Dan JellinekEditorFriday 13 January 2012

Don't just scrap ICT teaching, Gove urged

A clear framework for schools to improve the teaching of computing and classes for kids as young as nine are among measures now needed to back up the government's announcement it is to scrap the current ICT curriculum, education campaigners have told UKAuthority.com.

Education Secretary Michael Gove this week announced he was intending - subject to a 12-week consultation - to scrap the national curriculum programmes of study and associated attainment targets and assessment arrangements for ICT in England, from September 2012. "There is a significant and growing base of evidence, not least from Ofsted inspections, that demonstrates that there are persistent problems with the quality and effectiveness of ICT education in schools", Gove said.

"The ICT curriculum in its current form is viewed as dull and demotivating for pupils. Its teaching may not equip pupils adequately for further study and work, may leave them disenchanted or give rise to negative perceptions that turn them off the subject completely. At the same time we know that the demand for high-level technology skills is growing."

However, although Gove announced what he was intending to scrap, he did not announce any intention to replace them with anything, beyond confirming that ICT would remain a compulsory subject. Instead, he simply stated that "schools will be able to offer a more creative and challenging curriculum, drawing on support and advice from those best positioned to judge what an ambitious and forward-looking curriculum should contain."

His analysis of the problem at least is supported by a report published today by the Royal Society which finds that just 35% of ICT teachers are specialists, compared with, for example, 74% of maths, 76% of history, 80% of English, and 88% of biology.

In a conclusion whose thunder had already been stolen by Gove, the report suggests that "computing education in many UK schools is highly unsatisfactory", due to a shortage of specialised teachers; poor school infrastructure; and insufficient status afforded to computing in schools.

However the report does suggest several concrete actions, including targets to be set and monitored for the number of specialist computing teachers; training bursaries to be made available to attract computer science graduates into teaching; better information and guidance for school heads; a review of qualifications and curricula; and a framework to support formal and non-formal learning in computing including after-school clubs, school speakers, and mentoring for teachers.

The need for a framework for progress was also cited today by Emma Mulqueeny, director of public service "hack day" organisers Rewired State and a campaigner for better computing education in schools, as essential to improve the teaching of computing in schools. "I'm gobsmacked that Michael Gove has said 'yes, there is a definitely a massive problem', but there is a long way to go between recognising a problem and fixing it - it's not just about sorting out a GCSE and giving teachers the ability to teach their own thing", she told UKAuthority.com.

"There is definitely the potential now that schools can do the right thing, this is the right direction to be going in, but what the government needs to do next before it walks away from this is to create the infrastructure and direction.

"I know they don't want to be prescriptive, which is great, but there need to be a few suggested options like how to set up computer clubs, or bring in local businesses, targets for how many pupils should be able to code. There needs to be something from government that a headmaster can tick".

The government should also focus earlier, at junior school level, Mulqueeny said. She has set up an e-petition calling for children to be taught coding as early as year 5, with a view in particular to closing the gender gap in computing.

E-petition: "Teach our kids to code" http://epetitions.direct.gov.uk/petitions/15081