Why do I need computing, Sir?

09 July 2019

The title for this article is a question which was very common during my time as a teacher. A similar query some headteachers may have is “why should I include computing on the curriculum offer?” Hopefully, I can help answer both of these points.

The inclusion of any subject as part of the curriculum offer should rely on the same fundamental reasoning - the subject will enable young people to gain the knowledge and skills that will help them make sense of, and contribute to, the society and world they live in.

As such, if the subject has both clear benefits for a child's development and the result of not teaching it will impact negatively on society, then it surely needs to appear in the curriculum. I firmly believe we are at that point now with computing, and not including it as part of the curriculum could lead to greater issues in the future.

1. Society needs it

The society and world that is developing in front of us is increasingly reliant on humans being comfortable with the use and understanding of computers. Not every single person will work in a related field but it can be argued they will be in contact with someone that is. If we do not teach young people to be digitally literate, and prepared for the future, then society will suffer.

We are becoming ever more reliant on technology in every aspect of our lives. Many of the jobs that we have now will not be around in the coming years. Likewise there will be jobs that don’t exist yet that will need to be filled in the future, with AI, robotics, automation and cyber security coming to the forefront. With all of that in mind, it is imperative that children leave school with a good grounding of computational thinking and problem solving so they are prepared for opportunities that will arrive their way. The thought of a child leaving school lacking problem solving skills is troubling. And yet with only just over half of secondary schools offering GCSE computing in 2018, it is evident that priorities need to change, as well as our thinking.

2. Children need it

As an educator, there is nothing better to see than the face of a student light up when they have solved a big problem, be it fixing a bug in their code, managing to get a robot to follow a line around the floor, or making a sprite in their game do exactly as they wanted. The feeling of success after solving a problem that perhaps they would have given up on months or years earlier is one which often remains with that child.

Computing can be hands on, it can breed resilience. It develops problem solving skills, and it opens a student’s eyes to the digital world. This can engage, enthuse and cause a real spark in students, if taught in the right way. To achieve this, teachers need a combination of good subject knowledge and engaging pedagogical approaches. The NCCE offers courses covering both of these fields, and can help teachers to increase young people's understanding of how computational thinking can lead to success in life.

3. Schools need it

Is computing a science? A branch of mathematics? Engineering? Technology? All of these points can be argued.

“Over the years, pioneers have characterized the field of computing a great number of ways. Some argue that computing is a branch of mathematical logic, others argue that it is a design and engineering field. Some emphasize computing scientific nature while others its constructive character” (Sentence et al 2018)

What can’t be argued is that having a deeper understanding of computing and computational thinking will allow students to be better equipped in tackling mathematical, scientific or engineering based problems. Indeed, all STEM-based subjects can benefit from computing knowledge, and lead to improved outcomes for the schools that have it as part of the curriculum.

New OFSTED framework
The new OFSTED framework states that what is needed in schools is clear curriculum intent. From this, it can be inferred that all schools should be in a position whereby, if they are not already delivering a secure computing offer, they should have an intent to start or improve the delivery of computing.

The framework also states: “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.” Which in terms of computing, means they should be doing everything in their power to improve a teacher’s subject knowledge and pedagogy in teaching computing. For more information around how the NCCE can support schools around the new framework, read my colleague Steve Clarke’s blog: Does your curriculum compute?

GCSE Computer Science can counts toward the EBacc as one of the single sciences. For a student who has a love of computing, this can really help in their decisions to take part in the EBacc combination of subjects.

So why isn’t everyone teaching computer science?

To put it simply, there aren't enough qualified teachers who feel confident enough to deliver the course. A lot of the teachers that have been teaching computing are ICT and Business teachers by trade. When the change to computer science from ICT occurred the majority of the teachers simply had to make the leap with very little support, other than that of their local CAS (Computing at school) network.

A lack of confidence in teaching the subject has driven teachers to leave the profession and/or to poor results. Both factors have led headteachers and senior leaders to think about or to remove computing from their GCSE curriculum. This obviously results in a poorer, narrower curriculum, with children leaving a school lacking skills they need for the future. This is an outcome that no one wants and is one we can prevent.

The NCCE is striving to ensure computing is front and centre in schools and has developed a comprehensive course offer to ensure senior leaders have the options to include computing as part of their broad and balanced curriculum.

Find out more about how our courses can support schools:

· Lack of qualified teachers:
The Computer Science Accelerator programme is targeted at teachers who have little to no subject knowledge of computing. With over 100 hours of content available, it offers teachers from other areas of expertise the chance to retrain to teach computing.

· Poor results
GCSE Computer Science – developing outstanding teaching will help teachers to gain the pedagogy and skills to improve outcomes for their students.

· Low Key Stage 4 uptake
Creative computing for Key Stage 3 aims to equip teachers with methods and pedagogy that will ignite a spark in students and increase engagement at this stage.

· Lack of capacity to deliver computer science GCSE
If there is no option to offer GCSE computer science, there is still a need to be delivering it as some part of the curriculum. We have a course that will engage pupils at this key stage: KS4 computing for all.

Access our courses here

About the author:
Paul Thornton is a Network Education Lead for computing at STEM Learning.