Computing in schools

Did you know that computing was part of the EBacc? I am sure you did. However, not all MPs appear to as clued up, as the evidence published last week as part of the House of Commons Science Select Committee report on the ‘Digital Skills Crisis’ revealed. http://www.publications.parliament.uk/pa/cm201617/cmselect/cmsctech/270/270.pdf

Since the MP unaware that you could study computing as part of the EBacc is a member of the Scottish Nationalist Party, she can perhaps be forgiven for not knowing the intricacies of the education system in England.

Whether the chair of the Committee should have allowed the evidence from the Royal Society of Scotland to appear in the Report as if it was from The Royal Society may be a less forgivable oversight (paragraph 59). I also am slightly perplexed about the reference in the Report to the fact that, ‘The Government has set targets for recruiting teachers in Maths and Physics’ and the requirement from the Committee that ‘They should also make a similar pledge for Computer Science.’ To the best of my knowledge, Computer Science has been treated in the same way as other Ebacc subjects in the 2016 allocation of training places. But, perhaps the Committee knows something the rest of us don’t.

The Committee held an oral evidence session with some witnesses from the school sector. The report notes that, ‘Not only do just 35% of ICT teachers have a relevant qualification but the British Educational Suppliers Association (BESA) calculated that 22% of IT equipment in schools is ineffective.’ They also noted that ‘Ofsted has concluded that the impact of digital technology on education standards has been varied, reflecting different levels of investment, access to high quality broadband and teacher support.’ They also interviewed the Schools Minister, Mr Gibb.

However, they didn’t seem to notice that computer science and its predecessor IT has failed to meet the Teacher Supply Model number set in each of the last three years and seems set to do so again this year. Perhaps the Science Committee might like to go on and hold a joint inquiry with the Education Select Committee so that can consider the evidence about IT and computing in schools in more detail. They might like to ask how schools are coping with the digital divide? I am sure a lack of access to IT resources whether because of poverty or through being located in a rural area without fast broadband speeds must hold back social mobility.

I agree with the Committee that the digital economy is of great importance to the future prosperity of the country. After all, TeachVac, our free recruitment site, depends upon high quality programming skills for its success. Hopefully, we can increase the number and quality of those teaching the subject to ensure every child is both taught the subject effectively and motivated to see its wider place in future society.

Finally,a little grumble, the fact that the Committee held its last evidence session in the spring, but it has taken three months for the Report to appear is slightly depressing. I do hope it doesn’t mark a trend among Select Committees to sit on evidence for long periods before producing their reports.

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2 thoughts on “Computing in schools

  1. In the early days of school computing (remember BBC B computers – they are now described as ‘vintage’?), I was IT coordinator (among other things). That primarily consisted of ensuring the 6 BBC B computers were available and working if other teachers wanted to book them. I also taught basic IT (word processing, data bases, spreadsheets) to Business and Information Studies Students. I had no computing background (who did?) and received training from the Microelectronic Development Unit which enabled me to keep half-a-step in front of the pupils I taught (some were more clued-up than I was).

    Could I teach computer science? I couldn’t then and I wouldn’t be able to do so today. My experience of coding was getting a ball to bounce across the screen on my Sinclair ZX Spectrum and programming a turtle to crawl over the floor (useless on carpet).

    • Janet,

      And I too recall BEd students being taught to program turtles to career around classroom floors. We also digitised the National Curriculum for the BBC B at Oxford Brookes. A massive undertaking in those days as was the Doomsday book project. then the government lost interest and it all went into decline. hopefully, they have seen some of the errors of their ways, but not enough trained teachers.

      John

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