Curriculum confidence is key

Teachers are keen to embrace the new computing curriculum, but only once they understand what is involved, says Clive Beale

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?

I think it’s fair to say that no one actually knew what to expect. Computing is effectively a brand new subject at Key Stages 1 to 4 (and has only been offered at GCSE since 2010). This change from ICT to computing happened very quickly and gave rise to this very different and technically-focused subject that very few ICT teachers were trained to deliver. The challenge was always going to be getting teachers up to speed with the new programme of study and giving them the basic skills to start teaching computing.

As long as coding is done within a context and with a specific purpose—make a game, write music or set up a wildlife camera for instance—then the engagement tends to be immediate and long-lasting.

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

Schools are beginning to see that computing is an exciting, useful and relevant subject – but increasingly there is a realisation that there’s no easy fix and that it’s going to take time to implement it in the curriculum. I suspect that it won’t settle down properly for several years as the first Key Stages to learn computing move up through the system. Only then will computing be an established subject.

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

Most teachers we have talked to have been very positive about the changes once they understand what is involved. The media and politicians have made a huge red-herring about coding (“Coding is the new Latin”, “All kids should learn to code” and so on). If you don’t program this is pretty worrying, it’s a scary message. But of course, computing at this level isn’t really about coding—it’s about problem-solving, collaboration and creativity.  Once teachers see that computing is not an arcane subject but a creative and cross-curricular tool they are keen to embrace it. It’s all about confidence.

The reaction of schools as a whole has been mixed and seems to depend largely on their existing set up and staff. To teach computing well requires more than a standard ICT suite—and may also need extra support from technicians—so some schools that are locked into certain hardware and software have found the transition difficult. And of course if a school has just one enthusiastic, experienced computing teacher then things are much easier. Primary schools are at a disadvantage here, both in terms of set up and specialist teachers.

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

I’ve yet to come across a student who doesn’t respond well to computing, it’s accessible to all abilities and ages. As long as coding is done within a context and with a specific purpose—make a game, write music or set up a wildlife camera for instance—then the engagement tends to be immediate and long-lasting.

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

It’s changing. Teachers who understand that the curriculum is underpinned by computational thinking know that these skills are important in general, not just for career prospects.

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?

More and better support for teachers in terms of CPD, resources and peer support particularly at primary level.  This is unlikely to come from government, whose response to date has been inadequate, so it’s up to third parties and the schools themselves to continue to do these things.

Clive Beale is Director of Educational Development at the Raspberry Pi Foundation. The Raspberry Pi is an affordable and tiny computer which can aid the teaching and learning of computer programming.

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