Has the Computing Programme of Study been an unequivocal success? In my article It Wasn’t Me Wot Done It, Sir! The Depressing State Of Computing As A Subject, I said that many students were voting against Computing qualifications with their feet, and also that girls were under-represented. Moreover, I stated that the situation was entirely predictable (many of us indeed had predicted it).
I expanded on the article in my newsletter, Digital Education, by including a list of references for people to consult if they wished to.
Basically, the story is one of hubris.
Does it matter? Yes. Computer Science is a great subject, but it isn't for everybody. We need ICT qualifications too. Unfortunately, in terms of both school qualifications, in which ICT has disappeared, and the Computing Programme of Study, which many people seem to interpret as 'coding', choice has disappeared. What happened to the concept of a 'broad and balanced' curriculum?
In this article I set out what I see as the key milestones in the journey to where we are now. I have included quotes from the sources, and also given the source in each case so that you can check out the sources yourself.
A report entitled Computing at School: State of the Nation was published, in which Simon Peyton-Jones argued the need for a new Computing Programme of Study.
The report cited what it called “a precipitous fall in the number of students taking ICT or Computing courses over the last few years”.
A good question to ask then is: has the scrapping of ICT qualifications in order to effectively force students to study Computing if they wish to take a technology subject effectively reversed that trend?
The Shut Down or Restart? Report was published by the Royal Society.
Source used: Simon Humphreys’ CAS slideshare at
The report stated, in Recommendation 6, what the PoS SHOULD have done: counteracted the disincentive to teach Computing; AND cover digital literacy, IT and CS:
The DfE should remedy the current situation, where good schools are disincentivised from teaching Computer Science, by reforming and rebranding the current ICT curriculum in England … across the range of Computing aspects, e.g. digital literacy, Information Technology, and Computer Science"
A research paper by David Wells stated:
“The ICT curriculum in schools is in need of a makeover in terms of what is taught and also (significantly) how it is taught. But should this mean a large-scale shift to computing? The evidence in this article suggests that this could be difficult for the immediate future. It is also unnecessary. ICT and computing can both sit comfortably within an IT curriculum.”
Miles Berry, who was on the Working Party that helped to establish the new Computing Programme of Study, expresses grave misgivings about what was left out of the draft version submitted to the DfE. See, for example:
“Here’s another example of where the push to increase CS has, for now, resulted in a curriculum which is leaning too far in that direction, arguably failing to provide a technological education which has breadth and balance:
Remember that bit in the aims about ensuring pupils are responsible users of ICT? This one word has been added in place of a whole further aim in the BCS/RAEng draft, which attempted to address a more critical digital literacy, developing pupils’ understanding of the implications of computing:
Can critically articulate the individual, cultural, and societal impacts of digital technology, and know how to stay safe, exploit opportunities, and manage risks”
Read the whole article. By all accounts, the new Computing curriculum could have been — COULD have been — much richer than it is, but here we have yet another example of some people who are not teachers and who have never been teachers thinking they know better than the experts who are actually doing the job. It should have been clear from the outset that, by bringing in Computer Science by any other name instead of a more balanced curriculum, the subject would end up being effectively killed off for most pupils.
Peter Twining, who was also on the Working Party to create the new curriculum, wrote an insightful article entitled:
in which he said:
“Many concerns have been raised about the process that ensued, perhaps the most worrying of which related to the lack of involvement of teachers and a heavy bias towards computer science within the drafting groups.”
“… an analysis of the programmes of study for other subjects that come into force from September 2014 shows little evidence that digital technology will have any impact on what children are expected to learn. For example, the curriculum for English explicitly mentions “books” 60 times, but makes no reference to the “Internet” or words such as “digital” or “media”.
Indeed, suggestions that the word “texts” might be substituted for the word “books” in some places in the programme of study were rejected by the DfE.”
Does this not suggest that the DfE was under the illusion that the year was 1954 rather than 2014?
(In my article on the subject in my newsletter, I also included a reference to Peter’s line by line analysis of what was left out of the draft curriculum sent to the DfE.)
Undated, but probably 2016
“is the current narrow interpretation of computing as coding really preparing our students for the future workplace?”
It also noted that:
“Although there are some very high-quality resources for computing available, there still aren’t enough to support teachers effectively. Schools are struggling with the allocation of budgets and where to focus their continuing professional development (CPD). Indeed, there is a great demand for computing training courses in schools. Some schools will have an enthusiastic ICT teacher who will pick up the subject and run with it, whereas others will employ a single teacher or support assistant to teach the subject. Some will even focus on computing over a period of a week to ‘get it out of the way’ so to speak.
Computing is not yet being delivered in a consistently effective manner and the level of support offered to teachers has not been sufficient, despite the injection of funding to organisations, such as Computing at School. There simply aren’t enough professionals to support schools in developing the full range of their computing programme.”
I wrote an article entitled 5 Reasons There Is A Shortage Of Computing At School Master Teachers, And What We Can Do About It in which I set out some ideas for expanding the number of teachers who could teach Computing. This was shared widely on social media, but completely ignored by those who might have been able to do something about it.
