Whatever Will Become Of Computing?

Posted in Uncategorized by icttalk on February 5, 2015

Every morning, and I mean EVERY morning, I wake up to an email from Computing At School full of news about events, new resources and comment. There are clearly some lucky young people out there on the receiving end of all this. I mention it lest you think my mission is to be negative. It’s not. I simply want to remind folk to keep their eye on the ball and to describe what I think the ball looks like.

You see, despite areas of excellence and schools that are doing their best for now and hoping to develop year on year (so please folks don’t criticise until you can’t see progress) there are some who are still doing little or, in some classes, nothing.

I want to explore some possible reasons for inertia and the risk they pose to what should be a groundbreaking curriculum development that is Computing. Not surprisingly it’s a cocktail of interacting factors that no doubt vary from situation to situation.

Let’s start with Ofsted. Download a recent report for a primary school and find me a reference to Computing. You’ll find plenty of references to mathematics and literacy but Computing? If I had a small bet on every report since, say, October 2014 I think I might make some money. Perhaps this absence is a factor of the amount of time in school available to inspectors or maybe it has something to do with the availability of inspectors with the necessary expertise. In any event what messages does it send about the subject’s importance? Computing is statutory, right? Well so was ICT and look what happened to that!

Imagine you’re in a school that has annual SATS results that are always around the norm after months of effort and booster lessons etc. English and mathematics again. Where are your efforts focussed? I’m sure there will be a lot of schools that meet my description that have a really broad curriculum all the same but SATS are the things that end up in the local paper, and the in-tray of the local school improvement team. It probably looks as if I’m having a go at a perceived rather shallow approach to education in some schools. I’m really not. I was a teacher for 30 years and I appreciate the things that weigh heavily.

Teacher expertise is another important factor. Unsurprisingly our primary schools are not full of Computer Science graduates who have chosen teaching. Courses are offered and meetings arranged but why is take up sometimes so low? Believe it or not teachers really are busy. Don’t imagine that by simply creating another imperative time magically appears. It’s something that few people who haven’t worked in schools can understand. Teacher, surrogate parent, referee, advocate, therapist… Somehow time needs setting aside without taking teachers from where their head teacher needs them most; in the classroom with the children.

The volume of the training task is considerable too. It can’t be done on a single one-day course any more than you can run a course that supplies experience. Imagine trying to learn a foreign language on a one-day course. The idea is absurd. In the same way a completely new subject needs a lot of time and time is something many schools and teachers don’t have.

This has scarcely been a carefully managed piece of research, generalisable across all schools but I started to write it when the factors I have mentioned became too obvious for me to ignore. The content is based on observation and conversations with people who are at the sharp end. Let’s not allow an exciting curriculum development to become marginalised by default.

But let’s end on a positive. It can be done because it is being done in a lot of places and it’s a great subject. I’ve just had an email from someone in a primary school. It says, “I think I need to make my lessons more boring. They’re having way too much fun.”


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