Ofsted: How to prepare for a computing Deep Dive

09 May 2022

Is your school ready for an Ofsted Deep Dive in computing?

The NCCE recently welcomed Marc White, HMI Inspector for Ofsted and subject lead for computing, to give a presentation to the NCCE Hubs on Ofsted’s ‘deep dive’. Here are the key points he shared about Ofsted’s approach…

A Deep Dive looks at how schools teach knowledge, skills, and context, as well as curriculum considerations. Ofsted’s Quality of Education judgement focuses on three key criteria; Intent, Implementation and Impact.

It’s important for schools to carefully consider the content of their computing curriculum, or what could also be called their overall intent. It’s also vital to look at the sequence of implementation of different aspects of the curriculum. While the curriculum provides the progression model, for Ofsted progression means children learning what’s intended as set out in that curriculum.

The computing curriculum is really rich in knowledge and should not be so narrow that teachers only teach what’s to be assessed - it should be broader than that.

However, it should not be broadened to such an extent that it becomes a range of experiences and activities which detract from the learning outcomes as identified in the curriculum. What is important is that it is appropriate to the curriculum, is well-sequenced and that key content has been remembered.

It should be more than a fleeting acquaintance with important concepts - there should be a specific plan of what children need to know.

An Ofsted Deep Dive may also consider the time efficiency of activities in the computing curriculum. Do the activities provide good value in achieving curriculum goals? Are pupils given excessive amounts of time to experiment with new software or programming languages before being taught how to use them effectively? Are disproportionate amounts of time being afforded to activities such as design and presentation?

It’s possible to consider computing education as broadly having three categories of knowledge:

  • Computer Science, including algorithms and programming, data and systems
  • Information Technology, including digital artefacts and computing contexts such as how computers are used purposefully
  • Digital Literacy, including mechanics, searching for and selecting information and e-safety

There are hierarchical and cumulative considerations to be made when we think about knowledge in computing. For example, programming knowledge is quite hierarchical (it’s necessary to learn components of knowledge in a certain order) whereas learning about computing contexts is more cumulative i.e. the order in which knowledge is introduced is not set in stone.

Ofsted looks at whether computing in a school enables and embeds knowledge to ensure students remember it.

Computing also has a role to play in developing cultural capital for young people, which has been part of Ofsted’s criteria since September 2019.

Knowledge does not sit as isolated information in a pupil's mind, they’re not expected to remember every piece of knowledge. In some subjects, like maths, teachers want pupils to remember pretty much everything they learn and this is certainly true of some elements of computing. However, in many subjects, it’s not expected that every single detail mentioned in lessons will be remembered. Extra context is provided to give meaning to the crucial detail. It’s about building up a web of knowledge which boosts a pupil's capacity to analyse concepts.

Cultural capital and understanding contexts can help build that knowledge and skills. For example, in a lesson on image representation where the crucial detail is how images are digitised as bitmaps, the teacher might describe the timeline from the camera obscura to the present day. All of this provides an interesting context about digital imaging and gives pupils a greater insight into the subject.

This extra contextual knowledge can be ultimately forgotten, like excess liquid strained in a sieve. Teachers should ensure that the residue that pupils remember - or residue in the sieve - is the core, crucial detail. Ultimately impact and the progress children make is judged by whether pupils remember core content long-term.

A strong computing curriculum builds a solid foundation of knowledge, and a broad understanding of the context of computing.

Ofsted also has expectations of computing education for KS4 students who are not studying GCSE Computer Science, and in those schools which don’t currently offer GCSE Computer Science. The National Curriculum details these outcomes which Ofsted uses as its benchmark.

  • To find out more about the Computer Science Accelerator see here.
  • To find out more about the NCCE's Primary Certificate, see here.
  • For support to developing computing provision, visit teachcomputing.org, or contact your local computing hub based at 34 schools across England.