Developing primary computing education through subject-specific CPD

08 July 2022

Ofsted’s latest subject research review looked into factors that influence the quality of computing education in schools in England. Here, we will look at some of the points raised in the review, with ideas for how schools may address these potential issues.

There is lots of support freely available to schools for subject leads and teachers no matter how confident they are at teaching computing, enabling schools to provide a high-quality computing education.

Teacher subject knowledge

One of the key points the report raises is that primary teachers aren’t computing experts. This is hardly surprising given the number of subjects covered in primary. Research carried out in 2017 suggests that only a very small minority have a computer science qualification as their highest qualification. This lack of subject knowledge means that teachers may feel less confident in designing a curriculum and in knowing how to move children’s learning in computing. The review states:

“Given the importance of teachers’ subject knowledge, and the challenges they continue to face in developing this, it is important that school leaders provide sufficient subject-specific professional development to enable teachers to design and teach a high-quality computing curriculum.”

Our courses, aimed at either key stage 1 or key stage 2, help teachers improve their subject knowledge and explore ways to teach computing effectively. They can be done either remotely or face-to-face locally at one of our Computing Hubs. If you’re looking to improve your knowledge in programming, then our Primary programming and algorithms course will improve your subject knowledge and provide you with effective strategies for teaching this aspect of computing at primary.

If you’re a computing subject lead, then a leadership course will upskill your understanding of computing and empower you to support colleagues back in school. Have a look at the leadership courses available in our learning pathway.

Not enough equipment

Following concerns about subject knowledge, the review mentions previous research showed that teachers were concerned that the curriculum was too advanced for the available physical resources and budget.

This is something that is often heard when teachers are asked what prevents them from teaching effective computing lessons. If your school is struggling to teach computing because of a lack of equipment, then our Computing on a budget course will provide you with lots of ideas for how to get around this and ensure children are provided with effective lessons.

You can also access a physical computing loan scheme from your local Computing Hub. This involves being able to borrow a class set of Crumble Controller or micro:bits to use in your school. Join us on a short course where you can learn the basics of either crumble or micro:bit.

Digital Literacy

The review states that:

Teachers should not make assumptions about pupils’ prior knowledge within digital literacy.”

Teachers may assume that children who interact regularly with technology are automatically good at computing. This is not always the case, as many may have experience with tablets or phones but are not experienced with using laptops or PCs to create content such as films, audio, PowerPoint, and newspaper articles. Many children will be developing their digital skills throughout primary and the teaching of these skills needs to enable them to create a variety of content using different hardware and software on different devices.

This report explores the role of digital literacy within the curriculum. If you would like to explore how this may look in the classroom, then join us on one of our courses aimed at supporting teachers in KS1 and KS2. Taking place either face-to-face or remotely, the sessions will look at digital literacy, unpick what it is and how to ensure children progress in their understanding of how to engage with technology. Online safety, which is part of digital literacy, involves a whole school approach involving designated individuals. This short course supports schools in ensuring that they keep children safe whilst teaching computing and using technology to access the full primary curriculum.

Understanding code

A point was made that teachers may be trying to get children coding before they understand what a code will do.

Teachers might be tempted to expect pupils to write code at the very early stages of their programming education before they know what that code will do.

This may be in part to teachers needing support in understanding pedagogies around teaching programming or wider computing. How we teach computing shares 12 pedagogies for teaching the subject which support understanding of knowledge and skills.  Helping children understand code and what is does is very much part of the Teach Computing Curriculum resources. Ideas include predicting what a programme will do before it is run, adding different blocks to see how this changes what it does, or even looking at a mixed-up section of code and sequencing it so that it will run. These help children to understand what code is, before having to write code themselves.

We would never ask children to write a story without understanding how a story opens, introducing characters and setting, or without the knowledge of how to use basic punctuation and grammar. So why would we use a blank page when coding? Ideas such as these support children to further understand what a code is so they are not faced with the daunting task of having to write code before they understand what it does.

Subject-specific CPD

Another thread in this report is the importance of supporting teachers to teach computing effectively in schools. Teach Computing provides a high-quality computing curriculum designed by primary computing specialists, CPD on how to use this curriculum in your school and support for teachers whatever their level of computing confidence and expertise. Take a look at our primary pathways to find a course suitable for your needs.