7 reasons why the Year of Code is just Am Dram…

Right, this Lottie Dexter, Rohan Silva, Year of Code thing is being a massive pain in the arse. I swear to god I *knew* this would happen… Here’s where we are:

1. I knew nothing about this until last week when I sought out Rohan after one too many (press) people (I actually like) saying: WTF? Why are the Young Rewired Staters not on this list?
2. Was introduced to Lottie Dexter by Rohan, (who begged to be excused for not speaking to me before – pleas of busy-ness in getting this all set up (and his final million for his Index Ventures) but I know that other brands and people cited in this PR push had NO IDEA what was going on – but actually Rohan ignored every opp we had to chat throughout his time influencing Number Ten, I clearly get on his nerves but I honestly have no idea why: maybe it is the girl thing, probably just the JFDI thing (that is about to bite me in the bum!))
3. Frustrated attempts to have a conversation with Lottie ended in an actual chat last Sunday afternoon, then discovery that this was all being announced and launched on Tuesday and a belated invitation to join the advisory panel, (this involved no advising they were clear to point out).



is not ego, this is just “sorry whut? and you are doing this when? oh Tuesday, *next Tuesday* – right 8-0… ” I was actually trying to do a real thing here and invest my life since 2009 in working out what we could really do to meet the needs of the self-taught programmers, fill more jobs, include more kids, assist with  learning and have a load of fun on the way with a worldwide community of young people
4. Embarrassed as clearly so *last year* – emphasised by being sidelined at launch, come for drinks but don’t stay for dinner, styled this out by getting twatted at Blacks with my sister
5. Become conspiracy theorist overnight: gov pledge to spend £500k on skilling up teachers to ‘teach coding’ is a bs sum and a bs strategy, with a young (beautiful) PR girl hurled out to slaughter by a couple of men: Saul and Rohan (amazingly silent throughout PR and soc med catastrophe) in Newsnight and R4 etc..

6. “Lottie is an enthusiastic 24 year old PR girl, “you will love her”, and she is going to learn to code this year yay!”  <- Rohan to me on Wednesday… “yay” I say, I love any young people, espesh girls getting involved in this, then I realised… hang on, my own daughter (16) is as divorced from relating to Lottie as I am and amazingly enough, the whole digital movement becomes public laughing stock
7. I get cross emails, dms, tweets, calls from people saying why did I not include them… not me, I just called Rohan out after I caught wind of this, under a week before it happened. I cannot do anything


I want nothing to do with this.

In Young Rewired State we are doing stuff this year, and for the last six years I have tested and re-tested, modelled and re-modelled what works with the young people who are already coding, to encourage them to stay and explore the subject and their talent.

Also, to inform my own understanding of what is going on – obviously beyond the current theory that you can learn to code in an hour/day/week – although Decoded do a very good job in the advertising industry – WTF are they doing influencing government policy? I know Kathryn Parsons, she would be equally as surprised at being dragged out as govvy heroine of programming nazi-ism in schools.

IMHO this is damaging two very important movements:

  • girls and tech: a PR girl who has no idea
  • computational skills for young people

So I just do not want to know, and if the Year of Code becomes the *thing* that pivots this whole movement – I will celebrate its success obo the next gen, my daughters and yours (and sons too :))

And I do not support this government policy

I have made huge mistakes, learned many, many lessons. And yes you can call me out on things I riffed on three years ago, that I fundamentally do not believe in today. But I took you on that journey and never pretended I knew the answers!

I do not affect government policy, I do not even formally lobby government. I discover, get worked up about, share then explore things. Recently it has been this digital movement. I am not an academic. I am not a lobbyist. But I am an enthusiastic serial dater of this subject and I am learning a lot.

FWIW I do not believe every child has to learn coding as a mandatory subject from 7. But I think if you want to encourage girls into coding: Year 8 is too Late and you need to introduce them to the subject before they hit senior school. Teachers and schools should teach computational thinking as a mandatory subject. The flipped classroom should be embraced.

I also think £500k is a balls amount of money, matched with a 24 year old PR girl sent out to “mauling by media”  XFactor style, is this government’s way of kicking this subject into the long grass for good.

Clever move… (if a bit ****tardy) of the government

PS If I have sent you to this post:

1. It was not my idea and had nothing to do with me

2. I may be an adviser in name, but my name was published on their site at launch as Emma McQueeny Founder: Revision App, <- incognito… now I am apparently Emma MulqueenEy, founder YRS <- less incognito but enough to make it all a bit whatever…

Late edit: I have since written about what *can* be done by the Year of Code, should they so desire

60 responses

  1. Pingback: 7 reasons why the Year of Code is just Am Dram… – Emma Mulqueeny | Public Sector Blogs

  2. Pingback: Lottie Dexter should quit – and take the Year of Code board with her – Adrian Short | Public Sector Blogs

  3. What!?!?! Emma, I just can’t believe reading this. My son attended YRS2013 for the first time. And you know what he is part of #hack4good this weekend because he realised from YRS he is not alone!!! Super proud mum moment. He is doing “computing” at school but it is a joke. I have no idea how the government want to upskill a teaching team to engage with these youngster in a way that will captivate them. In our journey with my son, and I’m not a coder, it’s been one of experiential learning through colloboration with others like him. Keep doing YRS you are filling a vital gap!!!

