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Why study computing?

Computing is a newcomer to the curriculum. It was introduced in 2014 to replace ICT, and it's a foundation subject, which means you have to study it up to GCSE.

As well as learning how to create computer programs, you'll learn to apply the problem-solving skills and creativity to other subjects and real-life situations.

In this article, we ask what computer science is, and explore what computing jobs studying the subject at school can lead to.

'Computing teaches problem-solving skills as well as programming'

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What is computing?

In computing, you learn how computer systems work, from the physical stuff (the hardware) to the apps and programs that users interact with (the software). You also learn how to create and manipulate computer systems, and how to apply the skills and approaches you pick up in computing to tackle real-life problems creatively.

You will:

  • Learn to create a set of instructions for a computer to follow (algorithm) to complete tasks.
  • Create apps and computer programs.
  • Understand how hardware and software talk to each other.
  • Develop your problem-solving skills to enable you to create algorithms and programs.
  • Learn at least two programming languages.
  • Understand binary and Boolean logic (the way computers see the world).
  • Understand how programmes and algorithms are stored in a computer system.

At primary level, pupils learn what the internet is and how to use it safely, use a computer to create and store information, and how to create content such as animations and videos.

What’s the point in studying it?

Now you know what computer science is, but you may still be wondering why you need to study it.

The vast majority of us use computers in our day-to-day lives for everything from gaming and communicating by email or on social media to finding information, paying our bills and shopping. In 2015, nearly eight in 10 adults in the UK accessed the internet every day or nearly every day, and over seven in 10 used a computer every day (eight in 10 16-24 year olds). Many of us use computers at work.

Computing was introduced as a school subject in 2014 to reflect this, replacing ICT. Most young people are tech savvy – you might have heard the term “digital natives” to describe people who have grown up with computers and the internet. You might use your smartphone on an hourly basis, but how often do you write algorithms and programs outside school?

Computing was introduced to give you more advanced skills so you can make computers work for you. It also teaches you about the ever-changing risks of using the internet, so you can keep your personal information safe and avoid security risks, and reduce the impact of online bullying (“trolling”).

It gives you a whole bunch of skills you can apply to your other subjects and in your career, and opens the doorway to new and emerging career paths. IT companies like Google and Microsoft helped the government design the course because they want to make sure young people have the digital skills employers look for today.

What skills will I get?

What subjects does computer science go with?

Computing complements maths because it teaches logical thinking and problem-solving. You can use the skills you develop in computing to help you analyse and solve maths problems.

Computing will help you with any subjects which require a degree of critical thinking – which is virtually all of them!

You might be surprised to learn that your computational thinking skills can be a big help in the arts and humanities. Your critical thinking skills will help you analyse historical, philosophical and critical arguments in history, philosophy and English literature/language. In computing, you’ll learn to look at programs and algorithms systematically. You can apply this systematic approach to texts in English and other subjects.

What qualifications do I need to study computing for?

A-level computing or equivalent is not generally required to study computer science at university. Some Russell Group universitiesaccept it as part of computer science applications (you should check individual course requirements before applying, and ideally before choosing your A-level subjects). It is generally well-respected by universities.

Computing A-level (or equivalent) may be a good choice if you’re planning to apply for a higher or degree apprenticeship for an IT role.

What computing jobs can I do?

You could consider studying computer science at university if you want to begin a computer science career in roles such as:

Computing jobs do not always require a degree in computer science (many programmers don’t have computer science degrees). For example, maths and physics graduates are often qualified for computer science jobs if they have some coding experience under their belt.

Computing jobs don’t necessarily require a degree at all:

  • Apprenticeships are available in IT, cybersecurity and other areas related to computing.
  • If you have gained coding experience informally, some employers may consider your application regardless of whether you have a degree. However, your options will be more limited, as some employers require degree-level education as a minimum requirement. Some will not require a degree but will favour candidates who hold one.

Does computing help with other career paths?

Because computing helps hone your computational thinking skills and problem-solving ability, it could be useful for a whole bunch of careers. In job applications, you can use your computing GCSE or A-level to demonstrate these skills.

ICT skills are particularly useful in any office-based job. Since computing is new, GCSE or A-level computing could give you an edge on other candidates, since you will have developed creative skills and knowledge that they may not have. Your ability to write programs and manipulate information and content are skills that potential employers may value.

Other subjects in our Why Study? series