Essential resources for teaching computing

Written by: Terry Freedman | Published:
Image: Adobe Stock

You’ve been tasked with teaching computing, but where do you start? Terry Freedman has a few suggestions up his sleeve

It was revealed in the recent Royal Society report that, currently, 54 per cent of schools in England – around 2,700 schools with 175,000 students – do not offer computer science at GCSE.

It means that only 11 per cent of students in England take GCSE computer science. Of these, only one in five are female.

Furthermore, the report also warned about the lack of qualified teachers of computer science, which is part of the reason behind the figures. In England, only 68 per cent of the recruitment target for the subject was hit between 2012 and 2017 (After the Reboot: Computing education in UK schools, Royal Society, November 2017).

But the government is acting. The Autumn Budget set out a pledge to ensure that every secondary school has a fully qualified computer science GCSE teacher, with £84 million to upskill 8,000 computer science teachers by the end of this Parliament. There are also plans to work with industry to set up a new National Centre for Computing to produce training material and support schools.

This is good news, but while we wait for this to filter through the system, many teachers are being asked to deliver this new subject with little background knowledge or training.

What you need to know

If you’re in this position, a good starting point is the actual Programme of Study for computing.

People will tell you all sorts of things about computing, such as “It’s all about coding” (it isn’t) and “It excludes digital literacy” (not true). So look for yourself before you become corrupted by curricular fake news.

The Programme of Study is a pretty thin document, but that’s an advantage. It means you can make sure you are covering the basics while having the freedom to do something exciting.

The national curriculum (England) computing programmes of study can be found at

Free publications

If, like many teachers, you haven’t studied computer science, a good introduction to the subject that won’t make you feel inadequate is Paul Curzon’s free book, Computing Without Computers. This covers the entire subject matter using everyday language and everyday examples.

Indeed, you may wish to check out several other interesting (and fun) resources, such as explanations of magic in terms of computational thinking, and word puzzles.

Here’s the website for all those free publications:

Also, take the time to look at the Computer Science for Fun website, which publishes a very readable magazine on the subject. The magazine and its back issues are free to download. You’ll discover them at

Another very good resource is Computer Science (CS) Unplugged. It’s full of activities and also a free book. It does have what some people may see as a disadvantage, which is that the activities seem to have been designed with primary children in mind. However, they are excellent for teachers with little knowledge of computing! Also, they could be used as a starting point, especially with year 7:

Useful books

If you’re willing to splash out, I’d recommend three books. These won’t teach you how to teach computing, but they will help you with the subject matter and give you a historical background and/or a wider perspective.

  • The Thrilling Adventures of Lovelace and Babbage is a graphic novel that explores the ideas of Ada Lovelace and William Babbage, and what might have happened had they been put into practice. I reviewed the book on my website:
  • Understanding the Digital World: What you need to know about computers, the internet, privacy and security is both very comprehensive and readable. It’s published by Princeton University Press:
  • Computational Thinking: A beginner’s guide to problem-solving and programming has just been published at the time of writing. As the title suggests, it’s about computational thinking rather than computer science, but it makes for good background reading to help you get to the heart of the subject. It’s not what I’d call an easy read, but the effort will pay off:

Useful websites

There are several websites/blogs that are worth exploring. A key place is the Computing at Schools community website. It is full of free resources produced by members, and discussion threads. This will save you reinventing wheels. You have to register, but registration costs nothing:

For an eclectic mix of articles about different aspects of teaching computing, including academic research, go to the Association of Information Technology in Education (ITTE):

Another blog that will give you plenty of food for thought is Learning With E’s. It’s mostly what you might call “thought pieces” rather than practical advice that you can implement in the classroom. But it’s no bad thing to think more deeply about the subject, and it should provide some discussion topics for your classroom:

Learning to code

As a teacher of computing, it is obviously useful if you can do computer programming yourself. If you feel that your skills are not up to scratch, then teach yourself to code using one or more of the sites listed on the link below. It’s a list of 11 free coding tutorial websites, compiled by Forbes:

For resources you can use with kids, check out the link below. The website has a UK address, but the ages are expressed in terms of the American system (a quick way of working this out is by adding 5. Thus grade 6 corresponds, approximately, to age 11):

Free schemes of work

What follows is a list rather than a set of recommendations. In other words, you will have to invest some time yourself to look at the resources and evaluate whether they are suitable for you to use in your school. But at least this is a starting point.

  • Matt Britland’s Scheme of Work for Years 7 to 9. This is widely admired and is available as a pdf document:
  • The Mr Colley website has a collection of topic-based resources rather than a scheme of work, but looks interesting:
  • This computer science scheme of work is available free but you have to register with TES. Click on download and you’ll be presented with an option to register. It’s been downloaded more than 17,000 times and has attracted an average rating of 4.5 stars, so it’s definitely worth looking at:

Ideas for teaching computing

Some teachers have found that using pair programming is quite useful. Under this approach, sometimes referred to as “peer programming”, students work together with one writing a line of code which the other then evaluates.
Or you can try to solve real problems. This is the approach taken by Apps for Good, which is a competition in which youngsters have to identify a problem and then design an app to solve it. If you register you can access their resources, including a scheme of work — although this does not cover the complete Programme of Study:

Alternatively, you can ask pupils to solve a problem — or come up with a problem to solve — without going through any formalities. Many teachers have found that this kind of “authentic learning” really helps to engage pupils, and shows how computing can be relevant to real life.

Indeed, combining authentic learning with a project-based learning approach can help you to integrate different aspects of the computing curriculum, such as coding and digital literacy.

An easy introduction to this approach may be found in head of computing John Partridge’s article (on my own website) Project-Based Learning in the Computing Curriculum:

Mind you, trying to solve unreal problems can be fun and useful too. A great launching pad for ideas is the Half Bakery website. People post ideas for devices and programs, and other people comment on them.

You could pluck a few suggestions from the site, and ask pupils to work out how they could be computerised. That activity would involve scoping out the project, drawing up a flowchart and writing some pseudocode at the very least:

Useful organisations

If you would like to enlist the services of outside organisations to help bring your computing scheme of work to life, how about the following?

  • Go local: In a search engine, type in the name of your town, or the nearest large town, followed by the word “digital”. Nine times out of 10 this will throw up one or two organisations that work with schools. Maybe they ave useful resources, or provide activities. Worth a try.
  • The Tech Partnership: Have a rummage around this site, which has an eclectic mix of factsheets, reports and other resources. They don’t precisely align with the national curriculum, but they are very much focused
  • on what happens in the world of work, which makes them eminently useful:
  • Local employers: Local firms may be happy to run activities in school, or send someone along to talk to students about an aspect of computing.

Assessing computing

There are several assessment resources available. You can find free ones uploaded by members of the Computing at School community, and there are a few commercial ones. We don’t have the space here to evaluate and compare them. A much better approach is to use some guiding principles when looking at different approaches.
You may find my article useful, The 6 Fundamental Computing Assessment Scheme Questions:

  • • Terry Freedman is an independent ed tech consultant and writer. He publishes the ICT & Computing in Education website at

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This article has been published as part of SecEd’s free 32-page, secondary-specific guide to Best 2018. The guide features show preview advice, highlights and general education technology-related articles. You can download the guide at


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