Effective computing CPD: Advice and resources

Written by: Mark Dorling | Published:
Image: Adobe Stock

The introduction of the computing curriculum has proved challenging for schools. Mark Dorling looks at what CPD is available and urges school leaders to prioritise teacher support and development

The subject of computing was introduced into the national curriculum in September 2014. In March 2016, schools minister Nick Gibb admitted to a House of Commons Science and Technology Select Committee that schools were finding it “very challenging” due to a lack of specialist and experienced teachers.

Where are all the specialists?

In 2012, the Royal Society report, Shut Down or Restart?, Identified a shortage of teachers who could teach beyond digital literacy skills and it was highlighted that the government’s own data showed that in 2010 only 33 per cent of ICT teachers were qualified to teach computer science.

To support initial teacher education and ensure a pipeline of suitably qualified and equipped teachers, the Department for Education (DfE) commissioned a panel of experts from the games industry, academia, Computing At School, Naace and teacher training communities to specify the recommended subject knowledge requirements of applicants applying to train as specialists (Subject Knowledge Requirements for Entry into Computer Science Teacher Training, DfE, 2012).

But will improved teacher recruitment solve the problem? Let’s say that through the various routes available, secondary computer science initial teacher education trains on average 300 new teachers a year. Given that there are around 4,000 secondary schools in England, assuming that none of these teachers leaves the profession, it will take between 13 and 14 years to place one teacher in every school.

Teaching resources vs CPD

I know of many schools that have opted to invest in costly teaching resources from a range of educational providers rather than training staff. Sadly, despite best intentions, these resources are now gathering dust because to use them effectively requires that teachers develop their subject content and pedagogical knowledge. Resources can only ever complement highly effective CPD.

Despite this, I am often forced to answer “no” when increasingly desperate classroom teachers ask me: “Is it compulsory for my school to provide me with CPD to teach computing?”

Interestingly, there is an expectation, detailed on page 38 of the September 2015 Ofsted Inspection Handbook, that in making judgements about leadership and management, inspectors will consider “the quality of CPD for teachers at the start and middle of their careers and later ... and how leaders and governors use performance management to promote effective practice across the school”. Page 44 of the handbook adds that inspectors will make a judgement on the effectiveness of teaching, learning and assessment in schools by evaluating the extent to which “teachers and other staff have a secure understanding of the age group they are working with and have relevant subject knowledge that is detailed and communicated well to pupils”.

But how will school leaders interpret these expectations? What is clear, is that it is important for computing teachers to justify to senior leaders the need for effective CPD to develop subject content and pedagogical knowledge.
Identifying your CPD needs

The DfE’s recommended subject knowledge requirements for entry into teacher training could also be useful to experienced teachers and school leaders. Indeed, the BCS Chartered Institute for IT has created an online diagnostic tool to help teachers to assess their subject knowledge in relation to the computing curriculum.

This tool – the Computing Subject Knowledge Assessment – includes a series of 25 to 30 questions based on the DfE’s subject knowledge requirements. Assessments are available both for primary and secondary. After completing the questions, the results are displayed on-screen and broken down into the topic areas defined in the DfE document in order to assist the teacher with identifying their CPD needs and finding relevant courses and CPD.

What does the research say?

Research into what makes effective CPD suggests that it needs to be collaborative, sustained and focused on outcomes for learners. The amount of time needed to see an impact in the class can vary depending upon the research but typically it is between 15 and 30 hours (Cordingley et al 2005; CUREE 2012).

However, Bill Mitchell, director at the BCS, in a recent article for Microsoft, quoted a Computing At School survey from 2015 showing that a majority of respondents had received less than five hours of CPD over the year (Mitchell 2016).

Teachers should have a range of professional development opportunities, too, not just your traditional training, but activities such as cascading knowledge, certification, teacher research, coaching and mentoring depending upon their needs. To help you argue the case, Dr Sue Sentence at King’s College has written an excellent summary of the research showing the need for a holistic CPD offering (Sentence 2016).

In July, the DfE published its new Standard for Teachers’ Professional Development, which also emphasises that our approaches need to underpinned by robust evidence and that CPD must be prioritised by school leaders if it is to be effective.

Where can I find help?

