Will ICT reforms sideline teachers?


The drafting of the new national curriculum programmes of study has begun, but with such a tight timetable and the powerful voice of the computer science community, Bob Harrison asks whether the experience and expertise of ICT teachers will be heard and v

Last week news broke that the job of co-ordinating the drafting of the new national curriculum programmes of study for ICT has been offered to the British Computer Society (BCS) and the Royal Academy of Engineers (RAE).

This alone was a bit of a surprise to the educational ICT community, but an even bigger surprise was the timetable that the Department for Education (DfE) wants BCS/RAE to comply with. There is to be barely a month to draft the new programmes of study despite the fact that the “disapplication” (while announced in January) didn’t become effective until September 1. 

So if the idea was that by disapplying the programmes of study, ICT teachers would cut free from the constraints of a “dull and boring” curriculum, innovate and become creative in what and how they teach, the time for this period of innovation will be barely half a term!

The BCS/RAE are required to have a first draft back to the DfE for consideration by October 23 and this will be created after an initial review by a limited “stakeholder” group. It is unclear to what extent ICT teachers and indeed ICT pupil voice is going to be heard in the drafting phase.

At first glance, the representatives on this steering group appear to draw heavily from a particular niche of the computer industry, and while there are some teachers present, it is not clear who – what phase, any assistive technology teachers, or indeed how many ICT teachers?

As this editorial was printed in SecEd, the initially restricted draft consultation document, entitled Towards a new ICT Programme of study for the National Curriculum in England: Update and primer for discussion, was published on the EdFutures wiki. It has now been published by Computing at School and Naace as well.

It is common knowledge that Michael Gove’s BETT speech was heavily influenced by Google president Eric Schmidt’s McTaggart Lecture, in which he challenged the UK not to squander the “Turing legacy” of UK plc being pioneers in computer programming and coding.

Consequently there are lots of teachers asking: “So what was the point of Mr Gove ‘disapplying’ the ICT national curriculum programmes of study if they are now going to be redrafted within a few weeks?”

This announcement has created confusion for ICT teachers and schools about how they should now approach the ICT national curriculum at all key stages. This was apparent at a conference of 150 ICT teachers in London last week. While some of the delegates were confidently exploiting this new (but short-lived) freedom, the majority were anxious about exactly what is expected of them (not least by Ofsted).

The confusion has been compounded by two pieces of research. First, a NASUWT survey found that 63 per cent of teachers believe the ICT changes will lead to a decrease in ICT teaching time and 37 per cent feel they will hinder innovation. Second, a study from the National Foundation for Educational Research suggested that teachers do not believe programming to be a high priority for the future computer science curriculum.

The decision by the Teaching Agency to remove the funding for ICT places in initial teacher training and replace them with bursaries for computer science will surely lead to a shortage of ICT teachers and adds another dimension of confusion to the mix.

So what happens next? Once the draft has gone back to the DfE on October 23 it is unclear what the consultation process will be. BCS/RAE will be publishing a draft in November – after they have submitted it to the DfE. 

BCS says that the DfE will review the draft during the autumn “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. It would seem sensible to expect some kind of ministerial announcement at BETT.

The key question occupying most teachers’ minds is whether their voices, experience and expertise in teaching ICT will be heard, used and valued in this process. Or will the curtailed timescale and the powerful voice of the computer science community mean they will be sidelined. That would be such a waste for ICT and computer science, not to mention for our pupils.



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