Although this article relates specifically to the current provision of training in Computing for teachers in England, I believe that there are general considerations here that apply in other countries too.
The current situation
At the recent Westminster Forum conference on The Future of Computing in Schools, we heard that there is currently (December 2015) a shortage of Computing at School Master Teachers. These are the people whose role is to get teachers up to speed with the Computing curriculum by running training courses and generally contributing to a local community of practice.
Some time ago (I’m not sure when because the document does not seem to have a date on it) we were told that there were nearly 400 CAS Master teachers. The number now is cited at 300 plus. Either way, it is far short of the hoped for 600 CAS Master Teachers. There must be more than three or four hundred people in the country who could run training sessions in computing for teachers, so what’s going wrong?
I asked the question at the conference whether it could be the very term “Master” that deterred people from putting themselves forward. One of the panelists, Simon Humphreys, agreed that it could be, while Debbie Forster, of Apps for Good, informed us that some of her students had coined the term “Ninjas”.
In this article I’d like to explore this in a little more depth. I’m going to posit reasons for the shortfall, and then suggest ways we might deal with it.
Trust me, I’m an expert
The first problem is the term “Master”. I should think that very few people would step forward and announce themselves as Master material, especially in Britain. Most of us, I believe, still consider it unseemly to self-promote in that sort of way.
In fact, it wouldn’t even occur to some of us. A few years ago a training organisation contacted me and said they had heard I was an expert in assessing ICT and Computing, and invited me to run courses for them. I thought to myself, “Hmm, I suppose I am an expert in that field.” Strange as it may seem, although I’d been dealing with assessment matters for years, run CPD sessions on it and written articles about it, and even worked on a national project, it was only when someone said they had heard I was an expert that I consciously thought that I must be. Until that moment, I would never had put myself forward as a Computing Assessment Master, if such a thing had existed.
I’m not even sure I would now. Announcing that one is, or potentially is, a Master in something takes some doing I think. Every time I attend a talk or a conference about assessment, I find there is one thing at least that I haven’t thought of before, or not thought of in that way, or a research report I haven’t come across. That’s the thing about being an expert: you have an acute sense that there is a lot that you don’t know.
As for the term “Ninja”, that is hardly any better. Nobody over the age of 15 is going to present themselves as a computing Ninja. But aside from that, even without a deep knowledge of Japanese military history one would at least have a sense that becoming a ninja took years of training. In other words, “ninja” is just another term for “master”, and gets us no further.
If you are not put off by the term “Master”, the next barrier is the set of criteria for applying to become a Master. As it happens, there is flexibility, which becomes apparent when you read through the document. But if you stop dead after the first couple of lines, you won’t get that far.
The criteria state that the CAS Master Teacher programme is aimed at:
- Existing Advanced Skills Teachers and Excellence Teachers with a STEM background.
- Experienced teachers with a Computer Science background.
Let’s look at these.
Well, that excludes all the people who have been teachers, but whose knowledge and understanding of teaching and classroom practice is up-to-date, and who may have experience of a wide range of schools.
For example, anyone who works as an ICT or Computing advisor, where this role still exists, would not be eligible. Ditto anyone who works as an Ofsted inspector but is no longer a teacher.
This is just plain daft. When Local Authorities saved money by getting rid of their advisory staff, those people and their expertise and experience didn’t just evaporate into thin air. The insistence on being an existing teacher instantly cuts own the potential field of candidates.
An “Outstanding” issue
Another issue is the statement that your lessons have to have been judged by Ofsted to be outstanding, or good with outstanding features. There are several problems here:
- What if you have never been observed by Ofsted?
- What if you were observed before the "Outstanding" grade was invented?
- The criteria for "Outstanding" have changed over the iterations of the Ofsted inspection handbook, which suggests to me that the criteria are by no means some sort of absolute yardstick….
- … an impression confirmed by the fact that the Grade criteria specifically warns that they are not to be used as a checklist, and that the grade awarded depends on the professional judgement of the inspector.
So again, this excludes many teachers unnecessarily.
A STEM or Computer Science background
This requirement reduces the pool of potential candidates even more. Most teachers of ICT do not have such a background, but had they been teaching the old ICT Programme of Study properly would have taught programming. But that, on the face of it, wouldn’t count.
3 Possible solutions
By all means retain the title and status of CAS Master Teacher, to maintain standards and contribute to in-service training and community-building, but the net needs to be widened dramatically. Here are a few ideas.
A tiered scheme
Many membership organisations have tiered membership schemes. For example, the Society of Authors has full members and associate members. Some organisations have ordinary members and Fellows. Why not adopt this approach in the CAS Master Teacher scheme? For example, there might be the following categories:
- Computing teacher associate — for non-teachers who nevertheless have something to offer. For example, university students who are studying, or have a knowledge of, computing and who would like to provide training for teachers or, given the usual safeguarding procedures, help out in the classroom.
- Computing teacher professional — for those teachers who are teaching the subject but may not have a background in STEM or Computer Science, or who wouldn’t put themselves forward as a “Master” even if they did.
- Computing Master teacher — as already exists.
Student Computing Leaders
I think we need to recognise that, just as in the past some pupils built their own websites, now many will have created their own app or undertaken other kinds of programming projects. So why not have student computing leaders who, like digital leaders, can help out in the classroom or help to run training sessions, but solely confined to computing rather than “digital” in general?
One especially successful aspect of Apps for Good is that people can volunteer to be an expert mentor in a particular area, and then help out by, say, having a Skype session with a class or, in this case, a group of teachers. Such a scheme would bring in all the people who could make a great contribution but who aren’t teachers: ex-teachers, student teachers, local business people and so on.
There is no need to ditch the CAS Master Teacher scheme, just enhance it by adding more categories. There are loads of people who are able, and almost certainly willing, to get involved.
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