Does your curriculum compute?

21 June 2019

Before you reduce curriculum time for computing, or drop the computer science GCSE from your option blocks, take time to consider how the National Centre for Computing Education can support your school.

The summer term offers some relief from the pressure of exams and SATs and, with a new Ofsted framework now released, I am sure many school leadership teams are turning their attention to how their school will perform against the new criteria. By now, many of you will be aware that the quality of education judgement is going to be measured around intent, implementation and impact. There is also an expectation that leaders improve teachers’ subject and pedagogical content knowledge. When considering these in the context of computing and computer science, school leaders might feel some trepidation. There can be no doubt that computer science has suffered from a confidence crisis, with many teachers of ICT struggling to make the transition or leaving the subject altogether.

A familiar dilemma

Shortly after having digested the new Ofsted Education Inspection Framework, I had an all too familiar conversation with a deputy headteacher about the difficult decisions he and his leadership team feel they have to make about computing in their school. He summarised his situation for me:

“Our computing teacher is leaving at the end of the academic year and despite advertising through agencies, re-teach, and the DfE website, we have had no applicants. The very difficult decision of taking computing off the curriculum is one that is drawing ever closer with the days that go by without applicants. Even with applicants, will the quality be up to what we need, or will it just be a body in front of the class? The recruitment of quality computing teachers is a very real struggle. Our decision is simple, if we can’t put our students in front of a great teacher, then temporarily, until we can, it will have to be removed from the curriculum. A real shame, but a necessity.”

I’m sure there will be many school leaders with whom this will resonate. In a climate where recruitment of teachers is difficult - and recruitment of computing teachers seemingly impossible in some areas - it is understandable that many schools have reduced the number of timetabled hours for computing or dropped it altogether, believing that there is no other choice. With the new inspection framework placing an emphasis on an ambitious intent to deliver a broad and balanced curriculum, this narrowing of the curriculum will be adding to the concerns leaders have when making these difficult decisions.

We have the answer

There is another way. The NCCE provides a cost-effective means of computing support for schools to help improve the knowledge and confidence of existing computing teachers or to help non-specialists convert to teach computing.

There are a range of face-to-face and online courses (some pathways lead to certification) and resources available for all key stages. Many of the courses carry bursaries and are free to schools in category 5 and 6 schools and are heavily subsidised for other state schools. The Computer Science Accelerator course is free and provides a generous bursary of up to £880 (an early-bird adopter bursary will provide an additional £870 for completion of online CPD and final test by 31 July 2019 and a high-profile presentation ceremony hosted by Google) for all participants from state schools.

Other schools are in a more fortunate position with staffing for computing but are concerned that outcomes are not as good as expected for the students taking the course, or are aware that the teachers, through no fault of their own, are teaching a subject which they have not been formally trained to plan or deliver.

The grade descriptor for ‘Good’ under Leadership and Management in paragraph 275 of The School Inspection handbook sets the expectation that teachers are given appropriate CPD opportunities:

Leaders focus on improving teachers’ subject, pedagogical and pedagogical content knowledge in order to enhance the teaching of the curriculum and the appropriate use of assessment. The practice and subject knowledge of staff, including newly qualified teachers, build and improve over time.”

Are you ready for ‘deep dive’?

I recently read a blog from teacher Tom Stevens in which he explains how subject visits worked when his school was a guinea pig for the new framework. It is interesting to note that five departments were chosen for what the inspectors described as ‘deep dives’. Whether five departments will be typical for the post-September inspections remains to be seen but this should certainly lead to a reasonable number of computing departments being closely looked at.

Paragraph 99 of The School Inspection handbook states:

“Inspectors will visit several lessons in which the same subject is being taught… Lesson visits are not about evaluating individual teachers or their teaching… inspectors will view lessons across a faculty, department, subject, key stage or year group and then aggregate insights as to how what is going on in lessons contributes to the school’s curriculum intentions.”

If your school’s computing department is selected would you be confident that the subject reflects your school curriculum and pedagogical standards? If not, then engaging with the NCCE will help you to improve your teachers’ subject knowledge and demonstrate your intent for a rich curriculum.

A subject worth fighting for

When I announced I was leaving my previous role as Director of Computing at a secondary school, the irony was not lost on my headteacher that a computer science teacher was leaving the profession to address a shortage of computing teachers. I did wrestle with this as well but ultimately the chance to help support schools to deliver computing nationally and help change the perception that computer science is too hard was an opportunity I had to take.

The future of computing on a national scale is at a crossroads, the early enthusiasm of the ‘new’ (now nearly five years’ old!) Computing Programme of Study has fallen away somewhat as the challenges of staffing, disappointing results (particularly when compared to GCSE ICT), budgets and effective CPD have hit home. Yet…this is a subject worth fighting for, there can be no substantial argument made against educating students to understand how the technology our social and working lives revolve around works. We know that cybersecurity, robots, AI and automation are going to offer increasing opportunities for employment and we should be giving our children the skills to fill these jobs.

There is a perception that the computer science aspects of the computing programme of study are too hard and, whilst it is probably true that GCSE computer science might never appeal to everybody (does any subject?), I have no doubt that with a solid grounding in computing at Key Stages 1-3 we will see a healthy uplift in numbers at GCSE. In my first year of delivering GCSE in my school I had 15 students, in my third year I had a cohort of 46. What did I change? Students were given a more effective and enjoyable introduction to computing in KS3. The only complexity here is developing the staff with the confidence and skillset to achieve this.

The NCCE is still in its infancy. Over the coming months we will have a number of computing hubs coming on board who will support schools by running local CPD and employing subject matter experts and computer science champions to work closely with schools in their regions. They, along with Computing at School’s Communities of Practice, will be available to offer ongoing support that will lead to subject sustainability.

In a fortnight where heavyweight boxing headlines have dominated the sports pages, I leave you with a quote from Rocky IV. Having defeated Ivan Drago in a gruelling battle against the backdrop of an initially hostile Soviet crowd who gradually warm to Rocky’s grit and style, and ultimately end up celebrating his victory (indeed, Ofsted might have commended Rocky’s intent, implementation and impact), Rocky shouts to a cheering crowd: “If I can change and you can change, everybody can change.”

Let’s change how we perceive computing.

Steve Clarke is the Senior Education Lead for Computing and can be contacted via email at or Twitter: @stevi_e_c

Explore the courses here.