Digital and Media Literacy in the National Curriculum

This article was written for inclusion in the transcript of a Westminster Forum conference on fake news

Fake news

Where does the issue of ‘fake news’ appear in the National Curriculum in England? Short answer: it doesn’t. A more considered answer is that it is implied in the wording of the Programme of Study for Computing, which is a compulsory subject.

For example, in the introductory section entitled ‘Purpose of Study’, we are told that:

“Computing also ensures that pupils become digitally literate – able to use, and express themselves and develop their ideas through, information and communication technology – at a level suitable for the future workplace and as active participants in a digital world.”

It is also implied in the specific contents lists for the different key stages.

For example, in Key Stage 3 the specification states:

“recognise inappropriate content”.

However, there can be no doubt that the emphasis in Computing is on the computer science aspects of the subject, as may be seen by how much ‘coding’ is promoted, not just for school children, but for everyone.

Despite this imbalance, many schools do teach online safety in all its forms, including the phenomenon of fake news.

Although some might say that fake news should be mentioned explicitly in the Computing Programme of Study, that would serve only to restrict the scope of the subject. The term ‘inappropriate content’ is so generic that it covers pornography, racism, fake news and anything else that may come along in the future.

In an ideal world, the English Programme of Study would be revised to explicitly include such skills as evaluating digital content, but that is unlikely to happen in the near future.

A practical way forward would be for media and other organisations to do two things:

One, make available a range of resources that teachers can easily and freely use to teach children about fake news.

Two, to relate the resources explicitly to statements in the Computing (or indeed any other) Programme of Study. The pressures on schools and teachers these days is such that if something is not seen to count towards league tables, it stands a very low chance of being taught. Whether that is a healthy situation for our education system to find itself in is a topic for a much wider debate.