On the 16th of May, Ofsted released a report with the findings of their latest research into how computing topics are positioned and taught across key stages 1 to 4. There was a lot to digest, and the full report can be found here. As a company using computing on a daily basis, rooted in the education sector, it is fascinating to see how the topic is presented to future generations. In this blog, we’ll be covering some of the key points raised, and what it could mean for your school’s computing offering.

EYFS and Key Stage 1 & 2

Ofsted found that computing knowledge should be learned as early as possible, especially due to the rise of technology within the wider learning environment. Debates have been ongoing about the appropriate age to teach the subject, but Ofsted claims that a number of studies have shown that young pupils can succeed in learning core concepts. Some students can even grasp more technical aspects, like robotics or programming.

However, the largest obstacle identified has been a lack of technical subject knowledge amongst teachers, as expertise is a key part of effective teaching. This is likely due to IT remaining a competitive field from a professional perspective. A minority of IT professionals undertake their qualifications with a view to transition into teaching, which has lead to a shortage of properly qualified (in IT) teachers.

As IT is less of a specific subject at primary age, it seems hard to justify the time and cost of putting a teacher through an IT qualification. Unfortunately it seems that there is no concrete way to attract a qualified IT teacher, so for the moment, teaching at EYFS/KS1/KS2 will likely remain the same.

Key Stage 3 & 4

The report reiterates that every student must be taught computing at key stage 3 & 4. However, it also finds that those not choosing to study the subject for a qualification (i.e. GCSE) normally don’t receive many timetabled hours.

The Royal Society has put forward that 1 hour/week is an insufficient amount of time to adequately teach key stage 3 computing. It will likely be up to schools whether that is increased, but it will be interesting to see whether Ofsted decides to increase the required hours for the subject.

Photo by Bermix Studio on Unsplash

Despite the prevalence of technology within students’ daily lives, A-Level computing courses still see a much lower number of pupils than those choosing to study subjects like chemistry or biology.

Likely the last point above is fed into by the two previous points. A lack of exposure to the subject likely discourages students from becoming passionate about computing, putting them off further study. A large proportion of A-level computing students have likely developed an interest in the subject in their home lives before choosing to pursue it further.

With so many subjects to be covered within the school week nowadays, it’s an unenviable task to attempt to pluck more time for the subject from thin air. However, the constant need for more IT professionals due to the advancing influence of technology on our daily lives may see a shake up to how the subject is presented across the country.

Other Concerns

The report raises a large number of other concerns, specifically around gender, workforce and the curriculum itself.

The imbalance between genders is the most significant issue when it comes to diversity within the subject, with vastly more boys studying than girls. Ofsted surveyed 350 girls and 25% said the reason was that they thought the subject was boring, and 20% just lacked interest in it. This could be due to how the subject is presented and taught, or just down to their own preferences. Further surveys should be done within schools that are experiencing this imbalance to see how the subject could be better taught to improve diversity.

Across every key stage, Ofsted states that research consistently suggests a lack of suitably qualified computing teachers. It also claims that it is unreasonable to expect primary teachers, who teach a wide range of subjects, to hold specialist qualifications in all of them. However, this somewhat contradicts their observation that professional expertise is key for teaching at primary. It’s a catch 22 that will be difficult to fully resolve.

One thing that is clear is that CPD for computing needs to continue and should be a priority in order to give teachers the greatest advantage possible when teaching the subject. A lack of new computing teachers, qualified or not, makes it very difficult for schools to deliver a high quality of teaching in the subject.

A full summary can be found here, which also covers how the subject affects students, how the curriculum has progressed, and more. Ofsted are likely formulating more answers and ideas for how to improve computing education, but for now everyone just has to sit tight.

Our Thoughts

Although our school days are long behind us, we use computing skills every day in our jobs. Whether it’s basics like typing up documents or sending emails, or more advanced topics like programming, graphic design or launching ad campaigns, we’re using computing skills and devices every day. However, the tool we use the most is our brain.

IT and computing is much more than just inputting data on a PC and following a curriculum, although obviously this has to be done from a regulatory point of view. By being taught the subject in this way, students lose out on developing core, transferable skills such as problem solving and logical thinking. This tightly regulated method of teaching minimises the chance for creativity or sparks of inspiration, which in turn likely dulls the uptake of the subject at higher levels.

This is compacted by an over-reliance on technology and devices that don’t stimulate thought and creativity. There is an abundance of tech these days that encourages this, including Raspberry Pi, Arduino, Kano PCs, BBC Microbits and more. Bringing these into the classroom where possible allows kids to be creative and realise the possibilities that a career in computing could bring.

However, due to the fact that the curriculum is laid out and students must learn it, these changes need to come from the top and be incorporated into it, rather than expecting individual schools and teachers to make these changes and potentially damage their students’ grades.

Computing is much more than just using a computer, it involves a lot of creativity, problem solving, deep thinking and more – skills which aren’t allowed to flourish within the current teaching framework. We hope to see Ofsted make recommendations to the DfE to rework the curriculum and inspire the next generation of computing and IT professionals!

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