In a decentralised curriculum, where schools have freedom how to teach ICT – how can we be sure that standards will improve or that Computer Science will feature at all?
Our key Next Gen Skills recommendations to DfE following their ICT consultation (Jan-Apr 2012) focus on the need for Government, industry and educators to ensure that there is enough strategic leadership to ensure that Computer Science becomes a reality at GCSE in our schools. 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 the dis-application of the Programme of Study and Attainment Targets nationally carry potential downsides which must be addressed by Government) industry and educators alike.
Without appropriate discussion around direction, accepted principles, benchmarking and leadership the risks are that some schools could withdraw from ICT (and Computer Science) because the subject is not fundamentally seen (or assessed) as part of what makes a school ‘successful’.
The fear of tactical retreat from ICT altogether was very pronounced when Next Gen Skills talked to ICT teachers in a 3 hour session in March. Teachers feared the creation of an immediate “vacuum” by removing the statutory Programme of Study: put most starkly “the DfE haven’t created opportunity, they have created a black hole.” Anecdotal evidence also suggests that school leaders have interpreted the consultation as a signal to end ICT provision altogether. Without further support and general leadership, in the words of one teacher, “there is a danger of [ICT and Computer Science] being a Dodo subject.”
We strongly urge the Department for Education to set out a wider strategy for change when it responds to the consultation (expected early June, we hear). This change should chart how we move from the current situation, where schools teach an inflexible, set ICT curriculum to one where ICT is revamped and there is space for Computer Science with enough support for teachers to teach this new subject.
It goes like this:
(1) HM Government should set out a Vision for Computer Science outlining the proper role for government and industry in achieving shared outcomes. We suggest:
“Every child should learn the concepts and principles of Information Technology and Computer Science from primary school age onwards, and later to specialise in Computer Science if they wish.”
(2) If the statutory ICT Programme of Study and Assessment is ‘dis-applied’ by the DfE in September this year, as proposed in the consultation, then policy makers must build assurance by establishing a strategy to (re)establish Computer Science in schools from 2012 to September 2014 and beyond – including monitoring the take up of Computer Science across schools.
(3) The Route Map for government, industry and educators should also commit to the following steps:
- All pupils must be digitally literate before they leave school.
- Computer Science should be recognised in schools as a rigorous, high-status school subject discipline, on a par with Maths, Physics, or History. Like the other sciences, it will have a practical as well as a conceptual aspect and should be taught alongside compatible subjects like Maths, Physics, Art or Design.
- All school governing bodies should discuss how they teach digital literacy, ICT and Computer Science in schools.
- Together with industry, professional bodies, schools and universities the Department for Education should set an ambitious target for Computer Science in schools to be well under way before the end of this Parliament.
- This goal should be pursued with industry through both formal channels (the school curriculum and qualifications) and informal ones (e.g. after school clubs, hack spaces etc).
- Adequate investment should be secured to kick-start the training / re-training of a new generation of Computer Science teachers.