Many schoolchildren are missing out on the chance to learn the crucial computing skills needed in modern society, a leading scientific body has warned.
Tens of millions of pounds need to be pumped into the subject to put it on a par with others, such as maths and physics, according to the Royal Society.
A new report by the organisation warns about half of England’s secondary schools do not have a single pupil enrolled on GCSE computer science courses.
A new computing curriculum was introduced in England in 2014 as part of a major overhaul of the subject which also included new, tougher GCSEs.
The Royal Society’s analysis, based on official data, found that in 2015/16 54% of schools did not have pupils taking computer science at GCSE.
It calculates that, overall, 30% of GCSE-level pupils in England are at schools where the subject is not taught – the equivalent of about 175,000 youngsters.
The study also notes that between 2012 and 2017, England met just 68% of its recruitment target for entries to computing teacher training courses.
“Data and digital technologies promise revolutionary transformational changes across the full range of industry sectors and spheres of life,” the report says.
“This unprecedented digital revolution will impact everyone. It will have extraordinary implications on the range of skills that today’s young people will require in every aspect of their lives.
“Computing education must enable young people to continue to keep up with the pace of technological change so that they can remain effective, well-informed and safe citizens.
“However, our evidence shows that computing education across the UK is patchy and fragile.
“Its future development and sustainability depend on swift and co-ordinated action by governments, industry and non-profit organisations. Neglecting the opportunities to act would risk damaging both the education of future generations and our economic prosperity as a nation.”
The study also raises concerns about the number of young women choosing the subject, with a 20% uptake from girls at GCSE, and 9% at A-level.
The Royal Society said it wants to see £60 million invested in computing education over the next five years.
Professor Stephen Furber, a Royal Society fellow, said: “The rate at which technology is transforming the workplace means that we live in a world where many primary schoolchildren will work in technology-based roles that do not yet exist, so it is essential that future generations can apply digital skills with confidence.”
A Department for Education spokeswoman said: “Computer science GCSE entries continue to rise more quickly than any other subject.
“We recently saw an increase in entries to Stem subjects for the EBacc and the number of girls taking Stem subjects at A-levels has increased by over 17% since 2010.
“Since 2012, the department has pledged £5 million to the Network of Teaching Excellence in Computer Science programme, which has built a national network of nearly 400 computer science specialists schools can commission to provide bespoke training for their teachers.”