Sheffield software tycoon's computer course rolled out to city schools

A Sheffield software tycoon launched a cutting edge computer course at a city school and said he wanted to see it on the national curriculum in three years.

Tuesday, 17th September 2019, 8:18 pm
Official launch of the David and Jane Richards Family Foundation's partnership with the Astrea Academy Trust. Pictured are David and Jane with CEO Libby Nicholas, left, and pupils from left: Liam Daniel, 12, Ismail Jalloh, Ariam Saleh, 12, and Caitlyn Mukasa, 12. Picture: Chris Etchells

David Richards of WANdisco said the pace of change in tech was seven times faster than 20 years ago and teaching had to respond.

That meant rolling out his foundation’s data science syllabus as quickly and as far as possible in schools and universities.

He flew in from California with his wife Jane for the official launch at Astrea Academy in Burngreave.

It is one of six schools in South Yorkshire which will now teach the course to hundreds of 12 to 14-year-olds.

Sign up to our daily newsletter

The i newsletter cut through the noise

He said: “Success in business in one thing, but when you do something that can potentially influence millions of people, that’s on a different level. It’s probably close to, if not the best, thing I’ve done.”

WANdisco is a ‘big data’ company with offices in Sheffield, Ireland and Silicon Valley.

The idea for the syllabus stemmed from Mr Richards’ belief that computers are increasingly useful but will never have human qualities such as imagination, creativity and teamwork.

Emily Dreimann, project manager at the foundation, said it included lessons on big data, machine learning, Raspberry Pi computers and the Python programming language. It also featured trips to meet industry experts and Sheffield Hallam University students.

It was compiled by technologists, teachers, trustee Chris Brady, professor of management studies and director of Salford University's Centre for Sports Business, and educational consultants.

It is being rolled out after a pilot last year at Mr Richard’s former comprehensive, Tapton School, in Sheffield.

At the launch, four 12-year-old Astrea children gave talks on their experience of taster sessions. Wasiq Razaq, head of maths, said they had loved it, it gave them an advantage over other students and it fitted with the school’s ethos and values.

Libby Nicholas, chief executive of Astra Academy Trust, which runs a total of 27 schools, said she wrote to David and Jane Richards after reading about the pilot course in The Star.

“This curriculum meshes all of the skills they believe are necessary for computer science now. When I wrote to them I felt I felt our curriculum wasn’t up to date and the work they were doing could bring added value.”

The new syllabus aimed to avoid alienating girls and be inclusive, she added.