Computing curriculum inspires tech expert to retrain as teacher

Trainee computing teacher tells Computer Weekly why she came off 20-year career break to inspire next generation

Since the announcement of the new computing curriculum throughout schools in England, teachers from all departments have been asked to support its introduction due to a lack of staff specifically trained in computing.

After hearing about the new curriculum, Sylvia Goldsmith decided to come back from a career break and retrain as a computing teacher. She was awarded a scholarship from BCS, The Chartered Institute for IT and is now studying at the University of Roehampton.

Goldsmith recently took some time out of her teacher training to share her journey with Computer Weekly.

Administered by the institute on behalf of the Department for Education, the BCS scholarship scheme aims to attract trainee computing teachers. Goldsmith applied for the scholarship after a career break of 20 years.

With a passion for computing from a young age, she took a degree in maths and computer science after she left school. 

During her career, Goldsmith has spent four years building real-time embedded systems and a further 10 years teaching and consulting in industry. She also has a background in technology, specialising in structured analysis and design, and taught in these areas during her career.

Initially, Goldsmith worked at Marconi Space and Defence as a programmer, before progressing to a project management role with a staff of up to eight graduate engineers.

She moved on to work as in instructor and consultant in real-time systems analysis and design at Yourdon International and then as a freelancer running courses of up to 10 days across northern Europe. Goldsmith was teaching analysis and design when she decided to take a career break after her children were born.

Over the past sixteen years, she has run a baking business for farmers' markets, cafés and small businesses.

Now, at 53, Goldsmith wants to inspire young people to become engineers by “showing them how interesting and fulfilling computing can be".

Read more about England's computing curriculum

“My children did computing at schools and university, so I was aware how computing was being taught," she said. "My children’s teachers did their best to teach computing, but a lot was lacking. When my children went off to university I realised I could go back to studying through learning to teach."

Taking a full-time course in London, Goldsmith had to make the decision to move away from home to study. "I’m training in London, living in halls, as it takes six hours to get from Cornwall to London,” she said.

Originally from London, Goldsmith moved to The Lizard in Cornwall when her children were young. She is unsure as to where she will apply for a job after she graduates, as there are not many available in Cornwall.

Goldsmith said she was unaware of the debate growing around the computing curriculum in 2014.

“I didn’t know at the time that the new curriculum was being introduced," she said. "I heard it on the radio one day, and that there are less students taking computing at A-level and less women going into tech careers, so I decided I should teach and do this.

“A lot of computing teachers have no experience in computing at all. The ICT departments have grown out of design technology classes, so computing teachers are actually woodwork teachers. Some are also from the maths side, but not all. 

"It’s like the difference between a driving instructor and a mechanic. You wouldn’t expect them to know each other’s jobs. Because of this, there are still a lot of children who view ICT lessons as boring and will stop taking them whenever they can. There’s still a long way to go yet.”

As part of her course, Goldsmith teaches at a sixth form college in Balham. Training to teach at secondary school level, she spent time teaching 11-16 year olds last term and is teaching 16-18 year olds this term. She has about 10 weeks left on her course.

“Teenagers get a lot of bad press, but most are really good kids who work really hard,” Goldsmith concluded.

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