  4. “£500k on skilling up teachers to ‘teach coding’” Ahh another “Caesar’s gold” action by the government. Both the Conservative and Labour parties have an amazing track record of such.
    They throw out a nice and big sounding number which impresses people who don’t give it more than a second’s thought. If you stop and think about it for a second, it quickly reveals to be a turd, without even a glimmer of polish.

    Let’s try three different comparisons, taking the ludicrous proposition that all £500k goes to the schools and training, and not on administration. 1) Just assume 6th form colleges, 2) Just assume Secondary schools, 3) Just assume Primary schools.

    1) It’s hard to find some exact figures, but wikipedia suggests there are 90. Surely that’s a low-ball figure? £500,000 / 90 = £5,555.55. Just £5.5k *per college*? Okay.. so maybe a few teachers could be trained by it (assuming no equipment costs). However to give all kids a chance we need to do it before this stage.

    2) There are 3,941 secondary schools across the UK. £500,000 / 3941 = £126 per school. That’s peanuts, hardly likely to pay for training for a single teacher per school. But hey £500k!!

    3) There are 21,398 primary schools across the UK. £500,000 / 21398 = £23.36 per school. Oh well, guess they’re really not interested in teaching kids coding at all.

  5. Pingback: Year of Code on Newsnight | Davblog

  6. Really great to read this; as an experienced teacher, female, and dedicated to developing the new curriculum in my schools I was incredibly annoyed to watch much of what we have done undone by this farce. I agree completely that this is damaging for girls who are interested- it reinforces the split in girls who are ‘into it’ and girls who are not.

    Aside from the practical pedagogical issues and the costs (illustrated perfectly above) it is a real shame to see it being shared in this ‘pop lite’ fasion and for the PR to take centre stage… Really frustrating to thousands of teachers across the country who are not involved.

    Good to meet you!

  7. Superb piece of telling it like it is, Emma. So relieved i can feel less guilty about being appalled at the opportunistic flim-flam associated with #YoC14, but seeing a few good names on that list of advisors.
    The political conspiracy theorists among us wonder if the whole shebang is a move by Gove and Osborne to railroad the progress that Willetts was making in this area. Their carefully-orchestrated campaign to reshape education and technology could have been vulnerable to a thoughtful BIS-led move in this area.
    Maybe we should just all let the fuss die down and wait for the REAL Year of Making and Coding that the BBC have been working on for quite a while. Their’s is unlikely to go off with such half-cocked embarrassment?

  8. Pingback: Year of Code gets a bashing – so now what?

  9. Emma, I’m glad you’ve written this out. What I see is a blatant and ill-conceived sequestration of all your hard work by people who literally don’t know what they’re doing. A complete diabolical farce.

  10. Well done. Someone who actually does something with principles, rather than the usual ‘wine and canape’ mob. I wouldn’t worry. I’ve been in techology and learning for 30 years and seen dozens of these ‘committees’ come and go. They make no difference. Sorry, the difference they make is usually regressive. What really matters are real people at the coalface, like you, who get things done. I’ve tweeted your post. You may be intetested in this. http://bit.ly/MA2CBW

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  12. Good for you to call this out instead of sitting silently on the sidelines. I’ve had to do this once in my life and it is a very unpleasant experience. Entrepreneurship, coding etc… it’s a long term thing, not a quick and easy win

  13. We need more people like you Emma, who despise the politics and instead want to get on and make change. We can all tell that you’re not in this business for the ‘wine and dine’ culture, as proven by yourself taking the risks you took to create Rewired State and in turn, Young Rewired State. You hit the nail on the head when you described Lottie Dexter’s role – she’s a PR spokesperson, not a coder, and in order for this campaign to work, we need a coder to head it (preferably someone like yourself, who won’t get torn to pieces by the media).

      • You would do a damn better job than Lottie Dexter, and I’ve managed to convince my IT teacher to let me teach a couple of programming lessons at my school.

  14. Pingback: Is leren programmeren het nieuwe Latijn? | X, Y of Einstein?

  15. YRS has been fundamental to the progression of my learning – through good and bad experiences. It’s so important that YRS continues as-is, people who don’t have a desire to learn programming are NOT ever going to pursue it, and it will be so much harder to learn. Comp Sci is important, but not to the extent that coding should be forced down the throats of children at a young age. What should be taught is logic, and there should be a strong emphasis on maths – so children who are interested can and will take the initiative have an easier time coming to grips with it.

