DIGITAL EDUCATION SUPPLEMENT: 2017 RETROSPECTIVE ISSN 2049-9663

It wasn’t me wot done it, Sir! The depressing state of Computing as a subject

Come back!!

Come back!!

Who? Me?

Who? Me?

Ooops!

Ooops!

Well here’s a surprise. Apparently, students are abandoning Computer Science in droves. Many of us in ed tech have been warning for ages that this would happen, and that girls in particular were being put off from taking the subject. Now the BBC has picked up on it, in a report by Rory Cellan Jones entitled Computing in schools - alarm bells over England's classes

What I find galling is that nobody responsible for this situation has stood up and said “Sorry, we got it wrong”. They have pointed out that their preferred more balanced version of the Computing programme of study was rejected, which is true. I have even heard one person state that the reason for the emphasis on coding is that the media focused on it, which is dubious. That wasn’t the impression I had at various conferences — see, for example, my article The hidden messages behind the Year of Code.

he thing is, even if people are disappointed in the Computing curriculum as it turned out, and believe that the media has a lot to answer for, they were remarkably silent when they gave talks at conferences — or at least, the conferences that I attended. Far from decrying the new-found emphasis on coding, they (wrongly) dismissed the old ICT curriculum as not featuring programming at all. Let’s put it this way: none of them seemed heartbroken over the way things turned out. Perhaps, as I’m feeling charitable, they were putting a brave face on it.

 Whatever the rights and wrongs of my point of view, Government ministers, their advisors and advocates of Computing have had plenty of warning over the past four years about what might happen (see the articles referred to below). What needs to happen now is the following in my opinion:

1.       Undertake an urgent review of the curriculum. The Computing programme of study is not fit for purpose, unless of course the purpose is to deter most people from studying it while providing an army of ‘coders’ who may be of some use to a narrow section of industry.

2.       The review should draw on the expertise of teachers and ex-teachers, especially those of us who teach or have taught ICT, digital literacy,  and computing and know that all of them are necessary, not only for the economy but also for students. I realise that asking the real experts is a radical suggestion, but it’s really about time that politicians and their advisors started listening to the people who know, rather than the ones who say the things they want to hear.

The reason that many projects go wrong is that the people who draw them up and implement them fail to consult all the stakeholders, a point I made in my article The Pink Slip.

 Further and background reading

For further analysis and an historical background, here are some articles you might like to read:

 Coding for what? Lessons from computing in the curriculum, by Ben Williamson.

 My interview with teacher Kay Sawbridge concerning the scrapping of ICT. That was 18 months ago.

 A year ago I reported on the digital skills crisis, as flagged up by the Science & Technology Committee in England.

 Way back in 2013, while the new Computing curriculum was being discussed, Mirandanet warned against weighting the curriculum too much in favour of ‘coding’.

 Also in 2013, Crispin Weston proposed that there should be a greater emphasis on digital literacy, more rigorously defined, and fleshed out, in his article Computing in the National Curriculum. He also argued against the reliance on ‘facilitators’ to teach Computing — as did I in my article We need ICT teachers, not facilitators.

 Even Miles Berry, one of the advocates of a new curriculum, worried about the fact that it was leaning too far in the direction of coding, in his thoughts on the new curriculum.

 Peter Twining  provided a useful comparison of what was in the draft programme of study for Computing, compared to the final version.

 Finally, my article about why there is a shortage of computing master teachers and what we should do about it was much shared online, but it went completely unremarked upon by the people who (in my opinion) were responsible.

 As a general point, why we need is evidence-based education and not, to borrow from Dr Malcolm Kendrick, eminence-based education. 

 (See What I've Been Reading: The "Upmanship" Books for a quote about that.)

 See also:

 Importance of evidence in a post-truth world on the National Foundation for Educational Research (NFER) website.

Further reading:

The December 2017 issue of Digital Education featured an in-depth article covering Computing in education in England, taking into account the Royal Society, Ofsted and the budget.

For the full list of articles featured in our 2017 Retrospective, please visit:

2017 Retrospective: Index of featured articles