business. Faced with a world in which they will be surrounded by computers and the opportunities they create, Britain’s schoolchildren deserve the same chance. I hope Mr Gove understands that computer science is the new Latin.
When are you expecting more significant results with regards to government and DfE policy changes?
The Government’s curriculum review stretches through to 2014, so we don’t expect any immediate announcement of inclusion of computer science in it. But we will continue to campaign for it, build our coalition and keep demonstrating to government how vital it is for the UK economy.
In the meantime, and alongside this, we can play our part by implementing some of the recommendations aimed at the industry itself to show Government we are serious and prepared to do our bit.
The report’s condemnation of ICT as it is currently taught – and the emphasis on changing focus – may have come as a harsh truth for many educators.
How is working with educators to change progressing?
The National Curriculum requires schools to teach not computer science but ICT – a strange hybrid of desktop publishing lessons and Microsoft tutorials. Whilst useful, ICT is never going to equip anybody for a career in video games. Computer science is to ICT what writing is to reading. Creative computing naturally develops curiosity and intuition in pupils who are inspired by access to digital building blocks. There is no reason why schools rooted in traditional academic values cannot teach computer programming alongside the teaching of classics.
It certainly wasn’t our intention to discredit any ICT teachers. They are just doing what they have been asked to do. Interestingly, many teachers we’ve had contact with – and parents – are supportive of our recommendations.
Which of the 20 proposals – or general themes – are those that still present the biggest challenges in implementing?
Ironically it is the one that I want most of all to be implemented – to bring computer science into the National Curriculum as an essential discipline. Adding to the National Curriculum is a big ask of a Government determined to slim it down. But to my mind it requires nothing less to restore computer science to its rightful place among the sciences.
Putting computer science in the National Curriculum will have a powerful effect; it will end the isolation of computers – the defining technological force of the new century – in a strange quasi-vocational educational ghetto. Instead it will prepare our pupils for the UK’s growth industries, giving them the right skills for the digital and creative industries, especially games.
But given the desperate shortage of specialist computing teachers it is likely to be many years before all schools would be able to teach computing. Change is always difficult but it has to happen – just look at what’s happening in China.
Why is this so important?
I’ve been privileged to have worked in the UK’s world-beating video games industry for many years. The games business exemplifies a range of industries where the UK has a distinct advantage: it requires a combination of technical expertise and creative flair, the marriage of art and science. And it makes a real contribution to our troubled economy. It is vital that industry, educators and government play their part in transforming the education system to ensure that the UK remains at the forefront of not just the games industry but all the creative and digital industries.