Julia Adamson, BCS’ Managing Director for Education and Public Benefit, has been awarded an MBE in the King’s Birthday Honours List for services to education. Victoria Temple talks to Julia about her life, passions and hopes for the future.
We’re thrilled that BCS’ Julia Adamson was awarded an MBE in this year’s King’s Birthday Honours List, recognising her contribution to education.
Julia, BCS Managing Director of Education and Public Benefit, began her career 26 years ago as a teacher in Cheshire. She has become a driving force behind empowering the next generation, from leading projects to promote digital inclusion and helping to establish the National Centre for Computing Education (NCCE) to developing Computing at School (CAS) as an influential network of 25,000 teachers.
We spoke to Julia about her journey in tech to find out about what inspires her to ensure every young person has the digital skills and knowledge to thrive.
Why does tech inspire you?
I specialised in Science and Technology when training to be a teacher, in the late 1990s. As a newly qualified teacher I led on the introduction of the internet and the new ICT curriculum. I saw how tech engaged students — frequently those who were less engaged or making slow progress in traditional subjects. I also saw how many teachers were reluctant, seeing tech as distracting and unreliable. I felt very strongly that I could help with this.
Perhaps I have a unique view on equity and inclusion, as a working-class female growing up in the North West, as a young carer (my mum had MS and was poorly from when I was about 11), and as a fulltime working mum to three daughters age 13 – 21. My eldest has Down’s syndrome and autistic spectrum disorder, and my middle and youngest daughters and husband have been carers to her.
Tech can bring the greatest benefits - or losses - to people who need the most support from society. This really motivates me. My experience of navigating education, health, and social care systems could be so much easier if tech was applied effectively. My daughters’ lives can be made safer, or not, by the ethical and inclusive implementation of digital technology. My mum’s illness may have been diagnosed more quickly, treated more effectively, with the availability of AI.
Have you been able to draw on your classroom and teaching experience?
Oh, yes, absolutely! I hope what I do well is make the complex understandable, a kind of translator between the technical and the educator, between the service provider and the service user.
Classroom management is a skill I draw on – including communicating effectively with lots of unique individuals, shaping and developing understanding amongst everyone you’re working with.
Teachers have so many wonderful leadership qualities to draw on for other sectors and roles. And vice versa, there are skills and qualities in people who are not teachers which would make a wonderful addition to the profession. We know that teacher recruitment is challenging, particularly in computing. There’s an opportunity to think differently about how we support computing specialists to be part of education at all phases, including tertiary.
Why is addressing the digital divide so important to you?
My parents were incredibly hardworking; they ran their own business, a fish and chip shop in Chester, and the whole extended family played a part. I’d sit at the till, totting up orders in my head and calling out to dad for him to check. My parents instilled a love of learning, hard work and fairness. As a girl growing up in the 80s though, I wasn’t encouraged into digital and computing lessons felt deeply disconnected. My brothers had the ZX81 and the Commodore 64, I had roller boots and a rabbit! In some ways things haven’t changed much — my own daughters have not (so far!) connected with computing. They’re not alone. Statistics show around 95% of girls drop computing as subject choice at the first opportunity. It’s time we reframed computing as inclusive and relevant for all.
What are you excited about in the future?
There’s so much to be excited about, but three things stand out.
We’re launching a new capacity-building programme in which volunteer specialists get alongside teachers in the classroom to support systematic and long-term change.
I’m shaping BCS’ strategy for our Learned Society of the Future, which includes how we shape the public understanding of computing. We want everyone to be a digitally literate citizen with the skills and confidence to be critical users of digital technology.
And I’m so proud that BCS has created The BCS Foundation, an incorporated charitable organisation, to support individuals who are underserved or disadvantaged to access digitals skills. To find out how to donate time, expertise or funds visit https://www.mydigitalfuture.co.uk/donate.
Driving and focusing impact
The award of an MBE in the King’s Birthday Honours recognises Julia Adamson’s long contribution to education – and there’s no shortage of recent exciting projects led by the BCS education team.
BCS is driving exciting projects to tackle the digital divide, and is at the forefront of shaping policy to deliver computing education for everyone.
Under Julia’s leadership, BCS has developed clear ‘policy goals’, which it has recently been sharing with government and leaders across the political landscape.
Julia presented some of these calls-to-action when she was invited to give evidence to the House of Lords Select Committee in June where she called for a reshaping of the computing curriculum for 11 to 16-year-olds.
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She explained that the computing curriculum for Key Stage 4 must improve if it is to cater to the needs of three groups: future computing professionals, professionals in other fields requiring digital skills, and digitally literate citizens. The current curriculum is failing and there is no GCSE option which covers the full range of computing.
As a result, 75% of state-funded students leave school without IT or computing qualifications, with their studies ending at age 14, she explained.
BCS’ submission to the committee stated that the current GCSE Computer Science curriculum is abstract and challenging with a focus on recall rather than practical application, with the result that there is limited uptake. BCS has called for Computing GCSE to be reformed to include more project work and practical applications, which can also help to address the persistent low uptake by girls. BCS wants the GCSE in Computer Science to reflect a modern approach to the subject, showing how it is addressing the big issues of the day, and Julia regularly champions this vision with the DfE team.
Levelling the playing field
BCS is also working to showcase how computing can be relevant and inspiring; the Physical Computing innovation day held in partnership with Arm saw over 60 secondary school students take part in cross-curricular learning activities and careers inspiration.
The shortage of specialist computing teachers has led to unequal access to Computing GCSE, Julia explained. There’s a need for alternative approaches to teacher recruitment and training, and the rapid pace of change in tech means a more agile approach to qualifications and curriculum development is necessary.
BCS is helping to address these recruitment challenges and has attracted hundreds of applications to its DfE-funded Computer Science Teacher Scholarships programme.
Julia has recently steered the launch of the new ‘era’ of CAS, (Computing in School) as it develops its role leading excellent practice in computing education. Key stakeholders came together in June to launch this new approach and celebrate the award of a MegaGrant from the game firm Epic Games.
Julia said: ‘We’re still a long way from every young person leaving school with the digital skills they will need, but everyone I talk to agrees how important this is and I’m looking forward to working with all of them on an issue that will define how we face the future.’