Today, The Royal Society launched it’s report into computing education in UK schools. The title refers to the major curriculum overhaul that was implemented back in 2014, when ICT stepped aside and Computing (and particularly computer science) gained more prominence. Much of the 2014 curriculum was advocated by The Royal Society in their 2012 review of computing education – Shut down or restart? The way forward for computing in UK schools.
So, five year on from their last report and three years into to the new curriculum where do we stand?
The first and most obvious conclusion, which will be evident for anyone who has read or heard today’s media reports is that there are some fundamental issues in Key Stage 4. It makes grim reading; take up of GCSE computing is still low, there is a significant gender gap and a considerable teacher and skills shortage. There is also a chronic lack of investment in teacher training at all levels. It is only the work of organisations such as Computing at School and the Raspberry Pi Foundation which is preventing the death of computing teaching altogether. This is a shocking state of affairs in any event, but when you factor in last years House of Lords report on digital literacy, it’s clear that for whatever reason the government’s lack of attention on this issue is negligence.
What does this mean for primary schools?
The issues here are slightly different, and the Royal Society’s survey methodology masks the problem. In primary the question is not so much is computing teaching good, but is it being taught at all. The data analysed in the report was from zz number of schools who responded based on their teaching of computing. I’m pretty sure that there are many schools where coverage is somewhere between patchy and non-existent. As a rare primary computing specialist, I know that if I left my school there would be few if any teachers with any confidence in computer science.
Once again, it has been left to voluntary organisations like CAS to beat the drum. This cannot be a long term solution. The government must invest in computing teaching at all levels if it is to bridge the digital skills gap. With the economic abyss we’re about to sleepwalk into with Brexit, you’d think they’d grab this opportunity with both hands – this is still an area where we can be competitive globally, regardless of other distractions.
The solutions are clear, and should be implemented in the order below (i.e. lead with training, implement, then scrutinise):
– all teachers should be trained in digital literacy and must understand the implications of the digital skills gap
– Digital Literacy should be weighted equally with English and Maths, with Computing mandatory to 16, including at GCSE level
– Computer science teacher training needs to be significantly improved at all levels using the CAS approach, but with funding and support from the government
– There needs to be greater scrutiny from OFSTED, particularly in primary to ensure that there is good coverage.