Computing in the UK

Warning: sudden drop!

The Royal Society recently produced its report into Computing. Called After the Reboot, it advocates, amongst other things, more professional development opportunities to help increase the number of teachers qualified to teach the subject. Ah, but what subject? The report seems to use the word Computing, which should encompass IT, Digital Literacy and Computer Science, when it really means Computer Science.

I have to say, the report strikes me as an example of marking your own homework. After all, the Royal Society was one of the prime movers in the shift from the old ICT curriculum to the new Computing curriculum.

I’ve made copious notes on my copy of the report, and here are the bits I’ve highlighted:

  • In our survey, 44% of secondary school teachers only felt confident teaching the earlier stages of the curriculum where there is less of a computer science focus. Despite this lack of confidence, 26% of the secondary school teachers we surveyed indicated that they had not undertaken any computing-related professional development activities in the past year. Is that because headteachers are not allowing teachers to be out of school, a lack of professional development opportunities, or both?

  • A fully resourced national professional development programme building on the Network of Excellence requires a tenfold increase in funding from government and industry. Perhaps Justine Greening, the Education Secretary, will announce some extra funding at the Bett Show. (This was written before the recent Cabinet reshuffle, which I will comment on in a separate post.)

  • At GCSE (the qualifications which pupils take at age 16), there is a 20% uptake from girls, while Scotland also had a 20% female uptake at National 5 in 2017. At A level, there is only a 9% uptake from girls, and this has not changed for many years. 

Related: It Wasn’t Me Wot Done It, Sir! The Depressing State Of Computing As A Subject.

  • Today, 70% of students in England attend schools offering GCSE computer science, which is a positive development. However, although the overall number of entries continues to grow, only a disappointing 11% of all students take GCSE computer science . Moreover, the range of qualifications on offer does not reflect the full breadth of computing. It should be possible to study computer  science or information technology (or both). 

Related:An interview concerning the scrapping of ICT, with Kay Sawbridge.

  • Recommendation: Governments should work with higher education providers and the British Computer Society to develop and accredit preservice subject content courses to enable more people from a wider variety of backgrounds to become computing teachers. I think a more independent body should be asked to do this. Part of the problem is that in the process of denigrating ICT as a subject, many people denigrated ICT teachers as well. For example, one newspaper apparently described ICT teachers as the "runt of the teaching profession”. Coupled with the emphasis on computing teachers having a degree in Computer Science, it’s hardly surprising that teacher competence and confidence in this area is low. 

Related: 5 Reasons There Is A Shortage Of Computing At School Master Teachers, And What We Can Do About It.

  • Recommendation: financial support should be made available to schools to release staff to attend professional development opportunities. Good idea. See the links relating to the recent UK budget, below. (Please note, that section of this article has not been reproduced here -- please see my note at the end.)

  • Recommendation: Industry and non-profit organisations need to work with and through the British Computer Society and STEM Learning to provide a coherent offer of teaching support to teachers and schools. Definitely!

For a critical reaction to the report, see Shut down or restart? Again? Computing's woes. And here is another incisive article about it: After the Reboot: Computing Education in Schools.

This is an extract from a much longer article published in my newsletter, Digital Education, covering the recent Ofsted report as it related to Computing and digital skills, the Royal Society report discussed here, and the Budget. To subscribe to Digital Education, please visit the newsletters page.