John Swinney has pledged to work with chief entrepreneurial adviser Mark Logan on computing science education reform after telling MSPs that the subject is ‘in crisis’.

The First Minister said he was happy to offer the former Skyscanner executive his “assistance” following his appearance yesterday at the education committee at Holyrood.

Logan, Professor in Practice, Technology Entrepreneurship, at the School of Computing Science at Glasgow University, said computing science education reform had been the one area of his Scottish Technology Ecosystem Review recommendations that had failed to make as much progress as the others.

And a new report from Reform Scotland has highlighted the fact that one in eight of all secondary pupils attend a secondary school with no qualified computing science teacher.

The education think tank further revealed it had obtained Freedom of Information data that showed 66 secondary schools have no computing science teacher.

The report described an “already precarious situation” where there has been a 25% drop in the number of computing science teachers over the last 15 years. They also found a ‘large gender divide with girls comprising only one in five entries to Higher computing science and a long-term decline in entries at Nat 5 and Higher level’.

In First Minister’s Questions today at Holyrood, Labour MSP Daniel Johnson demanded to know what the government was going to do to address the fact that 32,000 pupils were experiencing a ‘denial of opportunity’ – in being unable to access the subject.

He further echoed Logan’s remarks to MSPs, where he said working with Scotland’s education bodies had been like “dragging a heavily sedated bull elephant backwards through cold treacle”, and asked the First Minister if he agreed with the chief entrepreneur’s conclusion that it all added up to a “bad static picture” and a subject “in crisis”.

Mr Swinney replied: “I take very seriously what the chief entrepreneur says and I understand that Mark Logan has been working on the implementation of these recommendations and trying to make progress.

“If Mark Logan needs a bit more assistance from the First Minister, I will certainly offer it and I know the Deputy First Minister will be very keen to support him in his efforts, because accessing computer science education for pupils is vital as an investment in the future of Scotland.”

Mr Swinney added: “And there is work that is being delivered to establish new courses – if my memory is right – with the University of Aberdeen to take forward these priorities.”

The issue has received further support from tech industry figures this week. In his foreword to the Reform Scotland report, Gareth Williams, Skyscanner founder and ex-colleague of Logan, said: “Modern economies are becoming software-led. A new UK bank like Monzo has more in common with Scottish companies like Skyscanner in the travel sector, or Wood Mackenzie in the energy sector, as a company than it does with, say, the RBS of 25 years ago.

“This is a key reason behind the growing necessity that we educate ourselves – and especially our children – in the area of computer science. Computer science is not a geeky sideshow, but is now foundational to a successful modern economy. 

“Despite this, as this Reform Scotland report shows, the provision of computer science education is reducing in Scottish schools, with the number of computer science teachers decreasing each year for the past 15 years. As this report points out, it’s not simple to hire more teachers in this subject, but it can be done.”

He said it was vital that Scotland “wakes up” to how critical computer science will be to future economic success.