I would recommend that anyone directly or indirectly responsible for introducing and embedding computing into their school’s curriculum signs up for a free membership of Computing At School (CAS). CAS is a grass-roots organisation with a diverse and supportive membership including senior leaders, teachers, academics, school governors and industry professionals, all of whom are working together to improve the quality of computing education.

Looking further afield, it may be that no one CPD provider supports your needs, but the important thing is to ensure that your needs are accurately outlined in your professional development plan. If attending CPD courses or arranging a whole-school INSET is part of the school and department development plan, then I would recommend the following list of national initiatives as a great starting point as many of their CPD models adhere to the research recommendations and the new DfE CPD Standard:

  • Code Club Teacher Training.
  • Master Teacher programme (run by CAS, funded by the DfE).
  • Digital Schoolhouse: Learner workshops and team teaching.
  • Raspberry Pi Certified Educators programme.
  • SSAT’s TEEP programme.
  • Barefoot Computing programme (run by CAS).

An alternative approach could be to consider using a MOOC (massive open online course). Some examples include:

  • The BCS and CAS Certificate.
  • QuickStart Computing (also run by CAS).
  • Cambridge GCSE Computing.
  • Teach Computing (University of East Anglia).
  • Computing for Teachers (Warwick University).

Another option is the Stuck for Schools video tutorials based on lessons and resources from the Rising Stars Switched On and Hodder Education Compute-IT series. These include all key topics and strategies for delivering lessons. The videos feature Miles Berry and Peter Kemp from Roehampton University and can help identify approaches for teaching computing through key stages 1 to 3.

New computing FAQs

A number of school leaders and classroom practitioners at all stages in their careers have suggested that a set of simple and clear FAQs could also help the situation. These could contain examples of how other schools have answered the questions with links to the official guidance from Ofsted, the DfE and the computing community.

I have recently been involved in a project with partner schools and organisations to collate such a set of free and impartial FAQs. These help to give school leaders a starting point from which to identify what aspects of the school’s computing provision need attention. The topics covered in these FAQs, which have been published on the Innovate my Curriculum website, include:

  • Getting to grips with the new curriculum.
  • Managing the transition from ICT to computing.
  • Getting started with digital literacy and technology-enhanced learning.
  • Getting started with computational thinking.
  • Planning lessons in key stages 1 to 3.
  • Assessing computing in key stages 1 to 3.
  • Using the CAS Computing Progression Pathways Framework in a system without levels.
  • Using digital badges with the CAS Computing Progression Pathways Framework.
  • Preparing for key stage 4.

The FAQs have formed the basis for, and been referenced by, Mayor of London-funded guidance, Computing Curriculum Guide for Senior Leaders, to help schools with embedding the new curriculum. More recently, CAS has shared news of a pack it is working on for headteachers (Mitchell 2016). This could be an invaluable resource as this grass-roots organisation has a reputation for producing high-quality support materials for schools.

Supporting your computing specialist

I would like to share an anecdote from my previous role setting up and leading the CAS Master Teacher programme. Master Teachers are champion practitioners who teach in school for a minimum of two days a week and offer their services to run affordable CPD.

In return for a financial grant paid to the Master Teacher’s school, they are given off-timetable time to develop their own school’s computing provision and then to share this with their local community by running fairly priced workshops and doing activities such as team-teaching.

Over the three years, there were probably 20 or so schools that didn’t support their Master Teacher by honouring this agreement, despite having applied for the grant. In most cases, we were able to support the Master Teacher, but in some cases it resulted in the teacher leaving and often joining another local school.

In these cases, a representative of the Master Teacher’s previous school would phone up and ask for another Master Teacher – like it was that easy. The school would then be seen unsuccessfully advertising to recruit a replacement, spending far more on recruitment than the grant would have ever been worth.

Final thought

I have come to realise that it is people and passion, not systems and processes, that change things in schools. In the words of Bob Harrison, who has written extensively on the subject of computing in SecEd and elsewhere, “national curriculum programmes of study don’t teach children, teachers do”. So it is critical that we invest in our teachers to ensure that the curriculum vision is implemented as it was intended. Perhaps the message of this article can be summed up perfectly by Richard Branson, who once said: “Train people well enough so they can leave, treat them well enough so they don’t want to."

Mark Dorling is computing lead with Livingstone Academies, part of the Aspirations Trust, and founder of the Digital Schoolhouse project. Follow @MarkDorling

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