We don’t need no official scheme of work for Computing

It is my fervent hope that Computing At School (CAS) does not update its Computing scheme of work, that Naace does not update its own scheme of work, and that the two organisations do not produce a joint scheme of work. This is not to disparage the work they have done so far, including a very useful document giving joint CAS-Naace guidance on dealing with the new Programme of Study. Indeed, it’s my belief that between them they will produce an excellent scheme of work which raises my concerns.

If this sounds perverse, allow me to give my reasons:

Creative thinking

In my opinion, the worst thing for creativity in curriculum planning in recent years were the well-meaning QCA Scheme of work and exemplar materials for primary (elementary) schools, and the Key Stage 3 Strategy for secondary (high) schools. Many schools used these straight out of the box (an approach which, in my personal experience, was very much encouraged by the Key Stage 3 Strategy). That’s understandable, given the fact that many teachers of ICT were not experts in the subject. (Some had been given the job as ICT Co-ordinator on the flimsiest of evidence of expertise: in one case I know of, it was because the lady concerned had colour print-outs on her classroom wall.)

However, the way those things were originally intended to be used was to demonstrate what a good activity and approach to teaching looked like.

Predictably, as the years went on, exemplars etc that first looked fresh and invigorating began to look old and tired.

One good thing that has come out of the the disapplication of the ICT Programme of Study, and its replacement by a minimalist Computing Programme of Study, is a surge of creativity in the form of schemes of work, worksheets and other resources from the grass roots. (Join CAS to see what I mean at first hand.)

Unthinking inspectors

If there is an absence of ICT and Computing expertise among teachers, this is even more true of the Ofsted inspectorate. Again, I am not knocking Ofsted or its staff, because they can’t be expected to be experts in everything. In that situation, it is understandable, perhaps even commendable, for them to adopt a default position of expecting schools to follow the “official” scheme of work.

Should Naace and CAS produce such a thing, it will become official by default. The following conversations will take place in schools up and down the land:

Ofsted inspector:  Are you using the CAS-Naace scheme of work?

ICT Co-ordinator or Head of ICT/Computing: No.

Ofsted inspector:  Why not?

An innocent exchange, you might say. But it immediately puts the hapless teacher under pressure, because the clear implication is that you have to justify a decision to use something completely different from the (un)officially-approved scheme.

How do I know all this? Because it’s exactly what happened in the recent past. The QCA scheme and exemplars, and the Key Stage 3 Strategy, were all non-statutory, which is a way of saying they were offered a guidance, not as edicts. But you would never have known that from the way they were promoted in some circles, and by the fact that Ofsted inspectors (in my experience) were told to regard those resources as the benchmark.

It reminds me of an interview I attended many years ago, for the job of teacher of Economics. The interviewer started off by saying that the Head of Department was unable to attend, but that he had written down the questions she needed to ask. It became clear in a very short time that he had written down the expected answers too. So when she asked me which textbooks I would recommend for the course, I am afraid I did not answer truthfully. I had recently discovered an excellent textbook, superbly illustrated, written by a complete unknown and published by a small press. Instead, I reeled off the names of the most-used three or four textbooks in the field, in response to which she looked at her piece of paper and nodded approvingly.

The Naace-CAS guidance looks really good: succinct, informative, and not too prescriptive – and created by the community, I believe, as it originated as a wiki. Let’s hope nothing even more ambitious, more official-looking, is planned.