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Ofsted ‘should monitor computing success in schools over five years’

Education professionals say Ofsted should help them provide computing curriculum roadmaps rather than year-on-year assessments only

Ofsted should monitor schools’ progress in delivering the computing curriculum over the next five years rather than assess them now, says Dr Bill Mitchell, director of education for the BCS.

Speaking at a Westminster Education Forum, Mitchell said the computing curriculum could be more successful if Ofsted asked schools to produce a roadmap for delivering it.

The roadmap could be assessed against actual outcomes over the next five years to give schools space to adapt to curriculum changes and think about how to deliver them, he said.

“Right now, when Ofsted go in and inspect a school, they shouldn’t be beating them up if they’re not doing the best possible job in computing because the subject has only been statutory for a year,” Mitchell said.

“I think one of the best things Ofsted could do – and we have asked them repeatedly to do this – is to run an aspect survey to actually take a snapshot right now of what’s going on in schools and come back in a few years to see what has actually happened.” 

Mitchell also emphasised the need for computing in schools to help children learn the skills they will need for the future digital world.

“Every single child has the fundamental human right to be taught the knowledge and intellectual skills that mean they can make sense of the world they live in,” Mitchell said.

“Well, guess what – we are in a digital world. Children need to know how to make sense of that digital world and how to contribute in a digital society.”

When the new computing curriculum was introduced in September 2014, it made computing a mandatory subject for schoolchildren between the ages of five and 16.

Teachers have reportedly said they were not prepared for this change, and many think children know more about the technology used in schools than they do.  

But Chi Onwurah, shadow minister for culture and the digital economy, suggested that the term “digital native” – the idea that people who grow up in a digital economy will automatically have digital skills – is a misconception, and that teachers need more support to deliver the curriculum.

Read more about the computing curriculum

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“Digital has been becoming so ubiquitous, so pervasive, that there will be very few jobs that don’t in some way depend on digital skills,” Onwurah said.

“Recent analysis by Go ON UK estimated that if we stay on the same path as we are now, an estimated eight million people will still be without digital skills by 2025. So the need for digital skills, of which I count computing obviously to be one of the most important, is clear.”

Currently, 20% of the UK population do not have access to digital, and the IT industry globally predicts that it will need 756,000 trained workers by 2020.

Clare Riley, group manager of education relations at Microsoft, said digital skills would be vital for any future job, creative or otherwise.

“It doesn’t matter whether you want to be a lipstick designer, a farmer, a doctor, whatever you want to do, you’re going to need these skills,” she said.

“So we are desperate to get more skills of the right type into UK business. IT is an industry that’s growing fast – it’s important for our GDP.” 

But the skills gap may also be down to a lack of co-ordination between what the IT industry needs and what education delivers, said Oliver Quinlan, programme manager, digital education at NESTA.

“They want to give their students the best opportunities they can in life – that’s one of the core purposes of being a teacher,” he said. “Whereas industry and policy is perhaps thinking about students on a different scale, on a much wider scale in terms of how many people can we get into particular industries, how can we shape our whole country, and sometimes those two different scales can really come into conflict. That’s where we can run into issues.”

To tackle this need, Brunel University is building a science, technology, engineering and maths (Stem) learning centre at its west London campus to inspire young people to pursue Stem-based subjects with the help of industry partnerships.

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