'Fragile’ computer science hit by CPD and recruitment woes

Written by: Pete Henshaw | Published:
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I'm loving teaching the new curriculum but funding for training has been woeful and the majority of ...

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A call has been made for a £60m CPD investment to boost teacher skills in computer science after a report reveals that more than half of schools do not offer computer science GCSE and that years of missed recruitment targets mean we have an under-supply of qualified teachers...

An “urgent” £60 million investment is needed to put computer science CPD on a par with maths and physics education.

Furthermore, action is needed to tackle recruitment problems and open up GCSE computer science study to all pupils.

Currently, only 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.

A key part of the problem is that the recruitment of computer science teachers continues to falter. In England, only 68 per cent of the recruitment target was hit between 2012 and 2017.

The stark findings are among those revealed in a report from the Royal Society. After the Reboot: Computing education in UK schools is a follow-up to its 2012 report Shut Down or Restart?, which raised questions about teacher training and whether the ICT curriculum was fit-for-purpose. The report is credited with helping to spark the redesign of the computing and ICT curriculum.

The new computing curriculum was introduced in 2014 and tackles a range of topics including coding, algorithmic thinking, machine learning and cyber-security.

GCSE entry figures for England, Wales and Northern Ireland show that the numbers taking computer science have increased from 33,607 in 2015 to 60,146 in 2016 and 65,205 this year.

Meanwhile, ICT GCSE entries have fallen from 103,342 in 2015 to 78,161 in 2016 and 69,008 this year – and are likely to fall further as the qualification is phased out.

However, the curriculum overhaul has been plagued with issues relating to teacher recruitment and training. After the Reboot reveals “pockets of excellence” across the country but warns of an under-supply of computing teachers entering the profession.

The report states: “A majority of teachers are teaching an unfamiliar school subject without adequate support. Moreover, they may be the only teacher in their school with this task. Governments must address a severe and growing shortage of computing teachers.”

The report recommends the creation of computing conversion courses for existing teachers, pointing out that there are 65 such courses for physics and 93 for maths. It says that schools should not have to pay to place teachers on these courses.

CPD is also a clear issue for computer science teachers. The report reveals that one in four secondary teachers take no CPD to enhance their computing knowledge. Furthermore, 44 per cent of secondary teachers admitted that they only felt confident teaching the early stages of the curriculum (where there is less of a computer science focus).

Many of the teachers in the report felt that the curriculum changes had not come with sufficient CPD support.

The report states: “To truly transform computing education, teachers need unhindered access to a structured and on-going programme of professional development. The programme must support teachers in all schools across the country.”

The report praises the work of the Computing At School Network of Excellence, which reaches about 20 per cent of schools, but says that its reliance on volunteers means it cannot meet the challenges identified.

Currently the government allocates £1.2 million a year to training existing computing teachers. The Royal Society is calling for the government to invest another £60 million over the next five years with the aim of training 8,000 secondary school computing teachers.

The report adds: “A fully resourced national professional development programme building on the Network of Excellence requires a ten-fold increase in funding from government and industry. This would provide computing teachers with a comparable level of support to mathematics and the sciences.”

The research, which involved surveys and in-depth meetings with computing teachers, has been conducted for the Royal Society by Professor Steve Furber.

Prof Furber said that technology is transforming the workplace, meaning future generations have to be able to “apply digital skills with confidence”.

He continued: “For pupils to thrive, we need knowledgeable, highly skilled teachers. However, computing teachers have told us that they feel the government rushed in a new curriculum without giving them the support or money to deliver it. The report paints a bleak picture in England.

“Overhauling the fragile state of our computing education will require an ambitious, multipronged approach. We need the government to invest significantly more to support and train 8,000 secondary school computing teachers to ensure pupils have the skills and knowledge needed for the future.”

I'm loving teaching the new curriculum but funding for training has been woeful and the majority of events that I have attended have been in my own time and lead to no recognised qualification. All existing teachers of computing need to be offered more than a little after school support from their local master teachers who themselves are working mostly in their own time. Schools had ICT teachers but have not been given the funding or provided with the training opportunities to ensure a smooth transition to the new computing curriculum. Science and Maths recruitment have been an issue since I trained as a Science teacher 20 years ago. External recruitment is not working in those subjects, staff retention is more important than recruitment, so why are we still trying to follow that model and recruit new teachers rather than retrain existing staff before they leave the profession due to lack of support?
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