    I know a lot of us in the tech community have been dreaming of programming (comp sci) being taught as an actual academic subject – but for it to be compulsory? That’s the entirely wrong way of going about things.

    YRS has been important for a lot of young people (like myself) in developing skills, but that’s because I took a personal interest in development. I wouldn’t like to see kids come to hate the entire idea of coding because they were forced to do it.

    • Yeah, I agree Shad, also I should say that there is probably no ‘right’ way, lots of people doing it in lots of different ways is great, to give the OPPORTUNITY to those who want it. But as I said, I am now a conspiracy theorist and think this unhelpful policy might be designed to not work on purpose… but I know I sound like a mad woman now 🙂

      • Never attribute conspiracy to the government when extreme incompetence will do. I worked in ILT for many years under New Labour, the budgets may have shrunk but the same clowns that think programming is something you do with a betamax are still in charge. I watched many tens of millions poured down drains like this with terrible results.

        If I can offer my two cents:

        1. Khan Academy is hands down the best approach, study it closely and do exactly the same thing or talk to Salman Khan about doing a code for kids segment on Khan Academy.

        2. I’m serious about Khan Academy, do that. Stop trying to make content ‘engaging’ by doing flash animations, you will never get even 1% of a computer game, t.v. cartoon or Hollywood film budget and it will show in the end result. Content guys also suck at pedagogy.

        3. You may think that your wonderful expensive flash content will be usable for generations but it won’t. Staggering amounts of money has been poured into learning content done in director/java/flash/etc that no longer works because technology has moved on or the syllabus has moved on. I once worked out that even if we spent the entire NHS budget on educational content we would still never be able to cover all of the courses taught as the content simply isn’t relevant long enough. Make it cheap as possible, get as many teachers as possible to check it and comment and then get it in front of as many kids as possible as fast as possible.

        4. Abduct Lady Ada. Or clone her, either will do. Basically shiny animations are a very poor and very expensive substitute for a good communicator and teacher. Find one, dye it’s hair pink, film it, break the content up into 5-10 minute segments and you have ‘engaging’.

        5. Stop trying to teach teachers to code, they suck at it and have too much paperwork to do anyway. You maybe able to get a couple of teachers to code really poorly but after you have done that please tell me how much your project spent to achieve that 1-2 terrible coders result, how much is that going to cost to get every teacher in the country through your programme, how much is it going to cost to train up all the new teachers because of the high turnover rate and what does George Osborne’s face look like when you ask him for that budget?

        6. ‘Invert the classroom’. Get the kids to do new stuff at home or in the library and then do ‘homework’ in the classroom where the teacher can fix comprehension problems one on one. This work much, much better than having a teacher introducing new concepts at school and then having kids scratching their heads at home in confusion with no subject matter expert around. It also stops parents doing the homework for the kids. You can do this by copying the Khan Academy…

        7. Always produce extra content for the brainiacs.

        Hope some of the wall of text is useful.

        PS Did I mention the Khan Academy?

    • Speaking as someone who is a logician first and a software engineer second, good high level languages (such as Lisp, but also such as Logo which was designed and conceived as a pedagogic language for children) are simply formulations of logic (specifically, of the Lambda Calculus).

      A good way to teach children about programming is to get them to write sequences of instructions and then follow them themselves – as if they were themselves the Logo turtle – before introducing them to a computer. A bunch of six-year-olds working their way through, and discovering the magic of, a recursive tree is a joy and a wonder to behold.

      So teaching coding need not be an alternative to teaching logic; it may/should be a means of teaching logic. And no, you don’t need a Raspberry Pi to do it (although it will help, later).

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  17. Emma what can I say except *sigh* but do remember people will distinguish signal from noise. The work you have been doing has laid down many many roots too far down now to be shaken by PR/Politics. It’s the old electoral cycle IMHO. The people who really care and really matter are a little too smart not to know that too. So keep on doing what you are doing. For the right reasons. For the right people. And to make the kind of difference that you have made over the last number of years.

  18. CS should
    be taught in all schools
    CS shouldn’t be

    AT LEAST make sure people don’t think “Code is 1’s and 0’s”

    It’s not. Infact, in Ruby, you could write a whole program without knowledge of it.

    — Bill Gates the Slug/ Microsoft Hater / @algodev

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  24. Pingback: By next year coding will be mandatory in British schools, what the hell America? | PandoDaily

  25. Pingback: From Year of Code to digital literacy | niksilver.com

  26. Hello! Read this story on The Register, and followed it here. Depressing. I seems to me that the age of the expert, people who actually know what they are talking about, is now over. Substance is so 1980’s…. its spin, style and presentation that matter now.

