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1960's - The Early Pioneer Teachers

By Peter Avis October 5th 2014

The use of computers in schools and colleges was first implemented by a number of talented teachers, who, well before any government support or organisation formed the Computer Education Group. The earliest recorded school use of a computer in England was probably in 1963 by Bill Tagg and his Maths students at Hatfield School who got 2 hours a week access to the new Elliot 803 at Hatfield College of Technology. The first school to own its own computer was probably the Royal Liberty School in Romford in 1965 when Bill Broderick succesfully installed an Elliot 920A. From this pioneering work the interest in computers in schools continued to grow, mainly in Mathematics Departments, but also as a topic in its own right stimulated by support from industry and the increasing importance of computers to business and society.

Bill Tagg

Bill Tagg, the first teacher to use a computer with his students in 1963

Pioneering Teachers

During the 1960s a number of pioneering teachers in the UK began to explore computers. Amongst the first were Bill Tagg and Bill Broderick who probably were the first to use computers in schools. At this stage most of the emphasis was on understanding how to work them rather than using them for curriculum purposes. Over the late sixties and early seventies there was a significant expansion in local authorities investing in teletype terminals within schools connected to the developing mainframe computers at Universities or Colleges or other centres.

Bill Tagg introduces his students to the Elliot 803

The earliest recorded use of a computer in school teaching in England was in 1963 when Bill Tagg (pictured) negotiated for his pupils from Hatfield School 2 hours a week access to an Elliott 803 - the first computer installed at Hatfield College of Technology a precursor to the University of Hertfordshire.Peter Excel was a pupil at Hatfield School in Hertfordshire in the 1960's. he describes his experience of working with one of the early Elliot 803 computers as shown in the photograph.

The school shared the same campus as Hatfield Technical College, which allowed some sharing of facilities. An innovative example of this arose when the college installed its first computer, an Elliott 803, in 1963. The head of the school mathematics department, Bill Tagg, negotiated an arrangement whereby pupils had some access to the computer, around two hours per week....

Pupils were permitted to enter the computer room to attempt a run only after the tape had been punched and the printout checked by a teacher. ......

Hatfield College of Technology Elliot 803 in the 1960s

Hatfield College of Technology's Elliot 803 computer in the 1960s - as used by Bill Tagg and his students

Then we might be invited to place our program tape in the reader. A button was pressed on the console and the tape was read, pausing at the end of each line to the accompaniment of impressive noises from the loudspeaker on the console.

Later on Hatfield was the first British school to install an on-line terminal to a remote computer at the Technical College and used this for early developments in computer managed learning (Tagg, 1977, p.234). Bill Tagg went on to become Hertfordshire's Adviser for Computer Education and to set up the Advisory Unit for Computer Based Education at Hatfield. He also attracted funding from NDPCAL to support the Hertfordshire Computer Managed Mathematics Project.

Bill Broderick installs the first computer at Royal Liberty School

The first school to own its own computer was probably the Royal Liberty School in Romford in 1965 (Fothergill, 1988, p. 9) run by its Maths teacher, Bill Broderick (see picture to right). Its computing system was dedicated to teaching in computer science and research into the applications of the computer in secondary education (Broderick 1968b). These computers were large but primitive, using paper tape for input and teletypes for output and had memories of at most 8K! These pioneering efforts naturally focussed on computer programming and the functions of the computer hardware and early work was strongly linked to Mathematics.  This still had significant learning potential:

bill broderick

Bill Broderick, the first teacher to install a computer - at Roysl Liberty School

...learning to program a computer was an educational exercise, apart from its vocational value; before he can program a problem the student has first to understand it fully, while the actual programming gives him valuable practice in clear and logical thinking. (Broderick, 1968a).

Like Bill Tagg, Bill Broderick's work attracted the attention of local and national government and he became one of the first LEA advisers for computer education for the London Borough of Havering. He set up an educational computer centre, based at Liberty School, and attracted one of the first government grants from the Social Science Research Council in 1969 (MacDonald, 1977, p.75).

