The UK’s new computing curriculum is here: Are teachers ready?

The computing curriculum is finally commencing, so have teachers found the support they needed to prepare in time?

The highly anticipated launch of the new computing curriculum in the UK is finally upon us, but did schools have enough time to prepare and were they offered enough support?

From September 2014, the UK national curriculum will require computing to be taught in schools from the ages of five to 16, instead of ICT, so children can be introduced to computational thinking from an early age.

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 are to deliver the curriculum. In addition, 74% of ICT teachers admitted to not having the right skills needed to deliver the curriculum. Nor do they believe they have the time to learn the skills.

The past year has seen several announcements made by the government, charities and businesses in a bid to support teachers in the lead up to the start of the curriculum.

For instance, in April, Microsoft invested £334,000 in a programme to help train computing teachers ahead of the curriculum.

Last year The Department for Education (DfE) awarded the The Chartered Institute for IT (BCS) £1m to train primary school teachers ahead of the computing curriculum launch. In partnership with the Computing at School (CAS), the BCS aimed to equip primary school teachers with the basics of teaching computing through its Barefoot Computing programme.

These were just a few announcements made to support the introduction of the computing curriculum – so how are teachers feeling now the curriculum is commencing?

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Computer Weekly investigates whether teachers are feeling prepared and whether they received the support, training, funding and resources they were promised.

Desmond Deehan, head teacher at Townley Grammar School for girls in Kent, said: “There has been a vast amount of training on offer from CAS and Hub schools which both primary and secondary teachers will have found helpful.

“However, it would be difficult to judge the consistency of how prepared teachers across the country are feeling, as not all schools are fortunate enough to have specialist computing/IT teachers. Without a prior understanding of the situations in schools, it is likely that many schools will not be as prepared as others. Primary schools are certainly in a more challenging position and some secondary schools have no suitable teachers to begin with.”

Deehan said many schools have been providing support to partner schools in many ways: “For example, Townley has been supporting some of its local primaries through both teacher-led and student-led (computing ambassadors) sessions, which have proven very successful.

“This practice will grow in strength next academic year as Townley begins its role as a Digital Schoolhouse; with primary students visiting every week for computer science lessons.”

According to Deehan, despite resources being available to schools, not all can afford them: “There are some quality resources available, some of which are free through teacher resource networks, but many are expensive, and although they may be good, not all schools will be able to afford them. 

The availability of these is not widely known either. Offering computing qualifications at A-Level is challenging, both in terms of recruiting the right staff and resourcing the subject, as it is not funded any differently to enhance its affordability. Changes to post-16 funding means schools are funded for the number of students, not the subjects they offer and some subjects such as computing are more expensive.

“This will certainly have discouraged many schools from offering it and made it difficult for those that do. In fact, there has been no targeted funding for schools offering computing and the DfE seems unaware of the need. For instance, development funding for classrooms assumes all classrooms are a standard size but computing rooms need to be larger than average. Ironically, if the curriculum at primary and key stage 3 is effective, and encourages more students to pursue computing to GCSE and A-level, it may not be possible for schools to offer this progression.”

Skilling up teachers

Recently, Codecademy released free teaching resources to offer support in the lead-up to the new computing curriculum. The training company’s Pupil Tracker features help with lesson plans and courses, and tracks pupils’ progress through percentage rates, a series of badges and last login dates.

Teachers are excited and glad that the curriculum has been updated to be in line with the trends happening within the real world

Rachel Swidenbank, Codecademy

Headquartered in the US, Codecademy has been working with the UK Department for Education and Computing At School to provide teachers with a range of free courses and tools to teach computer science.

Codecademy’s coding courses have been taken by more than 24 million people so far. It opened its first London office recently, after signing up two million Britons to its online computer programming courses.

Rachel Swidenbank, head of UK operations at Codecademy, said: “We have had a lot of interest in our teacher training sessions in the run-up to September. Teachers have been very keen to become skilled in programming languages (in particular Python) and learn about effective ways of teaching the new curriculum.

“I think a lot of teachers have been dedicating time over their summer holiday to make sure they feel prepared when they return in September and I imagine this will continue throughout the first school term when we are hoping to run a lot more training sessions.”

Swidenbank said Codecademy has worked with more than 4,000 teachers throughout the UK, and has seen them make great progress: “Their confidence towards the lessons has increased every day. There are, of course, still mixed feelings regarding the new curriculum. On the one hand, teachers are excited and glad that the curriculum has been updated to be in line with the trends happening within the real world - and this gives their students the best possible chance for success once they get into the workforce.

“However, there is still a level of anxiety to start these lessons, as it is a new subject for many and it is felt by some that there is not enough established pedagogy for teaching computer science. The important thing that we stress to these teachers is that this will be an ongoing process. They have made great strides up to this point, however; introducing a new curriculum takes time and we will continue to work with these teachers and schools to develop and refine these lessons.”

Emma Cerrone, founder of training company Freeformers, said: “Anything to add more IT skills into the workplace is a good thing, but I’m worried the new curriculum will be seen as the silver bullet. It has to be pitched as a creative tool and it has to be integrated properly.

“Teachers are very busy and there is not a huge amount of support for them. It will take some time for them to get up to speed with IT and learn how to keep up to date. It will take some time to embed the new curriculum.”

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