The 1980s - Computers Arrive

The 1980s was a heady decade. We went from no-one really knowing exactly what a computer was, to IT Capability being an Attainment Target in the National Curriculum.

It began with a government initiative. If a schools could raise half the price of a computer, the Department of Trade and Industry (DTI) would pay the other half. There was a choice of three British-made machines. 

It worked. Computers appeared in schools, much to the bemusement of most teachers, many of whom were quite hostile to their introduction.

Of course, just putting a computer into a school would not be enough, so the offer  included the computer and a set of suitable software. Primary schools received a computer with a tape recorder (left) and two boxes of cassette tapes, whilst secondary schools received two computers with 5.25-inch floppy disc drives and software on discs.


The BBC computer also became popular with home users. Magazines, such as Acorn user, published software on cassette tape (right).


It seems impossible now to imagine classroom computers with tape recorders and cassette tapes but that’s how it was in those early days!

The three British computers which schools could choose from were:-

The BBC Model B, made in Cambridge by Acorn Computers 
(this is the secondary version with 5.25" disc drives)

The RM 380Z, made in Oxford by Research Machines

The Sinclair ZX Spectrum, smaller and cheaper, but less powerful.

Local Education Authorities decided which to go for so that all schools in their area had the same computers and training could be co-ordinated. Cambridge chose Acorn, understandably, and Oxford Research Machines. The rest either plumped for one of these or went for the Specrtum which was cheaper and so you could buy more for the same investment.

In the following few years, most of the Spectrum counties changed to either Acorn of RM because, although an excellent home machine, the Spectrum wasn’t really powerful enough for classroom use.

The primary software was mostly  “Educational Games” but included one open-ended program called DART. It was the pre-cursor to Logo and allowed children to guide a movable “Turtle” around the screen by entering commands. They were, in fact, programming a screen robot. 

These were the days before computers had a mouse and programs ran in their own windows. Indeed, when you switched the computer on, all you had on screen was a “Prompt”! Read on . . 

Next: Coding


© Brian Smith 2015