Ofsted: Teacher shortages threaten computing education

The school inspectorate has assessed the challenges facing computing education in schools in England, warning there are too few subject-specific teachers and too little teaching time to support the curriculum

Ofsted has warned that shortages of subject-specialist computing teachers “will have significant consequences” for children’s education.

The alert comes from a new review of computing teaching published by the school inspectorate, following similar appraisals of maths, modern foreign languages and geography.

A “low” number of specialists, compounded by “a lack of new teachers to improve the situation”, will have, Ofsted concluded, “significant consequences for the quality of education that pupils receive in computing if nothing is done to remedy the situation”. In 2018 and 2019, less than half of computing classes in secondary school were taught by a teacher with a relevant degree or above-level-3 qualification. Ofsted warned that teachers’ knowledge is an “important factor in high-quality computing education”.

Recruitment targets for computing initial teacher training have been missed every year since 2014 – apart from the brief teacher recruitment bounce in 2020/21. Ofsted suggests teachers receive enhanced computing CPD to “develop and maintain their subject knowledge”, especially as many computing teachers are “unlikely to be subject specialists”.

Ofsted warned that schools were allocating too little time to computing. Referring to 2019 government data, Ofsted said it was a “significant concern” that computing teaching time in key stage 3 dropped from one hour to 45 minutes between 2012 and 2017.

Elsewhere, the report recommended that schools do more to include programming in computing lessons. Students should “become skilful programmers”, Ofsted says – but it warned that several reviews in the past decade highlighted that too many students lack a foundational body of knowledge, likening their grasp of coding to “an incomplete patchwork quilt”. Schools must do more to address the “lack of organised knowledge”, which impacts the ability of students to develop problem-solving skills, considered a vital plank of the secondary curriculum.

Ofsted also warned that some assessment models are not fulfilling the requirements of the curriculum. A shift toward “generic competency-based outcomes” in assessments meant teachers are not evaluating whether pupils are able to apply their knowledge. The review said there is an “urgent need” for the sector to develop formative assessments for computing, which might help teachers better identify misconceptions and gaps in understanding. “Assessment and testing can have negative connotations,” the Ofsted review noted, “however, research has shown that regular testing can have a positive effect on learning. It can encourage pupils to study more, reduce their anxiety about tests and increase their engagement with subject content.”

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