Scotland’s independent think tank
Scotland’s independent think tank

Computing the Future: Creating Digital Leaders, Not Just Consumers


  • Gareth Williams says computer science is “foundational to a modern economy”
  • One out of eight Scottish secondary school children do not have a computing science teacher
  • 66 secondary schools have no computing science teacher

Reform Scotland, the non-partisan think tank, has today published a paper with a foreword written by Skyscanner co-founder Gareth Williams, which highlights the risks posed to Scotland’s future economy by the dramatic decline in computing science at school.

Through Freedom of Information requests, Reform Scotland has obtained data from all 32 Scottish local authorities which shows:

  • More than 32,000 children – one in eight of all secondary pupils – attend a secondary school with no qualified computing science teacher. This rises to around 50% in rural areas such as Dumfries and Galloway and the Highlands
  • 66 secondary schools have no computing science teacher, including 27 with a school roll of over 500 and 10 with more than 1,000 pupils
  • 25 secondary schools with a roll above 1,000 pupils have only one qualified computing science teacher
  • Not all pupils have computing as a compulsory subject in S1 and S2, and many of those who do are taught by specialists in other subjects.

The full FOI results can be viewed here.

This new research is set against an already precarious situation where there has been:

  • A 25% drop in the number of computing science teachers over the last 15 years
  • A large gender divide, with girls comprising only one in five entries to Higher computing science 
  • A long-term decline in entries at Nat 5 and Higher level

In 2020, Mark Logan’s report for the Scottish Government, “The Scottish Technology Ecosystem”, pointed out that a better understanding of technology and a broader skills base is central to Scotland’s future economy, and called for computing science in schools to be treated like maths and physics. Despite the prominence and welcome given to the Logan report, little has changed in terms of school education.

As a result, Reform Scotland has made a series of recommendations, including ensuring a suitable digital skillbase amongst primary school teachers, being more flexible in the qualifications required by the General Teaching Council Scotland, and increasing collaboration with the independent schools sector. 

The report also calls for Scottish Teachers Advancing Computing Science (STACS) to be placed on a permanent footing. The government-funded initiative is helping to address upskilling and supports non-computing teachers in learning about the subject, however it is currently only a temporary body. 

Commenting, Gareth Williams, Founder of Skyscanner and a Reform Scotland Trustee, 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.”

Alison Payne, Research Director of Reform Scotland, said:

“The performance of our schools is the biggest driver of our future economic prospects. This report, influenced by the founder of one of Scotland’s biggest tech success stories, Gareth Williams, shows us how much computing science matters, and how much danger it is in as a school subject.

“In order for Scotland to be a leading player that develops and creates high-tech companies, rather than simply using imported technology, Scotland must ensure it has a workforce with the knowledge and skills necessary to meet that challenge. The development of those skills starts in school.

“This report isn’t calling for one subject to be given greater value over any other, rather it is a warning that there will be consequences to such a vital area being allowed to decline in our schools. These alarm bells have been ringing for some time, but policy-makers need to start listening.

“The future is digital. Scotland needs school leavers who are able and ready to be at the centre of this technological revolution – for their sake and for the nation’s.