Boost to digital creativity and computing in UK primary schools

15th May 2023
Paige West

A new partnership between BBC Education, Micro:bit Educational Foundation and guardians of the .UK domain, Nominet, announce a UK-wide project that aims to inspire primary school children to get more confident with technology and digital skills.

The partnership will offer a classroom set of 30 BBC micro:bits (a total of almost 700,000 devices) and brand-new teaching resources to every primary school across the UK.     

From today, all primary school teachers can register on the BBC micro:bit website, and will receive a set of devices and a resource pack between September 2023 and March 2024.    

The strategic partnership is a response to research suggesting that 65% of primary school children will end up working in jobs that do not exist today. BBC micro:bit – the next gen will support primary school children and teachers in this transition to future digital careers by accelerating computational thinking, programming, digital creativity and machine learning skills.     

The campaign builds upon the Micro:bit Educational Foundation’s three-phase national programme and primary pilot project – in collaboration with Nominet – that has focused on understanding the challenges facing UK primary teachers and improving digital skills education in primary classrooms. Research done in collaboration with Nominet last year found that teachers feel overwhelmingly unprepared and lack confidence when teaching digital skills. 61% of UK primary teachers responsible for teaching computing have no background in the subject, while three in five also cited a lack of resources as a major barrier. This campaign aims to increase teacher knowledge and confidence and empower educators with a toolkit of quality, proven devices, lesson plans and inspiration ideas.   

Along with the delivery of the micro:bits, teachers will also be supported with a roll-out of virtual teacher training delivered by the Micro:bit Educational Foundation and training partners from each of the nations. In September 2023, a suite of cross-curricular resources, including an array of inspiring classroom activities to get children coding with their new BBC micro:bits, will be released. Use of micro:bits will also be encouraged with the help of favourite CBBC and family entertainment brands, showcasing the capabilities of the micro:bit, and how simple and accessible it is for teachers to use in the classroom.

Schoolchildren have already put the micro:bit to the test in response to real-world issues, building solutions to climate change such as flood early warning systems to alert coastal communities to extreme weather. Others have designed radio message systems to help pupils grow their confidence in classroom communication, while some have even programmed the microcomputer to turn on the lights at Blackpool tower and to rotate the Jodrell Bank telescope.    

Priestley Academy in Bradford took part in the primary pilot project last year. Commenting on the success of the pilot, Michael McCarthy, Chief Executive of the Priestley Academy Trust in Bradford, said: “You could hear a pin drop, but then you also got that buzz of excitement as the schoolchildren were using the new technology, and speaking to the teachers, the resources that go alongside are just fantastic! The resources online are being used to their fullest, and this removes barriers for staff who might not initially have experience or confidence in teaching digital skills.”    

The BBC micro:bit – the next gen project forms a key part of BBC Education’s strategy to support all schoolchildren and teachers across the UK. Other recent successes include Lockdown Learning, which ensured all children could access curriculum-based learning when schools moved to remote learning in the pandemic. Now, the focus is on uplifting the digital skills of the future generation, amid research that estimates the digital skills gap is costing the UK economy as much as £63 billion a year in potential GDP.    

Helen Foulkes, Head of BBC Education: “An ability to understand, participate and work in the digital world is vitally important to ensure young people are ready for the future so they can achieve their full potential. Yet, whilst education systems try to keep pace with rapid change, there is often insufficient support available to teach these digital skills.    

“BBC Education is in a unique position to bring its education and tech partners together to help all primary schoolchildren across the UK to shape their best digital futures, as well as support teachers to implement digital skills into the curriculum. That is what the BBC micro:bit is all about. We’re looking forward to seeing the real impact the BBC micro:bit will continue to have on many young people’s futures and witnessing the device being used in all kinds of wonderful new ways amongst the digital makers, inventors and pioneers of tomorrow!”    

Gareth Stockdale, CEO of Micro:bit Educational Foundation, said: “Understanding and using technology to solve problems and bring ideas to life are vital skills that will only grow in importance. This project is about giving children and their teachers the confidence to take that first step and inspire them to go as far as they wish. The BBC micro:bit is a powerful and proven tool in bringing programming to life, demystifying technology and providing a springboard for digital creativity.     

“Our research with Nominet and experience show that the earlier children can learn core digital skills, the better. It is also that all-important chance to engage and get children excited about technology before the influence of stereotypes and academic pressures takes hold. The device and all our resources are purposely designed for the classroom setting, making it as easy as possible for teachers to plug the micro:bit into their lessons. We are eager to extend the fantastic success we have already had working with the BBC and Nominet to date to further extend our reach among children as young as eight.”    

Paul Fletcher, CEO, Nominet, added: “We’re incredibly proud of this initiative – as a public benefit company committed to using tech for good – this programme can improve young lives through new opportunity and could inspire millions to embrace their digital futures. This new scheme could have a far-reaching impact that lasts for decades, just like the original BBC computers for school's initiative back in the 1980s.”  

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