April the 16th is the deadline for responses to the Draft National Curriculum Programmes of Study. Much has been written and said about the creation of the Computing nee ICT programme of study and it’s creation process. I’ve written myself around the topic a number of times over it’s journey from the Nesta report to our decision to start a Computing GCSE back in 2011 (feeling pretty smug about that decision!) to the diss-application of the old PoS to our new KS3 curriculum.
Really I should respond to the proposals, so here in the interest of sharing and discussing are my (personal) responses to the official consultation. I’ll try my best to avoid the politics and keep our young people and their futures at the heart of this response.
The response below largely refers to Computing/ICT, much as I could be tempted into discussing other subjects.
1.Do you have any comments on the proposed aims for the National Curriculum as a whole as set out in the framework document?
It is sad to see English education being reduced to “core knowledge”. There is a real danger that an overly prescriptive curriculum, based on too much core knowledge, combined with the ongoing pressures of league tables and Ofsted will lead many weaker teachers and schools to cramming facts into our young learners. Will this develop the skills and competencies for future learning and work that they will require? I don’t think so. I’ll never argue that learning times tables and other key pieces of knowledge are crucial, but that’s not al there is to education is it?
2.Do you agree that instead of detailed subject-level aims we should free teachers to shape their own curriculum aims based on the content in the programmes of study?
In principal yes. But where there are extensive changes, the Computing curriculum being the most obvious, it is important that sufficient support is available for schools and teachers to create effective curricula.
3.Do you have any comments on the content set out in the draft programmes of study?
The Computing programme of study is a massive change from ICT. I’m in support of replacing much of the old PoS, as is evident in much of my previous writing. Programming and a more detailed understanding of how computers work is important.
The PoS that has been proposed seems to be heavily weighted towards Computing/Computer Science, at the expense of creative pursuits and digital literacy. Whilst they are clearly left in the final two points of the KS3 PoS, they seem to have been left in as an afterthought. Whether that’s the intention, it is certainly the appearance that is given.
Some of the Computer Science points are somewhat extreme. I’m not at all convinced that all 13 year olds need to understand 2 sorting algorithms and two searching algorithms, and I’m quite convinced that they do not need to be able to represent text or images in binary by hand! There is plenty of time for those students who wish to continue with Computing at GCSE level to pick up these more detailed skills at this point.
For those who will not work in the IT industry or go on to develop their programming skills in more detail this proposed PoS does not offer enough opportunities for learners to develop their skills of safely, creatively using IT to solve problems, something that every one of them will need to be able to do for the rest of their life.
4.Does the content set out in the draft programmes of study represent a sufficiently ambitious level of challenge for pupils at each key stage?
See answer to section 3.
5.Do you have any comments on the proposed wording of the attainment targets?
See answer to section 3.
6.Do you agree that the draft programmes of study provide for effective progression between the key stages?
Progression in knowledge maybe. But it is very unclear how this progression is to be measured. I’m no huge fan of National Curriculum levels as can be seen in our research work on Badges for assessment. But they have certainly served a purpose, particularly in core subjects. If we are still to be measured on the levels of progress from KS2 to KS3 and KS2 to KS4 then what will these measures be based upon? It’s not even clear if KS2 levels will continue within core subjects – but that’s a whole different conversation. As ASCL’s quality response suggests, educators are more than capable of replacing NC Levels with something better, but again we need the time and collaboration opportunities to develop these. The complete lack of clarity in this area is of real concern.
7.Do you agree that we should change the subject information and communication technology to computing to reflect the content of the new programmes of study?
What’s in a name? I have no issues with the change to ‘Computing’. Politics and policies have muddied the name of ICT so a change can’t do much harm.
8.Does the new National Curriculum embody an expectation of higher standards for all children?
If standards are measured in facts committed to memory by a certain age then yes. If standards mean skills for lifelong learning, and knowledge and understanding that develops at different rates for different learners, then I’m not sure it does.
9.What impact – either positive or negative – will our proposals have on the ‘protected characteristic’ groups.
