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A different kind of science

Kirsty Burridge discusses how Truro successfully introduced Computer Science at GCSE

Posted by Hannah Oakman | May 30, 2016 | Secondary

The introduction of Computer Science at Truro School started back in 2013. 

The new plan pledged to "improve the digital literacy of all students and provide access to appropriate ICT courses across all age ranges" and to "provide an opportunity for Computer Science, including programming for all students in the school from Prep year three onwards”.

Three years on, I am pleased to say that Truro School has a fledgling Computer Science department. Having recently introduced the subject as a GCSE option, we now have future plans to offer the subject as an A-level.

Computer Science vs IT: what’s the difference?

IT is more focused on using Microsoft Office and other existing applications, whereas Computer Science is much more focused on ‘getting under the bonnet’ and learning how to code and create such software. 

Computer Science skills can be used in a whole host of industries including gaming, IT management, software development and more. The demand for these skills seems to be constantly increasing, which made the introduction of Computer Science an easy decision to justify.

Step one: introducing computer science at an early age

The biggest challenge we faced during the introduction of GCSE Computer Science was ensuring that there was adequate student uptake on the course.

We were successful in securing Computer Science as a compulsory subject between years seven and nine. This started off with 35-minute lessons per week for year seven, increasing to 75 minutes per week in year nine. Further developments have seen the year seven and eight lessons increase to 50 minutes per week.

The year nine course is designed so that students complete a Level 2 Functional Skills qualification which certifies them to use IT in the workplace. This means that pupils are IT literate and have a qualification which can be invaluable in future study and employment, before even starting their GCSEs.

Step two: providing extra-curricular opportunities

Apart from solely relying on the introduction of Computer Science as a compulsory subject between years seven and nine to raise interest levels, we also decided to allow students to delve deeper into coding as an extra-curricular activity. Computer Science was introduced as a Wednesday afternoon club and, fortunately, it is one of those rare subjects where you have to ask pupils to stop programming and go home when the day has finished.

The Wednesday afternoon lessons give students an extra taste for what they can get their teeth into in years 10 and 11. Over the last few years, we have been using a range of resources in both lessons and during after-school clubs, including Raspberry Pi computers, online Scratch programming, Code Academy and a quadcopter used to film around the school.

Step three: getting competitive

In addition to after-school clubs, we also seek out regular competitions on both a local and national playing field.

At a national level, students participated in a Chromebook competition, making a short film about how they would use Chromebooks in our school. The Truro School Computer Science team finished in the top 10 of the entire country.

The broad spectrum of extra-curricular activities and competitions has stimulated interest in the subject with many students continuing to code further outside of school during their leisure time.

The result

Since launching Computer Science as a GCSE this academic year, we have 23 students on the course. This makes up around 20% of the year group, making Computer Science a viable GCSE subject at the school. As the course and syllabus becomes more established, we expect this figure to grow in future years.

Additionally, we are also delighted with the gender ratio, particularly in the after school Computer Science club where there is regularly a 50:50 mix of boys and girls in attendance.

Looking ahead to next year, the school has hired a full time Computer Science teacher in order to drive the subject forward. The next step in the grand plan is to offer A-level Computer Science; we are currently creating a further IT suite with this in mind.

Final word

I would love to what readers think with regards to the growing trend of schools introducing Computer Science. Do your students have a passion for coding? Perhaps you feel Computer Science is a step in the wrong direction for British schools? 

Alternatively, if you’re a Computer Science teacher, I’d love to hear the ways that you have stimulated interest in the topic.

Kirsty Burridge is the Head of ICT and Computer Science at Truro School. 

W:  www.truroschool.com

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