New census data has shown that the number of computing studies teachers at secondary schools in Scotland has fallen to a record low.

The latest stats released yesterday by the Scottish Government reveal that there were 578 computing studies teachers employed in schools across Scotland in 2023.

That is one below the previous lowest figure of 579 in 2019, a drop of 10 compared to 2022 and is the lowest number since records began in 2008.

Campaigners said that the situation needs to be ‘fixed’ and pointed also to the ticking timebomb of an ageing computing studies teacher demographic.

The new data was referred to online last night by the Digital Technology Education Charter X account.

It said: “Recent teacher census numbers show there are 578 CS teachers, the lowest recorded. CS teachers are key for equity of access to the subject. Although teacher recruitment challenges are not unique to Scotland, we need to fix it.”

The X account is ‘powered by’ Dresscode, the non-profit charity aspiring to close the computing science gender gap in Scotland, set up by educator and campaigner Toni Scullion.

According to the same data, the average age of teachers for computing science is 44, which has been broadly the same since 2008. However, with 22 per cent of those over 55, there is a risk that the falling numbers will be accelerated by the cliff-edge of those retiring from the profession.

Toni Scullion said: “It is disheartening to see that there has been a drop of 10 computing science teachers in the recent teacher census, which is now the lowest number of computing science teachers recorded. It is important to note that challenges to recruitment are not unique to Scotland. Recruitment of computing science teachers remains one of the biggest challenges for the subject’s growth across schools and for equity of access to all pupils. This is, of course, a blow to the subject, but I still remain optimistic that it is something that can still be turned around and fixed, and there are a number of initiatives that could be implemented to help in this area.”

Scullion said there should be broader opportunities for post graduate teaching courses for computer science to opened up to maths and physics graduates. There are also only three universities in Scotland that offer the PDGE in computing science, two of which are in Glasgow, limiting people’s ability to study. Further, the virtual course is limited to specific councils, and should be expanded.

She also said teaching needs to be actively promoted as a career option among undergraduates, and that there could be more creative solutions to allow for existing teachers to add computing science as a skill.

She added: “I don’t think one thing will fix it; it is going to require a strategic series of interventions targeting various potential computing science teachers across lots of different pathways. We must go out and actively find the 50 odd teachers we need each year. We are only talking about a small number that is needed each year to allow the subject to grow and thrive and allow equity of access for all pupils.”

She said: “I believe it is entirely fixable, but we need to act now; we can’t wait any longer.”

Polly Purvis, former CEO of the tech trade body, ScotlandIS, reacted to the news on X. She said: “Despite lots of effort this isn’t changing – a different approach is needed and organisations like @DigiXtraFund are a key part of the solution.”

Political figures also lamented the decline in computing science teacher numbers, describing them as “an urgent wake-up call” for government.

Liam Kerr MSP, Scottish Conservative shadow education secretary, said: “The implications of a lack of computing teachers will be devastating for our young people and their futures, for the other teachers in our schools continuing to do their best to cover the shortfall, and of course for the Scottish economy. 

“The SNP need to back our New Deal for Teachers which would address the poor conditions they face, give them the resources they deserve and ensure we attract more people into the profession.”

The dwindling numbers of computing science teachers is a blow to Scotland’s national economic aspirations.

In 2022, the Scottish Government’s National Strategy for Economic Transformation highlighted digital technology as a new ‘market opportunity’ for the country.

It said: “A skilled population is fundamental to business productivity and economic prosperity. We will focus our activity on the transition to net zero, the digital revolution, and lifelong training making sure employers have the supply of skills they need.”

It pledged to boost digital infrastructure, set up a digital productivity fund and ‘develop joint programmes of action to increase digital understanding and adoption in sectors where business models have been transformed rapidly due to new technology.’

Last year’s National Innovation Strategy also highlighted data and digital technologies as one of its four priority areas for focus.

A Scottish Government spokesperson said: “The Scottish Government funds the Teaching bursary scheme which provides £20,000 for career-changers in subjects such as Maths, Physics and Computing Science. The Strategic Board for Teacher Education is also considering issues around the recruitment to initial teacher education programmes and retention of teachers in Scotland in detail, including geographical and subject specific issues together with work to improve the promotion of teaching as a valued career.

“Scotland has the most teachers-per-pupil in the UK, the lowest pupil-to-teacher ratio and our classroom teachers are the best paid in the UK. We are also committed to supporting councils with an additional £145.5 million in next year’s budget to protect increased teacher numbers.”