The English National Curriculum draft includes one of the biggest shake-ups in the history of IT teaching in England. The new computing curriculum, which is close to being finalised, has a greater emphasis on computer development skills than has ever been seen before in mainstream, mandatory lessons.
The process of creating the syllabus received input from various industry bodies as well as IT companies, and the resulting syllabus has provoked a mixed reaction from all parts of the IT industry.
The policies that attracted most headlines were the primary school learning objectives, which suggested children as young as five should get to grips with creating and debugging programs and working with algorithms. By Key Stage 3, children will be learning about Boolean logic and learning about the safe and secure use of technology. Key Stage 4 sees a much more open syllabus, with students being asked to ‘develop their capability, creativity and knowledge' in various areas of IT.
Earlier this year V3 spoke with a number of organisations and companies for their thoughts on the first draft put forward by government. Now, we've gone back to speak to some of the same people again, and commentators, to see what they make of the latest syllabus proposals.
Steve Beswick, Microsoft UK education director
Microsoft has been supportive of the proposed curriculum changes throughout the process, and provided its own input to the syllabus. Beswick said that the more science-based approach will stand the UK in good stead. "We've been engaged in ongoing discussions with the Government on developing a more rigorous, science-based approach to computing at school," he said.
"By focusing more on the basics of computer science, I am convinced that we will see more and more children opt to take the subject further into their career. This can only be a good thing for the UK."
Joanna Poplawska - Corporate IT Forum
The Coporate IT Forum represents employers looking for IT users rather than developers, and they believe that there are not enough explicit guidelines regarding the use of basic IT software, and too much focus on development. "The Forum is concerned about it because of the emphasis on computing the knowledge of core areas of IT is now lacking," Poplawska told V3. "We would like to see IT being a core part of study."
"From the Forum's perspective the children should learn about the whole breadth of IT and not specialise too soon, as this would let children keep a broad portfolio of skills," she explained. "It's about employability in the future to have chance to get proper jobs."
Roger Broadie, education consultant and Naace board member
While Broadie conceded that the curriculum contains "all that it should", he warned that there was a danger of a lack of balance between more basic ICT skills and development skills.
"[It] could lead teachers and schools to allocate too much time to programming and not enough to developing ICT capability in the digital literacy strand and to the IT strand."
Mark A'Bear, Adobe UK education manager
A'Bear was positive about the new additions to the syllabus, but implored the government to go further to improve the creative side of computer use. "Creativity has become a core skill and the UK is considered a global leader as the creative industries is one of the country's fastest-growing sectors, so where is the curriculum to support the UK's leadership in film, games development and design?" he asked.
"We welcome government plans to consult with the industry before the 8 August deadline to ensure the future curriculum reflects the needs of both computing and creative industry. This will be essential if we are to effectively prepare our young people for the world of work through creativity in learning and teaching."
Eben Upton, Raspberry Pi Foundation executive director
The Raspberry Pi Foundation, which produces an ultra-cheap computer designed to open up computer programming to children and enthusiasts alike, has long pushed for a curriculum with a greater degree of practical development. Eben Upton, Rasperry Pi's executive director, told V3 that this draft curriculum could see the UK enter a great new age of computing education. "[R]equiring KS3 children to be able to 'design, use and evaluate computational abstractions that model the state and behaviour of real-world problems and physical systems' doesn't just take us back to the glory days of the 1980s but actually puts us ahead of the game again," he said. "I'm very much hoping that we can avoid any watering down of this document between now and the final release."
Dr Bill Mitchell, director of BCS, the Chartered Institute for IT
The BCS has been involved from the beginning of the process, and produced a large part of the original draft curriculum in October last year. Mitchell said the proposition was an "extremely good call, provided there's very good guidance to find out what to teach.
"Curriculums will specify these high-level principles, which have to be taught, and they get teachers to create engaging ways of teaching," he explained.
Naace ICT teaching association
Naace provides guidance and accreditation for ICT courses across the country, and broadly welcomed the new syllabus, but said that a lot of the curriculum would be open to interpretation, meaning that teachers would need a lot of guidance on what each of the learning outcomes actually mean. "These all open up a wealth of possible learning experiences and schools will wish to include opportunities to learn about the full range of audio, images, video and sound within their creative projects."
There's still a long way to go and issues to consider. For example, reacting to yesterday's news, V3 reader Mark asked: "Who is going to teach them? If they find or train staff to be qualified instructors, are they going to raise salaries to be commensurate with that of IT professionals?"
Indeed, the Department for Education's next challenge will be to retrain the bulk of the UK's primary school teachers as well as hundreds of secondary school staff. Earlier this year, the government was warned of a severe IT teacher shortfall, but responded with plans to train 400 'expert teachers' to retrain teachers throughout the UK.
The curriculum's proposals are open to further feedback until 8 August.