Key questions as the new ICT curriculum begins to emerge


The drafting of the new national curriculum programmes of study for ICT is well underway with early proposals already emerging. The changes will have notable implications for teachers. Bob Harrison reports on the process so far and poses some key question

The new ICT national curriculum is beginning to take shape. 

The most recent drafts produced by the British Computer Society (BCS) and the Royal Academy of Engineering (RAE) at the invitation of the Department for Education (DfE) have now gone through several iterations and have been exposed to a widening circle of stakeholders including academics, ICT membership organisations, headteachers and teachers from all key stages.

But that’s the easy bit surely? The difficult part will be to engage with the very ICT teachers who were told by education secretary Michael Gove at BETT 2012 in January that their ICT lessons were “dull and boring” and to get them to turn the programmes of study into engaging and stimulating schemes of work and lessons.

The working group, chaired by Simon Peyton-Jones from BCS and a senior researcher for Microsoft, has been reconfigured for the second drafting in an attempt to ensure all views have been considered. 

The new ICT curriculum will consist of three inter-dependent elements of digital literacy, information technology and computer science. 

Interestingly the working group has made it very clear that the use of technology across the curriculum (technology-enhanced learning) is not within the remit of this group and is the responsibility of the appropriate subjects in the national curriculum.

ICT teachers will remember Mr Gove’s BETT appearance – this was not the sort of motivational speech they expected given that the most recent Ofsted subject inspection of ICT, while based on evidence from 2008 to 2011, could not have led to the “dull and boring” sound-bite.

Admittedly, Ofsted found that the ICT curriculum at key stage 4 needed to be looked at, but ICT at the other key stages was generally good or outstanding.

So where has this momentum for the transformation for change come from many ICT teachers ask? The answer seems to lie in the publication of two reports and one speech.

First, Shut Down or Restart? was produced by the Royal Society and sponsored by BCS, the computer industry and the computer science departments of several universities who have seen their enrolments plummet in recent years. 

The second influential report was produced by Nesta, entitled Next Gen and written by Livingstone and Hope, whose background is in the computer games industry.

The final push in the creation of this wave of dissatisfaction with the perceived teaching of ICT in schools was given by Eric Schmidt, Google’s CEO, who suggested that the UK was in danger of wasting the “Turing legacy”, a reference to the global reputation that the UK had developed innovating with computer science.

This seems to have caught the eye of Mr Gove, and led to his BETT speech and the “disapplication” of the programmes of study which underpinned the ICT national curriculum (this decision came into effect in September).

So what happens now? The latest drafts undoubtedly increase the focus on computer science at all key stages and are undoubtedly “ambitious and challenging” – one of the briefs given to the working group from the DfE. 

However, programmes of study are just the start of the process and a programme of study does not teach children, teachers do – and therein lays the greatest challenge.

The DfE will review the draft before Christmas “in light of comments” on the proposals by the ICT education community. The DfE will then publish the revised draft programmes of study early in 2013 for public consultation.

When they are published (my money is on an announcement at BETT by Mr Gove), there is no doubt teachers will need to reflect on the need for some immediate CPD.

Already the Teaching Agency has begun the associated reforms of initial teacher training to increase the emphasis on computer science, and the Teaching Schools are forming partnerships with the emerging computing at schools networks of excellence. 

The pressing need, however, will be for those ICT teachers who were unfairly accused of delivering “dull and boring” teaching of ICT to not only understand what “ambitious and challenging” ICT might look like, but more importantly how they convert words on a page or screen into stimulating and engaging ICT lessons for children at all key stages.

The irony will not be lost on teachers, nor the people at the Open University running the highly successful “Vital” programme for teachers whose funding comes to an end in March 2013 – perhaps just when it is needed the most?

So the easy part of the solution has almost been completed. Will it get support from the DfE and ministers? Will headteachers understand the challenge? Will teachers have the confidence and capacity to change their practice in time? Will the training, development and “up-skilling” of teaching and support staff be in place and in time? 

Furthermore, who will be responsible for delivering the training and who will be paying for it? Will technology have already moved on again? Will Ofsted have the capacity and level of understanding to know what good/outstanding looks like? 

And crucially what will the exam boards’ assessment criteria look like, especially at key stage 4?

As a DfE official said recently “we are in a painful transition from a state-led system to a school-led system” – I think many teachers will be anticipating some of that pain.

  • Bob Harrison is a teacher, former principal, school and college governor, and a Toshiba education advisor. Follow him on Twitter @bobharrisonset.

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