A positive start

Gemma Sharland explains that whilst schools have made a positive launch with the new curriculum, there is still some way to go

It’s been almost one year since the computing curriculum was introduced in primary and secondary schools. Have the past 12 months gone as expected? Were there any challenges you didn’t envisage?

Schools have needed to adjust quickly to the new curriculum expectations, and many schools are still searching for the best way to deliver the new content. Whilst I believe that many teaching professionals have accepted that the changes to the computing curriculum are positive and required, it will naturally take some time for them to feel confident in teaching new principles and associated vocabulary.

The school which I teach in has adapted really well to the changes, the children and teachers are enjoying the addition of coding and we have used a scheme of work which is well balanced and easy to use. It will, of course, take us some time to develop a completely effective assessment system, to achieve the best pedagogy appropriate to computer science and to fine-tune our planning. We are currently in a stage of ‘trial and error’, exploring new possibilities and seeing if they will work for us. Computing, as a ‘new’ subject, is certainly the beginning of something wonderful, however will need research and refinement for it to be implemented to its maximum potential.

The new curriculum is broad and balanced, giving focus to important aspects of computing including programming, multimedia, data handling, digital literacy and E-Safety. 

From your experience, what has the education sector learned over the last 12 months, and how has it changed?

At first, everyone was putting a lot of energy into the addition of computer programming and the other important elements of computing were perhaps put slightly aside as schools were getting used to the most dramatic change in technology learning. Over the 12 months, at least from my personal experience, this has become a lot more balanced and whilst programming still holds as a focus, there is now equal weighting given to other elements of computing. Coding has been a fantastic addition to the programme of study, and will help children to gain control and creative joy in using technology, however the other aspects of the new curriculum need to remain a solid feature of children’s technological learning.

How have schools reacted to the change, have they been onboard with it? Do you think they’ve embraced the changes and coped well?

Although I mainly have experience of my own school and how we have reacted, from networking with other curriculum leaders I would say that the overall reaction to the new curriculum is positive from schools. It has certainly taken some adjustment time, with many teachers having no prior experience of computer programming, however once they are comfortable with teaching the shifted content they have reported enjoyment of it.

It is always difficult for teachers to adapt to new initiatives and changes as they are already so pressed for time, so it has taken a little while to prepare and implement the variations from the old curriculum. Many teachers appreciate the need for change in our ever-growing technological world and schools have coped well with the additions to the teaching content.

And what about the students, are they engaging with their new subject?

Absolutely! The students in my school have completely engaged with the new computing curriculum. When I conducted a short survey across all year groups, a large proportion of children stated that computing is their favourite subject and every single child asked was positive about the introduction of coding to the subject. The fact that lots of programming knowledge can be taught through playing and creating games means it is naturally stimulating for children.

When teaching ICT from the old curriculum, children were often already proficient in the things we were teaching and lacked motivation in creating ‘another PowerPoint’. Now, computing has become a subject where they learn new and exciting things through exploration, play and discovery.

 Do teaching professionals now consider the skills the curriculum teaches are important to the future career prospects of children?

I believe so, yes. Most teaching professionals value the fact that technology has a huge role to play in the current and future workplace. Recently, technology-based jobs have seen a shortage of appropriately skilled applicants, leaving a gap in the industry which the new curriculum will equip our children to fill. The new curriculum is broad and balanced, giving focus to important aspects of computing including programming, multimedia, data handling, digital literacy and E-Safety. A child who is competent in these elements will acquire a range of relevant and useful skills to utilise in a variety of careers, not limited to just tech sector jobs.

The new curriculum states that pupils must be able to use and interact with information and communication technology ‘at a level suitable for the future workplace and as active participants in a digital world.’ Even if not directly using technological devices in their careers, they will be immersed in, as recognised here, a ‘digital world’. Therefore, I feel that it is important for teachers to realise that the skills that we teach children in computing now will also aid them to be responsible users of technology in their lives outside of work. The problem solving and logical thinking processes taught through computer science will enable them in many ways, outside the boundaries of technological devices.

From what we’ve seen over the past 12 months, what changes can we make going into the next academic year to ensure students get the most out of the new curriculum? What could we be doing better?

From my experience, there are many teachers who continue to feel unconfident with the changes to the computing curriculum. Programming, in particular, is one area where teachers feel they lack the appropriate skills and knowledge to deliver effective lessons. One way to combat this is to ensure that teachers are offered relevant professional training. Another is for schools’ computing coordinators to offer examples of planning, or schemes of work, which teachers can follow or adapt until they feel more certain of the content. Knowledge of computing vocabulary and awareness of a range of apps, programmes or devices which help to teach computing skills is essential for teachers to enable them to deliver the new curriculum to its highest potential.

Gemma Sharland is a teacher and the computing coordinator for her school in Bristol.