Computer Education Group

In December 1965 a group of pioneers formed the Computer Education Group (CEG) – a cooperative organisation affiliated to the British Computer Society. Les Jackson and Don Conway were Chairman and Secretary and it spread knowledge in the field of educational computing through its journal 'Computer Education'. was sent to all members three times a year. (Jackson, 1970, p.67).

Continuing Expansion - but mainly in Mathematics

During the sixties more and more teachers and pupils were interested in computers partly because of the future job potential. As the British Computer Society said in a report of 1974:

By the early 1960's any introduction of computing techniques into schools was partly stimulated by the growing career potential in the industry. It was soon realised that there would be a considerable staff requirement in the industry and 'computers' as a 'career subject' was introduced into some schools. (BCS, 1974, p. 3)

smp text book

Early SMP Text Book

Most of the interest and activity was from secondary school Maths departments where the development of 'Modern Mathematics' and the introduction of binary, logic, set theory all complimented an interest in computers. It was quite natural that the Schools Mathematics Project adopted punched paper tape for early computers for its cover design. However this adoption was not without its concern:

The introduction of computer education into secondary schools has, however, been on a haphazard and random basis. In the main the impetus has come from individuals, many of whom were interested in only one facet, for example, the use of computers in the teaching of mathematics. One result of this is that in too many schools computer education is restricted to mathematics lessons or even to mathematically-gifted pupils. When this happens, many of the most valuable rewards are lost. (CERI/OECD 1969 Report, quoted in Capel 1992 p.41)

Support from Industry: ICL and NCC Courses

To support these pioneering efforts two initiatives occured at the end of the sixties which provided teachers with better resources to teach about computers - I.C.L. the computer maufacturer created the 'Computer Education in Schools Appreciation Package' at a basic cost of £ 250 plus £ 7 for a student to include limited computing facilities together with teacher training aimed at general sixth form level. Also the National
Computing Centre created a course with the title 'Computing and its Impact on Business and Society' providing lesson notes, class handouts, overhead projection and 35mm transparancies. Each school using this course was adopted by a company using a computer to provide pupils with real world access to a computer
installation. This course was also aimed as a sixth form minority subject involving approximately forty hours of
study. (Jackson, 1970, p.68)

Commentary - The system needs pioneers to develop - but need to provide them with career paths
Teachers like Bill Tagg and Bill Broderick were developing the computer education curriculum well before it became of interest to government or national programmes and organisations. They both became heavily involved in LEA advisory work which provided platforms for their ideas and creativity to spread more widely and whilst both started off focussing on the computer as a device and encouraging pupils to program, they later moved to projects exploring its potential in other areas of the curriculum. Over the next forty years the three-layered system of school, LEA, national organisations/programmes provided, somewhat imperfectly, a range of careeer opportunities for an number of innovative teacher-developers leading to a flowering of curriculum devlopment in this area well that other countries envied and often visited the UK to discover how we managed to get so creative a set of teachers.


BCS (1974) The Computer in Secondary Education, British Computer Society Schools Committee, British Computer Society, London

Broderick, W. R, (1968a), "The Computer in School" Bodley Head, London

Broderick W. R, (1968b),"The computer in the school", Education and Training, Vol. 10 Iss 9 pp. 352 - 353

Capel R. (1992) 'Social Histories of Compter Education: Missed Opportunity' in J. Beynon, H. Mackay (eds) 'Technological Literacy and the Curriculum' Routledge [online]

Excell P., Available at:

Fothergill R, 1988, "Implications of New Technology for the School Curriculum", Kogan Page, London

Jackson, H.L.W. (1970) 'Expansion of the BCS-Computer Education Group' in World Conference on Computer Education 1970 [online]

MacDonald B., 1977, The Educational Evaluation of NDPCAL, British Journal of Educational Technology, 8-3 p176-189.

Tagg, B, 1977, Computer Managed Learning in Herfordshire, British Journal of Educational Technology, 8-3 p235-241.