A broad curriculum for tomorrow

Chris Sharples gives his conclusions and recommendations for the new computing curriculum

Chris is the Head of ICT at a North Yorkshire Comprehensive and a passionate advocate of digital skills for young people. Following his attendance at an industry debate on the digital divide in education, here he gives his conclusions and recommendations for the new computing curriculum, which he says should include computer science, but should not be taken over by it.

At a Year 9 options evening recently, I explained the skills I think that employers value. I highlighted the ones that my students have developed the most over the last few years though our project-based ICT course – helping each other; being confident; being creative; being problem solvers; and being resilient in the face of difficulties. Ex-students have returned to give talks, telling our students that ICT skills, time management and learning to work independently have been crucial for when they have gone into higher education and into employment.

Unlike Michael Gove, I don’t recognise our current ICT curriculum as being ‘boring’ or ‘clearly inadequate’, especially when our ICT lessons have been judged outstanding twice by Ofsted. However, the new computing curriculum must meet the needs of the current child and the future working adult that we’re teaching. I’m talking about a computing and not a computer science curriculum here – the two words are used interchangeably and I see this as a mistake. We need a broad and balanced computing curriculum to educate all our students for the world we live in, as well as offering pathways for our students into a spread of IT industries.

The computing curriculum in September 2014 is defined as a combination of three elements: computer science, information technology and digital literacy.

I really believe my students need a spiral of all three elements in the new curriculum and we need exam boards to respond to this because however inspiring and challenging a school’s KS3 scheme of learning, we need exam qualifications at KS4 and 5. I talk to many parents who are employers, and even ‘boring’ word processing and spreadsheet skills are needed in the workplace, much more frequently than an ability to code at least. The current exam system based on writing still operates in a parallel universe when compared to so much business and commerce operating electronically.

So if the current system does not deliver all the skills that employers need, we need to look at alternatives to run alongside it. For the last three years we, along with other schools nationally, have been developing students as Digital Leaders, supporting teachers and other students to improve learning with digital technologies in our school. These skills and competencies are outside the current examinable curriculum. These students deserve a mechanism to be able to showcase these achievements alongside their examination certificates. For example, this week one of my Digital Leaders was the first to convert a Digital Leader’s badge into an Open Badge. This links the skills and competencies to online evidence, which a Digital Leader can take with them wherever they go after leaving school.

All of us, including parents, need clear explanations as to the pathways into ICT related jobs in the future. We need to make more use of websites such as BigAmbition, which has case studies of real people in real digital careers. 

We need more opportunities for teachers to mix with industry colleagues; especially if we haven’t been in industry ourselves. One of my teacher colleagues who worked previously at board level for a large supermarket chain suggest we should look at teacher work experience as well as student work experience. With the opportunities we have to connect online, we should be looking to combine our personal learning networks.

We need a balance to how we integrate ICT into the curriculum, both as computing and how it is used in other areas. Do we really want to remove communication and collaboration from the debate when social media is changing the world? And how do we help young people become confident and competent learners to work safely in such a world if we do not engage with it in school? 

Chris was a lead speaker at the Stone Group debate on the current national e-skills shortage, held in London earlier this year.