The countdown to computing

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An expert group has been convened by the DfE to develop advice, resources and CPD as schools prepare for the introduction of the new computing curriculum. Bob Harrison explains.

Whatever the outcome of the consultation on the proposed ICT national curriculum, one thing is for certain – the name ICT is no more, to be replaced by the term computing. 

The final version of the programmes of study will be published by schools minister Liz Truss in September, but her mind is made up about the new name. However, this change is the least of the challenges facing our schools.

If the audience at a recent ICT/computing event for primary teachers in London is anything to go by, there is an awful lot of work to be done before all schools can be confident that they are capable of teaching the new National Computing Curriculum in September 2014.

When the 250 delegates were asked if they were “willing” to teach the new curriculum, more than 60 per cent said they were. However when asked how many felt “able” to teach the new curriculum, less than 10 per cent responded positively. 

While this was a primary event, the anecdotal evidence is that this picture is repeated in secondary schools.

Interestingly, while 10 per cent of the 250 said they had read the old programmes of study, 

25 per cent had read the new draft. This should rise when the Department for Education (DfE) publishes the “official” version in September.

As I have discussed previously in SecEd, there is an over-emphasis on computer science at the expense of creativity, digital skills and e-safety in the draft curriculum (http://bit.ly/WuR5rM) and this is still a matter for the minister, whose officials are currently analysing the responses to the curriculum consultation.

A quick analysis of some of the IT community and industry responses suggests the increased emphasis on computer science neither meets the needs of the IT industry nor the needs of children to be digital makers and citizens in the third millennium.

The DfE has been concerned about the recruitment and training of teachers in 2013/14. Numbers of teachers applying for ICT/computing are significantly down and for those who have training places in 2013/14 one has to ask how they will be able to prepare to deliver the new curriculum in September 2014?

Consequently, the DfE has established an Expert Group to identify the differences between the old (now disapplied) programmes of study and the new (still awaiting final ministerial confirmation) replacements.

The group’s task is to identify the gaps and produce resources and links to support initial teacher training providers and schools. 

This group has worked from January to March and is made up of experienced ICT/computing teachers from all key stages, higher education and the Association for Information Technology in Teacher Education (ITTE). The results of its work are available free online (http://bit.ly/ittcomp).

The DfE has now asked for the group to be reformed, refocused and to repeat the task for key stage 3 and 4 (although there are already some key stage 3 resources on the website above), and most importantly to prioritise the professional development needs for serving teachers. 

The first meeting of the refocused group took place last Wednesday (May 15) to identify the gaps and by the second meeting in June we will have uploaded relevant resources and links which should help secondary schools prepare for the significant change in the ICT/computing curriculum.

The resources will be in the same place but as they are updated and the site refined, they may be moved to a more suitable platform.

Andy Connell, incoming chair of the ITTE and member of the Expert Group, welcomes the secondary focus: “ITTE was pleased to be invited help develop the resources for key stages 1 and 2 and they should be a great help for providers of initial teacher education or indeed schools themselves. Now it is right that a new group does the same for key stages 3 and 4 and especially looks at priorities for the up-skilling of the current workforce.”

It has also been revealed that the Computing at Schools (CAS) network is to be extended and a £2 million grant from the DfE will enable the BCS Chartered Institute for IT to recruit and train a further 400 “master teachers” of computer science over a two-year period to spread best practice.

This should certainly help schools to address the additional computer science elements of the new computing curriculum, but many teachers doubt whether there will be enough experts to go around and whether they will be in place soon enough. 

Neither does the CAS scheme help those schools who need help to address the digital skills and information technology elements of the new curriculum.

Sue Nieland, head of education for employers’ organisation e-skills, and a member of the Expert Group, is anxious that teachers get some help and support with the entirety of the new curriculum, not just computer science.

She explained: “E-skills has responded to the consultation and expressed the view that there is an over-emphasis on computer science and the curriculum needs a more balanced approach to IT and digital literacy/skills. 

“Teachers will need a lot of help and guidance to teach the new curriculum and the resources produced by this group should be a very useful starting point, but the challenge is enormous.”

Another member of the group, Joanne Devlin, is head of IT and business studies at Lancaster Girls’ Grammar School. She is about to take 30 girls to Silicon Valley and has visits arranged to Google HQ and Stanford University’s computer science faculty. 

She said: “While not every pupil will want to become programmers or coders, I think it is really important that teachers of ICT/computing have the necessary subject knowledge and confidence to teach the new curriculum.

“If some of the resources and links we use at Lancaster Girls Grammar help, then I am only too happy to share them.”

Of course none of the above has anything to do with the use of technology across all other curriculum subjects, as that is not part of the remit of the review of the ICT national curriculum. 

So while computing replaces ICT as a national curriculum subject, perhaps ICT will now be identified as the use of technology across the curriculum, as Professor Peter Twining has argued recently in his blog (see link below).

So while we await Ms Truss’s final decision on the content of the new computing curriculum, here are some key questions for heads and ICT/computing teachers.

  • Have you read the latest draft of the programmes of study published by the DfE?

  • Can you identify the major shifts in emphasis?

  • Do you or your staff have the subject knowledge to teach the new curriculum?

  • If not, do you know where to get some help and advice?

  • What examination bodies offer the most appropriate qualifications for your pupils?

  • How are you planning for the continuing developments in technology, such as broadband wireless, cloud computing and tablet devices? 

  • Bob Harrison is education advisor for Toshiba, a school governor, and chair of the DfE Computing Expert Group. Email bob@setuk.co.uk

Some useful websites


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