CPD experience an interview with Allen Tsui

03 March 2023

How did you get into Computing?

My interest in computing started when home computing emerged in the early 1980s.  My parents helped me buy my very first computer – the Commodore Vic-20.  I would spend many hours carefully copy typing lines of code from the many magazines published at the time.  Inevitably a misprint in the publication would mean the scripts would not immediately succeed.  Unlike today, where a post on social media can elicit multiple replies with advice and suggestions to any question, back in the 1980s a magazine misprint could only be resolved by patiently waiting until the next edition was published with its corrections to the code from the previous month.

As Computing or Computer Science as a school subject was still very niche and, in its infancy, I was only able to study Maths, Physics and Chemistry at A-Level.  My dedication to copy typing code from magazines meant a lack of devotion to school life.  This led to the Head of Sixth Form heavily hinting that I should perhaps consider full time employment instead.  So, in 1986 I began what became a near 24 year career in the Civil Service. My managers noticed my keyboard skills so delegated me the task of Data Processing on a standalone IBM PC XT in complete isolation in a room the size of the classrooms I teach in today – such was the technophobic perception about static electricity impacting on the delicate circuitry.  By the end of the Millennium, I became involved in the multi-million-pound project to create a secure WAN and completely digitise the workplace of 100 offices across England and Wales for 8,500 staff.

It was through this change management programme that senior officials at the Government Department I was working for noted how skilled I was at supporting the professional development of colleagues with acclimatising to the use of the ‘new’ desktop technology of e-mails and Intranets.  So, when circumstances led me to leave the civil service, entering teaching was an obvious career alternative given the skills people had commended me for. I had the opportunity to volunteer in different schools to gain the pre-teacher training experience required. This meant spending time in various settings where I fell in love with teaching Primary.

When did you start your career teaching computing?

I joined Willow Brook in December 2015.  Senior colleagues saw how passionate I was about enrichment, engagement and attainment through computing so offered me a role of Enrichment Lead since the school already had a subject specialist for Computing. Willow Brook is part of the Griffin Schools Trust which is a family of Primary and Secondary schools clustered in East London, Kent and the Midlands. The Trust’s proactive outlook on STEM centric learning meant supporting me to become a Raspberry Pi Certified Educator in 2016 and Willow Brook becoming a Computing at School Centre of Excellence. Given these established connections, when I was offered the opportunity to become the specialist subject lead for computing at Willow Brook in Summer 2020, I quickly completed the courses funded by the NCCE, as well as providing the evidence to be accredited with the Teach Computing Primary Certificate by early September 2020.

What is your experience of teaching?

As Willow Brook is a three form entry school, I am part of the ‘team’ providing Classroom based teachers with planning, preparation and assessment cover.  My first school year as subject lead was a challenge due to public health safety concerns that were in place at the time.  Far from ‘lost learning’, delivering a truncated ‘Covid-Catchup’ Computing curriculum in my first year as specialist computing lead, I saw first-hand how digitally literate many children had become from their experiences of learning online during 2020.  It was during my first year too that I was tasked to support the Year 13 Computer Science students at one of the Trust’s Secondaries.  Such is the strength of my subject knowledge from my previous professional experience, all the students had their Teacher Assessed Grades I recommended ratified, enabling them to secure their first choices of University, Apprenticeships, or post-18 education pathways in Summer 2021.

What did you think of your experience of the NCCE CPD? How did it benefit your teaching?

The Teach Computing Certificate scheme is just absolutely brilliant.  The courses I completed for that award helped me focus on how my teaching from 4 to 11 year olds should be organised, delivered and assessed.   It was through my experience of teaching A-Level, with the support provided by the fantastic network of Isaac Computer Science teachers which enabled me to go on to complete the Computer Science Accelerator Certificate in Spring 2022.  With such incredible professional development opportunities and so easily accessible too with face-to-face, remote, and live via video formats, I was able to complete the hat-trick of Certificates with the Teach Secondary Computing certificate awarded late December 2022.  Even though I might not be teaching Secondary Computing on a day to day basis, having all three Teach Computing Certificates means having the subject knowledge to be able to extend the learning for the most capable of those I have the privilege and honour of working with.  The NCCE CPD offer also enabled me to identify how the ‘intent’, ‘implementation’ and ‘impact’ of my teaching practice should be presented to showcase that “computing is everywhere for everyone…”

About the Author

Allen Tsui is subject specialist for Computing at Willow Brook Primary School Academy in East London.  He is also Community Leader for the Computing at School Waltham Forest Mixed Community and hosts the fortnightly #CASChat via Twitter @CASChat_UK.  Willow Brook is part of the Griffin Schools Trust of Primary and Secondary schools in London, Kent and the Midlands.