A busy year ahead for computing


For most ICT teachers, the year ahead will perhaps contain even greater challenges than the year just gone. Bob Harrison explains.

Just before the end of last term, Nesta highlighted what many teachers have been saying for a long time:  that most schools are just not ready to implement the change in the ICT national curriculum to computing with its much greater emphasis on computer science.

The Nesta survey suggested that “more than half of teachers are not confident about teaching the new curriculum”.

While there is a suggestion that there is less confidence among teachers in the primary phase, the survey still reinforces the widely held view, among many teachers and those in industry, that the challenge of such a monumental change has been grossly underestimated.

This has been despite the best efforts of the volunteers at Computing at School, the 40 teachers who formed the Department for Education’s (DfE) Expert Group to create resources, initiatives such as “Barefoot Computing”, and organisations such as Naace. Not to mention the many events and conference companies which have attempted to fill the knowledge gap.

Of course teachers are doing what teachers always do and that is getting on with it and making the best of a bad job by helping each other and sharing what works and where resources can be found.

They may draw some comfort from the fact that Ofsted will also need some time to adjust to the new curriculum – to ensure that their inspectors are up-to-speed with the new requirements and what evidence of outstanding, good and inadequate might look like.

HMI David Brown has been very active on the conference circuit and has produced some really helpful presentations, such as Inspecting Computing which he has shared (see further information).

The DfE and the British Computer Society (BCS), which was given substantial funding to ensure teachers were prepared and confident to teach the new computing curriculum, have been warned several times during the last year that not enough was being done to support teachers in preparation for the change.

A new body, the UK Forum for Computing Education (UKForCE), has now been established by the Royal Academy of Engineering to advise government on policy and practice regarding the computing curriculum, and the need for substantially more CPD is high on their agenda.

UKForCE chairman Chris Mairs has already stressed the criticality of this issue when giving evidence to a House of Lords inquiry into digital skills. He provided similar input to the review Maggie Philbin is undertaking for the Labour Party. 

However given the departure of Gove, Willetts, Truss and Hancock from ministerial posts, it will be interesting to see whether the new ministerial team (and more importantly their special advisors) will be quite so keen as their “tech-savvy” predecessors.

Mr Mairs said: “It is really important that teachers feel capable and confident when teaching the new computing curriculum. I am not sure that government yet grasps the full scale of the challenge and UKForCE is determined to do whatever we can to get teachers the support they need and deserve.”

But the change from ICT to computing is not the only challenge ICT teachers are facing.

The head of ICT role has traditionally been responsible for the national curriculum subject, procurement and maintenance of kit, relationship management with the technical staff or service provider, internet/online safety issues (incorrectly as this is a head/governor responsibility), not to mention the use of ICT across the curriculum (technology-enhanced learning). This is an enormous responsibility.

However, while the government’s desire to “get out of the way” so heads and schools can take responsibility for their own decisions might be appropriate following the top-down national strategies of the previous regime, when it comes to the pace of change with digital technology, this strategy is starting to look somewhat irresponsible.

That is why Mssrs Gove, Willetts and Hancock established the Education Technology Action Group (ETAG) just before they were re-shuffled. They asked Professor Stephen Heppell to chair a group of 25-plus “experts” to create some ideas and suggest some actions that government could take, or some things they could stop doing, which would encourage teachers to innovate in the use of technology so they could improve teaching and learning. 

While it has yet to be seen whether Morgan, Boles, Gibb et al will show as much enthusiasm as their predecessors, the growing momentum for digital technology to enhance learning for all subjects is gathering pace.

An interim ETAG report is sitting on ministers’ desks and some reactions are expected soon, especially as there is a general election just around the corner.

So the ICT teacher’s in-box will be full and yet the pace of technological change will continue. New kit will emerge, old kit will need to be maintained, new teachers will need support, established teachers will need more support, and headteachers and governors will need to be kept on their toes to ensure that the children are being prepared to be effective digital citizens and workers.

Children will become more and more “tech-savvy”, their digital lives and skills will become more complex, and their expectations of the education system will be raised.

Government ministers come and go. So do civil servants and special advisors. The national curriculum will have to be revised (let’s not leave it too long this time!). Service provider contracts will end or be renegotiated. Headteachers will leave and examinations will constantly adapt to the changing needs of industry and higher education.

ICT teachers and heads of ICT are the bedrock of these changes and will take all this in their stride as teachers always do. I think they should keep a careful record of the changes they have to cope with this year and use that as evidence for a movement up the pay-scale when it comes round to their annual appraisal. They will have earned it in my view!

  • Bob Harrison is a school and college governor. He is also education advisor for Toshiba Information Systems and writes for SecEd in a personal capacity. You can follow him on Twitter @bobharrisonset.

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