Shahneila Saeed is Director of Digital Schoolhouse and Head of Education at Ukie, the games industry trade body
Almost four years since its implementation, do you feel like schools have adequate resources and skills to fully realise the computing curriculum?
In short, no not really. While a lot of work has been done to upskill teachers and a lot of progress has been made, it is clear that there is still plenty of work to do. According to the Roehampton Annual Computing Education Report only 52% of schools are offering the GCSE in Computer Science. While this has increased slightly, it’s by no means enough. Schools are hindered in their provision not just by their own priorities but also the tight budgets that those priorities are defined by, alongside staffing shortages. The number of headteachers that have asked me to recommend a good computing teacher is unbelievable. The well-documented teacher shortage is fast becoming a national crisis, but for computing as a subject the circumstances are far worse. There are some fundamental areas where work still needs to be done; it’s not all about teachers’ skills or the lack of them.
With the shifting digital landscape, do you feel any knowledge gaps are emerging that the curriculum does not fulfil?
The computing curriculum deliberately focused on the underlying concepts and principles that the subject is built on. It is for us as teachers to deliver them within the context of current and shifting technologies. So technically, there really shouldn’t be any gaps. Having said that, I don’t feel that all teachers have the full breadth of knowledge and understanding of what’s happening in industry to be able to fully utilise it in the classroom. It’s not an easy task. Unlike other subjects, technology and thereby computing, is constantly shifting. Yesterday’s lesson on future tech is today’s lesson on current tech – how can you possibly hope to keep up? I think that’s one of the reasons why programmes that bridge the gap between industry and the classroom are so important. Industry can have a huge impact on our computing education if we get them involved.
What are the central staffing challenges around the computing curriculum?
There aren’t any! I mean there aren’t any staff, or enough to go around at least. That’s the key issue. Teachers being pushed to their maximum hours means that they have less time to take part in broader opportunities that might enrich their computing provision in schools. It gives them less time for skills development, and potentially less time for innovation.
How can schools work to address the gender gap in computing subject enrolment?
By breaking stereotypes. Students typically have a perceived notion of how computing is, and what it’s about. They can draw you a picture of a computer scientist, most images will look the same, and they aren’t pretty. We need to break the mould, be more creative. An increasing number of studies are showing that girls lean towards more creative subjects. Computing is incredibly creative and has huge scope for creativity. But do we enable that creativity in the classroom? Do we make it more accessible and less daunting? Unless we do so, I doubt we are going to significantly increase the number of girls in the subject.
Digital Schoolhouse: digitalschoolhouse.org.uk