There is significant danger that learners from protected characteristic groups will be turned off the use of IT in their future lives. The heavy focus on Computer Science will be a considerable learning challenge for them. Combined with the issues of delivering these (see subsequent comments on CPD) effectively they may well fail to progress in Computing, quickly become disaffected with the subject and leave school without basic digital literacies that they will need to access employment.
10.To what extent will the new National Curriculum make clear to parents what their children should be learning at each stage of their education?
The majority of parents will have little or no idea what the majority of the Computing points mean.
As far as clarifying which facts should be known by what age things should be relatively clear. Does that explain what students should actually be learning and how?
11.What key factors will affect schools’ ability to implement the new National Curriculum successfully from September 2014?
Three key factors put the success of the proposed KS3/4 PoS for Computing at huge risk of failure:
The content, as detailed in previous responses, risks turning many learners off the subject of Computing. Unless they are delivered with skills which leads on to…
Most schools in England will not be able to deliver the KS3 (&KS4) Computing programme of study from September 2014 without a massive investment in training. Our school has a talented ICT department however we consist of a Maths teacher, a Business Studies teacher and an unqualified ICT teacher (who fortunately understands programming). This is not atypical. I do not know the percentage of teachers teaching ICT at present who have degrees in Computer Science, or who can program, but I would estimate it at around 10%. That leaves approximately 90% of the ICT teaching workforce who do not know the content proposed in the PoS.
To teach well and deliver difficult concepts to students at an early age it is vital that teachers are experts in the field, that they have a deep understanding of the subject matter and hopefully experience of teaching it. This is all missing at present.
Continuing Professional Development (CPD) demands to deliver this PoS at all, let alone by September 2014 will be huge. Most ICT teachers will need to learn to the concepts behind programming, then learn a programming language, and then will need to learn how to teach that knowledge effectively. That’s hundreds of hours of training for most staff. Most teachers will receive around 25 hours of CPD a year on average. CPD budgets in schools are falling in line with overall falls in school budgets under the current government.
Where will the CPD programmes to support this proposed PoS come from? Who will fund them? Who will fund the supply cover required to back fill staff while they are out on this training?
All at once: Surely it would be sensible to stagger the introduction of the new curriculum. We will be elected to teach KS3 students this curriculum, which is very different from previously, despite those same students not having been exposed to any of the new Computing knowledge in the new KS3 curriculum. Are we to play catch up with everything that they would have learned in KS2 had this been introduced bit by bit?
12.Who is best placed to support schools and/or develop resources that schools will need to teach the new National Curriculum?
Local Authorities? Nope! Becta? Ha! Vital? Oops! Teaching Schools? Not sure the majority of them have Computer Science teams!
Joking aside, this is an issue. Following the issues over the drafting of the PoS are the relationships between the likes of Naace & BCS strong enough to develop the required support together? There will be plenty of people rubbing their hands with glee and offering expensive training courses and pre-packaged schemes of work for schools at a cost. Will these be tailored to the individual schools? Of course not.
The people best placed to support schools and develop resources are the teachers themselves. There is great creativity, ingenuity, dedication, skill and enthusiasm in the current ICT teaching community. Those with the Computer Science / programming skills will be all too happy to help. This has been seen for the past 7 years or so on Twitter and across teacher blogs. There is only so much work that these volunteers can do in their spare time, could funding be sought to allow them the time and space to collaborate. The Primary National Curriculum for Computing in ITT Expert Group’s work at Primary level is a great example of what needs to be started at KS3.
13.Do you agree that we should amend the legislation to diss-apply the National Curriculum programmes of study, attainment targets and statutory assessment arrangements, as set out in section 12 of the consultation document?
Really not sure about this. What will Ofsted be looking for in classrooms in this ‘fallow’ year? Is this just a sneaky way of introducing the new PoS’s a year early?
I’m not against the proposals. A balanced increase in Computer Science and a bringing up to date of the other areas of the old ICT curriculum are well overdue. However the proposals that have been produced do seem to be overly weighted towards Computer Science, based on what evidence and research is unclear. If this PoS is to go ahead then there are huge issues with it’s successful implementation in the proposed timescales. The creation of this document to this point has not brought the communities together and has left teachers in particular feeling completely left out of the process.