England's computing curriculum: How was the first term?

Teachers’ confidence grows as the first term of the English computing curriculum goes down well with teaching staff and students

One term in, teachers are starting to flourish with the computing curriculum, according to industry players who share how its first few months have fared.

From September 2014, the English national curriculum required computing to be taught in schools to children from the age of five until 16. This replaced the ICT syllabus and was intended to introduce children to computational thinking from an early age.

However, in the lead-up to the start of the curriculum, many schools said they did not have enough time or support to prepare for the launch.

Last year, a survey by MyKindaCrowd revealed that teachers were not receiving the support they said they needed to introduce the computing curriculum.

The survey found that 54% of secondary teachers believed their students knew more about ICT and computing than they did. Teachers said they needed the support of government and business if they were to deliver the curriculum. In addition, 74% of ICT teachers admitted they did not have the right skills to deliver the curriculum – and nor did they believe they had the time to acquire those skills.

End of term report

Now the first term of the computing curriculum is drawing to a close, Computer Weekly speaks to industry experts, to see if teachers were ready in the end – and whether they now have the support they need.

Rachel Swidenbank, head of UK operations at Codecademy, says: “We’ve been working hard for the last eight months, preparing teachers for the new curriculum, providing more training sessions and resources.

“We’ve seen a huge update since everyone went back to school.”

Swidenbank says teachers’ confidence has grown, now the curriculum has finally started: “It’s very clear how much more confident teachers feel, now they’re one term in. Children have realised the subject is not about boring technology, but are passionate and excited by the new curriculum – which is driving the teachers confidence too.

“Python is very popular at the moment, mostly for KS3 and KS4 and also JavaScript. PHP is less popular. HTML and CSS at primary level are also proving very popular.”

I heard a story about a young girl, who has reading and literacy issues – yet she is top of Codecademy, and that has really boosted her confidence

 Rachel Swidenbank, Codeacademy 

Resources to teach coding

In July 2014 Codecademy released free teaching resources to offer teachers and schools support in the lead-up to the new computing curriculum.

The training company’s Pupil Tracker feature helps with lesson plans and courses, and tracks pupils’ progress through percentage rates, a series of badges and last login dates.

Codecademy says more than 24 million people worldwide have taken its coding courses. It opened its first London office recently, after signing up two million Britons to its online computer programming courses.

Swidenbank says Codecademy is giving children the chance to try something they might not have considered: “I heard a story about a young girl, who has reading and literacy issues – yet she is top of Codecademy, and that has really boosted her confidence. She’s had the opportunity to try something new, and that could have an impact on her overall outlook.”

John Partridge, lead for computing at The Minster School, a secondary school in Nottinghamshire, says the computing curriculum has debuted well with students and staff. “Schools are putting the time in now, speaking about programming more and filling in any gaps," he says.

Children in learning find it hard getting it wrong, so we teach them – through computing – how to overcome problems, apply solutions and work out why it went wrong

 John Partridge, The Minster School 

Life skills

“Teaching more about where you can go with computing is a great thing. It’s about making a more tangible link with other subjects too, so they realise they don’t have to be a programmer. There is still a negative image around programming. It is letting them know that, whatever career path you choose, digital skills are important.”

Partridge says the school would like to be doing more text-based programming in the next three to four years, instead of just using drag and drop programmes. “More writing-based programming would give the students a better idea of what a job in the industry would be like," he says.

“Children in learning find it hard getting it wrong, so we teach them – through computing – how to overcome problems, apply solutions and work out why it went wrong.”

Partridge explained the school has been using Codecademy for about 12 months: “It’s been a really good resource so far."

“It’s worked best for our post-16 users and has a tracker to prompt students to do a bit more if they need to. There’s also a section for teachers to learn. However, digital staff are really hard to find at the moment.”

Scratch is free – so a lot of the students are going home and using it with their families

 Colin Tucker, Breakspear School 

Best use of resources 

Colin Tucker, deputy head teacher at Breakspear School, a primary school in Ickenham, agreed and says: “It’s about putting in an infrastructure that’s sustainable. The computing curriculum has had a big impact on staff development.

“The programmes previously taught – such as Windows Office – were widely used by the staff themselves, however not everyone uses drag and drop techniques or HTML. It’s just narrowing down what works for us and the children. And the staff have picked it up just fine, so far. Staff are feeling developed and supported along the way.”

Tucker says that, in the primary sector, there are a lot of resources out there to help – but it can be challenging to narrow down what is worth using. “We run a Code Club here that has been very successful in addition to using Codecademy. The students really get pushed in Code Club and staff drop in there occasionally to pick up a few ideas for themselves too," he says.

“Scratch, for instance, is free – so a lot of the students are going home and using it with their families. It’s then less of a culture shock for them to move into secondary level computing. We focus on projects where you look for problems and fine detail, such as debugging to prepare them for the modern workforce. It’s not about dimly lit rooms and blinking servers.”

This was last published in December 2014

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