The House of Commons Science and Technology committee reports on the appalling under-representation of girls in studying Computing:
“Despite long standing campaigns from Government and industry, however, there remains a marked gender imbalance in those studying computing—only 16% of computer science students at school are female (compared with 42% who studied ICT) and this low level of representation persists through higher education and in the workplace. A survey of more than 4,000 girls, young women, parents and teachers in 2015 showed that 60% of 12-year-old girls in the UK and Ireland thought that STEM subjects were too difficult to learn and nearly half thought that they were a better match for boys. Sheila Flavell from FDM Group told us that:
Computer Science is a turn off for girls [ … ] because it is deemed to be engineering; it is boring and techie, and in the main it is not for girls [ … ] If you ask a young person to draw a typical IT worker, they will probably draw a geeky fellow with glasses and spiky red hair.
88.If students have such ill-founded misperceptions, they need to be tackled head on and as early as possible in their school years. Embedding science and digital skills in the wider curriculum must be part of the solution. Many witnesses emphasised the need to address the gender imbalance. Simon Humphreys from Computing at School told us that:
If we have not enabled, motivated and inspired girls, as well as boys, that STEM-related subjects and computer science are relevant to them and provide an opportunity to participate in the workplace in something so transformative and life-changing, we have lost them. That is why the changes made to the primary curriculum for computing in computational thinking, creative problem solving and setting challenges prepuberty are very important.”
The report also noted the difficulties encountered in trying to recruit teachers who were qualified to teach the subject:
“As well as difficulties in upksilling ICT teachers, the Government has only been able to recruit 70% of the required number of computer science teachers into the profession. There are currently an estimated 14,000 teachers delivering ICT at GCSE and A-level, who will need support and training to teach computer science. In 2012, cash incentives were given to schools to release teachers from the classroom for training, but this central funding is no longer available.”
Gerald Haigh (RIP) wrote in Schools Week:
“A recent report from the science and technology select committee says that millions of UK adults lack the basic digital skills required in almost every job. Blimey! Who would have thought it?
Forgive me if I veer towards irony, but it seems clear that what we have here is the best example of chickens coming home to roost since my dad’s Rhode Island Reds retreated in the face of that memorable winter of 1947. The chickens in this case are clucking the slogan, “Computer science rules! Every child a coder!” and they all set out to cross the road back in September 2014, when the national curriculum subject called ICT was replaced, under the heavy influence of the British Computer Society (BCS), by “computing”. The intention was to produce more school-leavers able to write computer code, a skill crucial to national growth. What impact the change might have on the general level of basic digital skills – also economically important and in serious need of attention – was always much less clear.”
After citing Peter Twining saying that not everyone needs to be a computer programmer, and Bob Harrison stating (correctly) that the digital skills crisis was entirely predictable, Haigh concludes:
“although the report is required reading, you may have to look between the lines to find any real acknowledgment of the failure of the national curriculum to address the issues that the committee highlights. I see in it little attempt to distinguish “digital literacy” from “computer science”, and to recognise that each needs its own kind of urgent attention.”
Kay Sawbridge reports on the outcome of a survey of teachers she conducted. She says:
“I am extremely worried that as from 2018 we will not be teaching our future workforce and entrepreneurs the digital skills which are needed to live, study and work in their life after school. Universities expect incoming students to have a certain standard of digital skills, employers expect employees to have good digital skills and be proficient in the use of software packages. How will removing these essential skills from future generations help us compete with other countries? How will this decision effect the UK economy when our workforce does not have skills that employers desire? Will companies start looking further afield for employees?
I am not alone in my concerns; other teachers, parents, students and businesses have all voiced the same concerns. Why won’t the DFE listen? Are they so arrogant as to assume that they know best? I have asked them to answer this question through numerous emails, they have replied with unsatisfactory answers that never actually address the questions asked. Under the Freedom of Information Act I asked for copies of the minutes of meetings where this decision was discussed and copies of the redrafted ICT specs that were submitted.
All were refused.”
Source: ICT and Computing
Roehampton University publishes its Annual Computing Education Report.
This showed a marked gender bias in Computing compared with ICT, and much lower numbers of students being entered for Computing qualifications than ICT ones:
“At GCSE and A-level, ICT has a much more equitable gender spread than computing.
At GCSE, 1433 providers offered computing, which was taken by 32820 students, compared to 1886 providers offering ICT, taken by 93015 students.
At A-level, 697 providers offered computing, which was taken by 4890 students, compared to 804 providers offering ICT, taken by 6650 students.”
The BBC reports that in 2016 the numbers taking Computing qualifications in schools was low, and very few girls were interested in doing it. This was based on the report by Roehampton University:
“But academics at Roehampton University, who compile an annual study of computing education, have some worrying news. First, just 28% of schools entered pupils for the GCSE in computing in 2015. At A-level, only 24% entered pupils for the qualification.
Then there's the evidence that girls just aren't being persuaded to take an interest - 16% of GCSE computing entrants in 2015 were female and the figure for the A-level was just 8.5% . The qualification is relatively new and more schools - and more girls, took it in 2016 - but female participation was still only 20% for the GCSE and 10% for the A-level.”
The Roehampton study was also cited in Sec-Ed’s article, Concern over GCSE computer science uptake
Additional background information
Responses to the DfE’s consultation on changing ICT to Computing in the National Curriculum:
Research by Elaine Freedman.
For my views on what we should do about the situation, please see my article It Wasn’t Me Wot Done It, Sir! The Depressing State Of Computing As A Subject, or the longer version of that article in the 3rd July 2017 edition of my Digital Education newsletter. Click here to sign up, or complete the form below.