Changing the ideas and misconceptions around IT in schools

  • Lisa McCaul from Bring IT On and Catriona Houston, Head of IT at St. Patrick’s College, Dungannon, speak about the importance of schools being equipped with the tools they need to get students interested in IT.

    Q. How exactly does Bring IT On engage with schools?

    Lisa McCaul

    Our key delivery partner, Sentinus, provides 200 workshops between March to December to primary and post-primary schools across Northern Ireland each year, so they are very much the driving force delivering this program.

    These sessions cover important topics such as ‘Why tech’? and ‘Why tech is good’?. They talk about the salaries, the lifestyles, the various different jobs that are available and insights into local companies recruiting for tech roles. It’s all about giving children more options outside what they might consider traditional jobs and helping them discover opportunities in industries and sectors they might not have thought about in the past.

    A lot of children struggle with options in their GCSE year, many don’t want to study law or accountancy, become bricklayers or mechanics and there's this void in between that’s not being filled properly.  Bring IT On is about addressing that void.

    Q. How difficult, particularly with such a busy curriculum, is it to find the time to present initiatives such as Bring IT On?


    Timing is obviously important. This week we have formal assessments so you need to avoid those times of the year when there are exams, as we obviously need to achieve grades however we see the importance of what Bring IT On delivers.

    I’m very fortunate that the principal and the senior leadership team fully support it. I think you need a culture at a school where they understand the benefits of giving pupils these opportunities and knowing how it’s going to impact them in the long term. It’s particularly evident when we write UCAS references and statements for pupils who don't have opportunities, like work experience, compared to those who do. You could write all day for those that do but for those who haven't seen and experienced it, then it’s actually really difficult for them to explain their skills and knowledge.

    Q. Is Bring It On directed to pupils already doing ICT courses or to pupils who have yet to make that choice?


    It's both, because there needs to be a culture change. Young people need to understand that the skills they learn in subjects like English, Maths and Geography can all feed into an IT role and a successful IT career.


    I always tell the story of my hairdresser who told me she had to get her level two in IT so she can pass her hairdressing course as, without it, she can't get her qualification. Today, people who go down different pathways whether it is hair, beauty or engineering, still need a level two in IT and we can offer that to them here.

    Q. Why are some pupils less enthusiastic about taking IT courses despite the fact that they are so beneficial?


    I think a lot of young people think it's just about sitting and programming all day and that programming is one of the most difficult things in the world but in reality, you don't have to be someone who sits at a computer coding all day. Certain pupils could be brilliant systems analysts and others could be fantastic project managers and yes, we need programmers, but look at all the people that work alongside that one programmer and all the different roles they could be doing as well.

    We are very pleased in our school that there is quite a high uptake for Digital Technology and IT at both GCSE and A Level and this year have been able to introduce Software Systems Development. It is a lot of work for pupils to get their heads around however, as teachers, our role is to try and make it exciting and show them what they are learning is someone’s job in the real world.


    There needs to be that culture change when teaching IT, where the teacher will say ‘this is what we're doing today and these are the types of jobs that this skill would apply to’. It’s that relatable aspect that makes such a huge difference.

    Q. We often hear that women are underrepresented in Tech. What percentage of girls are in your IT class?


    This year so far with the options trawl in school, it’s nearly 50/50 in Digital Technology and it's about a 60/40 split in the BTEC IT and obviously that is really positive to see.

    We recently held a very successful event called The IT Girls which included a panel of inspiring woman in IT – Lisa was on this panel. Our pupils, alongside girls from a local primary school, attended workshops on drones, AI, data analystics, podcasting and microbit programming. My aim was to showcase the range of jobs in IT and feedback we got from the pupils was really encouraging!

    Q. Do you believe teachers get enough support to encourage children to adopt technology and could we do more to encourage greater take up those subjects?


    In my opinion, IT needs to be compulsory up until at least GCSE, based on things that I've spoken about before. There isn’t a job that you enter today that is not going to have some element of IT. It's as core as English, Maths and Science and there can only be a benefit in showing them the skills - if they're never used again, at least they had them.

    Obviously, there are some constraints with regard to skills shortages and I think that's where the industry has to step in. We're lucky that we have links to good industry partners who do come in and lead the workshops and show the different roles that are out there. I have found the most effective and long-lasting impact on our pupils is practical, hands-on experience. A slide with a list of stats or facts just doesn’t have the same impact.

    Equally, it’s important to get past pupils who've been through ICT to come back and demonstrate their life successes. For example, we enter a competition each year called First Tech Robotics and last year was probably our most successful to date. Three of our pupils took part, and all of them have stated that taking part in this helped them secure their next step in education. One secured a robotic engineering apprenticeship, another a business management apprenticeship in a local engineering firm and the other is studying computer science. Our school motto is Together Inspiring Generations – and these pupils are an example of this!


    I think ambassadors play an enormously important role in helping our children appreciate and learn more about the fantastic opportunities available in the IT and Technology sector in Northern Ireland.

    We would appeal to those who would like to give something back and inspire our children to please reach out to us and sign up as an ambassador.

    Visit if you’re interested in becoming an ambassador or requesting an ambassador to visit your school.

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