Leading the way for coding in schools

England is now ahead of the pack in terms of computing education, says Matt Powell

The English computing curriculum underwent its biggest ever shake-up in September 2014: ICT changed to Computing Science and coding became a core component. It was seen as a long-overdue alteration, with many feeling that for too long students had been taught little more than how to use spreadsheets or PowerPoint, skills that were not in keeping with the rapid evolution of computing across the globe. This Digital Learning Day, we caught up with Matt Powell from Broadband Genie, an independent broadband comparison site, to talk tech and why coding in schools is such a great idea. Here’s what he had to say.

England is now ahead of the pack in terms of computing education. It is the first country in the G20 to ensure that every child is schooled in coding from Reception until G.C.S.E.

There have been estimations that over the coming decade approximately 1.4 million computer science-based jobs will be created but only around 400,000 graduates will be qualified to fill them. By introducing a syllabus that embraces the creativity of computing, it is hoped that future generations will grow up inspired to become programmers: helping Britain to lead the way in innovative computing as well as adding to the stability of the UK’s digital economy.

Alongside potential IT careers, experts are quick to stress the benefits of coding in other areas of the education system. Programming requires problem solving skills, critical and abstract thinking and can also be of creative benefit in literacy, numeracy, art and the Humanities. With coding running through all aspects of the digital world, from websites and apps to sophisticated household appliances, diverse programming proficiencies will become ever more sought after.

With coding running through all aspects of the digital world, from websites and apps to sophisticated household appliances, diverse programming proficiencies will become ever more sought after

The computer science curriculum gives schools and teachers fairly free reign over the choice of materials they use to deliver the content. They can pick which coding languages (e.g. SCRATCH, Python, JavaScript) to teach and decide how best to impart the set objectives.

The breadth of information that each student will be expected to learn over their school career is ambitious from the beginning: in Key Stage (KS)1 (ages five to seven) pupils learn what algorithms are, how they are used to programs digital devices and how programs follow precise instructions. They are taught how to create and debug simple programs and see how logical reasoning can predict their behaviour. 

From seven to eleven (KS2) pupils, amongst other things, use a range of software to design programs with specific goals, learn about computer networks’ abilities and how they function and explore how search technology works.

KS3 (11-14) moves on to design and evaluate abstractions that model the behaviour of real-world physical systems and problems. More complex levels of computational thinking and logical reasoning are studied; more programming languages and Boolean logic are introduced and creative tasks involving multiple applications and increasingly challenging goals are undertaken.

During KS4 (14-16) students continue to deepen and develop their knowledge in computer science, digital media and information technology, as well as increasing their abilities in problem-solving, analysis and computational thinking, via largely self-motivated projects.

Teachings in all four stages are underpinned by safe and responsible technology use. Effective delivery of this curriculum can only be achieved by well-informed and enthusiastic teachers. Not as big an obstacle for secondary schools which already have specialist IT teachers, but plenty don’t and they, and large numbers of primary schools, will have found this new venture daunting, despite money invested in teacher training by the Department of Education and various business organisations.   

Schools are turning to groups like Codecademy, which offer free resources and teaching programs. Codecademy’s website allows pupils to login to their account at home and continue the work they have been doing at school, giving them responsibility for their own progress and achievements. 

Despite the push towards greater numbers of pupils leaving school with computer science skills, obviously not all children will want careers as programmers. But a good grounding in coding will give them transferrable skills that will benefit both them, and the UK, in many other vocations.