On 11 June the Department for Education published its response to the ICT Consultation, setting out its plan of action for ICT and Computer Science on the National Curriculum in England.  The response mirrors many of the points we (collectively) have made, and some of the concerns raised – specifically our call for a change management approach to curriculum reform in this area.

DfE ICT Consultation top-lines

-       consensus amongst respondents that the existing Programmes of Study and Attainment Targets for ICT were no longer fit for purpose, and many teachers responding to the consultation welcomed the opportunity to develop and deliver more ambitious ICT provision, including computer science.

-       fears that the announcement on disapplication as signalled a downgrading of ICT we countered by a Government commitment to send a strong and clear message to schools about the continuing importance of ICT education.

-       acceptance by DfE that there needs to be more and better teacher training to support delivery of a more demanding ICT curriculum, and a greater focus in schools on continuing professional development for existing teachers.

-       disapplication will be an interimmeasure that will be effective from September 2012 until September 2014, when the outcomes of the National Curriculum review will come into force

ICT and Computer Science GCSE update and analysis

In January 2012 the Department for Education issued a consultation on the ‘dis-application’ of the established ICT Programme of Study, assessment and attainment targets in order to create space for a ‘de-centralised curriculum’ which could include Computer Science.   In our submission, Next Gen Skills agreed that the current ICT requirements should be replaced in order to introduce a new curriculum which includes Computer Science – but recognised that dis-application carried significant downsides which needed to be addressed by Government.

As expected the DfE has decided to proceed with disapplication of the current ICT Programmes of Study at all key stages from September 2012, and of the associated Attainment Targets and Key Stage 3 statutory assessment arrangements from the same date.  The DfE argues:  “In a system where more and more schools are embracing greater autonomy, we believe that those schools wishing to deliver more demanding ICT provision should have the freedom to do so now.”

However, the DfE made some important changes to its stance which safeguard ICT and Computer Science from the identified risk of schools actually withdrawing from ICT altogether in the period between the dis-application of ICT in September 2012 and the introduction of the new National Curriculum in September 2014 by signalling that new measures will come into place via the National Curriculum in 2014.  This means that ICT will remain a compulsory subject at all key stages, pending the outcome of the current National Curriculum Review in England.

Next Gen Skills welcomes the fact that the DfE has listened and that we now have the opportunity to shape future programmes of study with confidence – and also continue crucial discussions with the DfE and others on proper teacher training and support.

Reflecting the call for leadership, the Government has made clear to schools (correcting misapprehensions it had picked up during the consultation) that it considers ICT to be an important subject that should be taught to all pupils.  “As a clear statement of the importance that it attaches to ICT education, the Government has decided that ICT will continue to be a National Curriculum subject, with new statutory Programmes of Study at all four key stages, from September 2014. The Department for Education will look to work with experts from industry, IT organisations and the teaching profession to develop the new Programmes of Study as a national standard for all schools, whilst providing sufficient flexibility and scope to meet the changing demands of the subject.”

The rationale is set out in this key section (our bold, underlined):

“If, subject to the outcome of consultation, the ICT Programmes of Study, Attainment Targets and statutory assessment arrangements are disapplied it will represent an interim measure that will be effective from September 2012 until September 2014, when the outcomes of the National Curriculum review will come into force.  The status of ICT within the school curriculum is currently being considered by the National Curriculum review alongside that of all other National Curriculum subjects (aside from English, mathematics, science and PE). The Expert Panel for the National Curriculum review has already recommended in its report  that ICT should be reclassified as part of the Basic School Curriculum, meaning that it would remain compulsory for schools to teach but that there would not be a statutory Programme of Study or Attainment Targets; and also that requirements should be established so that use of ICT becomes part of all National Curriculum subjects. 

The [National Curriculum] Expert Panel report also recommends that the proposition for more widespread teaching of computer science in secondary schools should be properly considered as the review continues – echoing the Government response to the Livingstone-Hope Report which acknowledges the value of computer science and the contribution that the knowledge underpinning the subject makes to supporting economically important sectors of the economy. The Secretary of State echoed this in his speech at the BETT show on 11 January where he emphasised the importance of computer science as a rigorous, fascinating and intellectually challenging subject and his support for the development of high quality computer science GCSEs and curricula by universities and business. 

While the National Curriculum review continues, we believe we should not compel schools to follow the existing Programmes of Study that are viewed as lacking in ambition and not fit for purpose; that hamper development of rigorous, forward-looking ICT-related GCSEs; and inhibit schools from engaging with innovative ICT education initiatives, including the development of more rigorous computer science courses. This also supports one of the Government’s key aims in conducting the  National Curriculum review – that there should be less central
prescription and more flexibility for teachers to decide how best to teach.

The Department wants to ensure that those best placed to transform ICT education are able to do so – by removing barriers and facilitating innovative practice, and by working with the sector to encourage the development and spread of exciting innovations.  This should also help schools to take greater advantage of the opportunities that technology offers to improve teaching across the curriculum, both within and beyond the classroom. The effective use of technology has huge potential to support good teaching and help raise standards, but this is not always reflected in practice. This proposal should be seen as part of wider moves to free up schools to innovate and explore promising opportunities with technology. This includes the use of technology to improve teaching, management and leadership, as well as the use of professional digital technologies in lessons. We believe it is vital that teachers feel confident using technological tools for their own and their pupils’ benefit – and we are taking steps to ensure that teachers both receive the best possible initial teacher training and continuing professional development in the use of educational technology, and are encouraged to learn from other schools which are doing particularly well. Our ambition is for a system which is capable of learning from the best new developments and adapting to them quickly.

“This proposal marks the beginning of a journey, the destination of which will see all schools able to give their pupils an ICT education that will enable them to flourish and succeed as they move into work and/or further study.”


ICT and Computer Science at primary school

In another document released today, the Government also set out thinking on the content of the curriculum at a primary level.  In his letter to Tim Oates, chair of the Expert Panel on the National Curriculum, the Secretary of State stated that “we will maintain a requirement for the teaching of art and design, design and technology, geography, history, ICT, music and physical education across all primary years.”  Developing on the theme of school flexibility, Gove added that “Programmes of Study in these subjects will, however, be much shorter to allow for the maximum level of innovation at school level in the development of content in these areas.”  We expect this to be the approach taken throughout with regard to ICT (and Computer Science) suggesting a much more fluid system of technology education than before, but necessitating greater industry and employer involvement in schools – whether formally or informally.

Next Steps

As a statutory requirement, the Department for Education has now launched a public consultation on the draft regulations that will bring this decision into force. The consultation will run for one month, until 11 July 2012. The consultation document and details on how to respond can be viewed at www.education.gov.uk/consultations