  27. Pingback: Year of Code – PR fiasco or vital mission? | Geovanny Poveda Home Page

  28. Pingback: How does the Year of Code wreck become a good thing? « Emma Mulqueeny

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  34. Coding in schools… Are you kidding me. Back when I was a student using RM Basic it was like weaving magic for the majority of the class. Even those going on to A-Level couldn’t seem to grasp Visual Basic. Also what is the importance of learning complicated maths before programing? Do you need to know hex, oct or binary to code? Admittedly understanding how logic works is a bit of a requirement but all that complicated maths? It’s a sure way to turn people off before they even start.

    Sorry I am missing my point here, my point being that I.T. has never been a subject I have seen taught well in schools because it never seems to have an actual focus. It’s always a bit of this and a bit of that because you use a computer for it then it’s I.T. This has actually been my biggest problem and also probably why I still have a job because young people are not learning skills relevent to the market place on the current courses availble to them in I.T. whilst they are at school. That coupled with the fact that those teaching the subject usually have very poor I.T. skills themselves and it’s a disaster.

  35. Pingback: Year of Code adviser slams scheme and abandons post in less than a week - Internet4k : : Internet For Knowledge | Internet4k : : Internet For Knowledge

  36. Even more worrying when Lottie an YOC can’t tell the difference between a verb and a noun.

    “Over the course of the year we will signpost national and community tech events”

    Signpost is a verb now -facepalm-

  37. Pingback: By September coding will be mandatory in British schools. What the hell, America? | Bamboo Innovator

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  41. As a crusty old school pro IT geek, I had the great fortune to be introduced to the world of programming by a marvelous teacher when I was 14. Trial and error, learning logic, playing. Then when we had managed to get our names to cycle down the screen, and bubble sort numbers, we started from scratch, discovered the joys of flow charts, and code design. We also found out the hard way that you must find out exactly what the customer ( in our case a rather obtuse but exceptionally funny teacher ) wanted from our little routines.

    This eventually lead to an ‘O’ Level, then an ‘A’ Level, whilst teenage hormones raged, and finally 32 years on, a life long career first as a commercial software engineer and now in the dark arts of InfoSec and all the nasties that come with it.

    Those halcyon days of IT in schools were about getting to grips with this emerging technology ( learning how to write machine code on a 1Kb ZX81 teaches you about coding brevity! ) and that young version of myself had hopes that when his offspring appeared and headed off to formal state education that he too would enjoy the geeky delights of watching his name scroll down the screen, or control an LED traffic light sequence, programmed with logic switches. But no, his IT experience was about ‘how to use the internet’, or ‘how to use MS word’ etc. Something that in my time would have come under the term ‘Commerce’. Not for him the chance to play with a robotic turtle, or spending evenings copying code from a magazine then waiting a month for the corrections to be printed.

    I read Rory C-J’s article on the BBC that I admit is not new news today, and that brought me here. Having been involved in recruitment and mentoring of the Bright Young Things, it is obvious that over the last 20 years the quality of IT teaching in the country has not kept pace with technology, nor with the National Curriculum. It is no use waiting until someone be they boy or girl, black white red green or blue reaches the age I was at when I fell head first into this world of 1’s and 0’s. These kids are wired in from the moment they can hold a tablet, they are part of IT, not simply users of it.

    15 years ago, the then government changed the tax laws in the UK and many tech savvy people decided that the new goalposts had moved too far and left the industry. At the same time, the old gypers with their early 1970’s fashion sense realised they could make a killing fixing a date field issue in ancient versions of Cobol that many companies still relied on to run obscure applications that no one knew how worked, let along how to re-engineer. At this point too, said government realised we had a massive resource deficit and changed work permit regulations for the up and coming techies from India to back fill 90,000 places in the UK. Why? Because IT, proper IT as opposed messing about with Excel was not considered important enough for our own education system to invest in. Shame on you Westminster!

    So having read your blog entry, I am quite amazed you were as restrained as you have been. Maybe i’m just a bolshy git, but I’d probably have gone further in my condemnation of this paulty attempt to block the stable door with rice paper on a rainy day. £500k is nothing, wouldn’t even pay for a days worth of ‘Introduction to programming, here’s a questionnaire to fill in’ for already over stretched teaching staff.

    I work with many offshore engineers and they are technically brilliant, but they lack UK ‘nouse’, but until we as a nation see that the X-Factor approach to life doesnt work ( parents, children, ministers! ) then we are never going to get the horse back to bed.

    Keep up the great work, keep fighting, and never think you are alone. There are plenty of us open minded geeky folk who would love nothing better than to be overwhelmed by the choice of talented home grown young people coming into the business to take over from us.

    Alas, I fear though that it may take another generation before that happens if it is not already too late…

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