With a £1 million 'computing' training scheme in the wings, it looks like too little too late
MatrixThe joy of coding, Hollywood style: scene from 'The Matrix'The Department for Education (DfE) is confident that the teaching workforce in English schools can cope with the extra demands to teach computer science in the controversial new Computing curriculum. And it is pinning its hopes on the British Computer Society (BCS) and Computing at School (CaS) to fill any shortfalls in requirements for CPD (continuing professional development). An announcement of £1 million from the DfE for a CaS CPD scheme is expected.

Nine questions on workforce capability for the new curriculum were submitted to the Teaching Agency via the DfE press office on March 25. The replies came more than two weeks later, on April 12 (see below). 

However, the confidence claimed in the replies is not widely shared, as responses from the key organisation for teacher education for ICT/Computing, ITTE, and from MirandaNet show. And disquiet of the wider reforms has spread to headteachers (see TES, "Gove's curriculum could be 'chaos', leaders warn").

Answers were not particularly forthcoming on the questions regarding teacher numbers where, for example, "sufficient" is a reply to a request for real numbers. What is clear is that 'new teacher' numbers you would expect to be going up to deal with increased professional demands are, in fact, going the other way – down.

Existing teachers of ICT 'very worried' about new curriculum

Other data sources, which are also available to the department, show that there is no room for complacency. The department's own figures reveal training places for just 835 computer science teachers for 2013/14 for some 20,000 schools, and according to the TA the number of teachers registering for ICT in 2012/13 was 500, a drop of about one third from 740 in 2011/12. 

Andy ConnellAndy Connell: 'less confident'Incoming chair of the ITTE (Information Technology in Teacher Education) Andrew Connell says, "ITTE is less confident than the Teaching Agency (TA) that we will have the necessary work force in place to effectively deliver the new Computing Curriculum for 2014. We believe it will take longer – a view reflected by the BCS itself in its submission to the consultation on the new curriculum. 

Responding to the TA's dual assertion that there are already enough ICT teachers and they will be complemented by teachers who are studying computer science, Andy Connell, who is director of subject knowledge enhancement provision and ITE computer science and ICT subject leader at Keele University, commented: "Assuming the new curriculum remains largely as it is presented in the current consultation, the significant increase in the amount of ‘Computer Science’ will present a significant challenge to the existing workforce.

"There is evidence from discussions with teachers, via social media, meetings, conferences and suchlike, to suggest that many existing teachers of ICT are very worried about delivering the new curriculum if it continues to have such a high computer science content. We do know that many current ICT teachers are ‘non-experts’ who have no formal training in ICT and no background in computer science. Those who are ICT specialists often have not studied computer science within their degree. The need for CPD is great and much more than is currently available is needed. 

"CAS has set up its network of excellence and this is offering growing amounts of CPD. Unfortunately, at the moment the provision is geographically patchy and it largely relies on volunteers to devise programmes. It also relies on teachers giving up their own time (and sometimes money) to attend the courses.

"If the need for CPD of existing teachers is to be met, it needs to be on a much larger scale and senior managers in schools need to be persuaded to support their staff in attending.

"There are place allocated for the training of computer science teachers from September 2013. However, allocations do not guarantee trainees, and currently recruitment to computer science PGCE is worryingly low."

'Lack of respect' and 'closed doors' in BCS curriculum work

Christina PrestonProfessor Christina PrestonMirandaNet, a community of practice focused on learning and teaching with technology, has already presented its response to the draft Computing Programme of Study in which it noted the "lack of respect" and "closed doors" of the BCS and its allies in developing the draft Computing PoS (Programme of Study – what teachers are expected to teach). Its founder, Professor Christina Preston, who was recently presented with a Naace Lifetime Achievement Award, said that while MirandaNet Fellows agreed that Scratch software, hardware like Raspberry Pi and computer science could be an exciting addition to the ICT curriculum, "some children will not find coding absorbing if this is the main or only activity available to them". For this reason, In the MirandaNet submission to the Department for Education on the current draft of the computing curriculum advises that the balance between digital literacy, information technology and computer science should be equal.

"In this context, our greatest concern is that adequate plans do not yet exist to train existing ICT teachers to code," said Christina Preston. "The after-school Code Clubs run by volunteers and funded by industry are a worthy attempt to fill the gap – but do not constitute the kind of national programme that is required.

"It is also unfortunate that from the founder down, the Code Club personnel on platforms around the country choose to repeat Gove’s mistaken comment at BETT in 2012 that the existing ICT curriculum was ‘boring’. It is true that some teachers without enough training just taught about [Microsoft] Office but this was a misreading of the ICT curriculum which also provided the opportunity for teachers to teach computer science if they were able. MirandaNet members suggest that it would have been better to give the existing ICT teachers extra training so that they could also teach coding rather than take measures to oust ICT teachers like disapplying the ICT curriculum and introducing volunteer coders.

"These aggressive strategies have resulted in alienating the professionals who could have helped most. All ICT professionals agreed that this was the time for a radical change in the content of the ICT curriculum so why try to find an entirely new group of teachers and remove topics like e-safety, creativity and collaboration?

In fact, much of the discussion about the detail of the new computing curriculum and the number of teachers to teach the subject is academic since academies, free schools and private schools do not have to follow the programme, and indeed will not have the staff to do so. Nevertheless these attacks on existing ICT teachers are unforgivable by Gove who has also chosen to accuse teacher educators of being ‘Marxists’ and ‘enemies of promise’. The march of ideology is rather frightening to behold."

Unreleased data shows 50 per cent drop in teacher applications for ICT/computing

According to publicly available data from the GTTR (Graduate Teacher Training Registry), 2012/13 saw a 41 per cent decline in those actually training to be secondary ICT specialists (not just registering) compared to 2011/12. New figures have not been released yet but they are believed to show a 5.5 per cent drop in applications overall through the GTTR across all subjects in primary and secondary. Secondary shows a 10.3 per cent drop in applications in England, some of which may be due to applications to Schools Direct. Acceptances are down 6 per cent across the board in England and 13 per cent for secondary only.

The figures for ICT/computing are more worrying. In ICT in 2012/13 there were, at this time of year, 334 applicants. In computer science in 2013/13 it is believed GTTR figures show there are just 167. This is a drop of 50 per cent on a year that was already showing a significant drop.

An ITTE survey of its university members in March showed many computer science ITT courses with few applicants and very few acceptances (for both conventional and School Direct places). This very low recruitment issue has been raised by ITTE with the TA and the Royal Society. In response, the TA has recently launched a posted campaign, largely in London, similar to that used for physics. 

Subject Knowledge Enhancement courses (SKE) have been an important part of the process of recruiting ICT teachers for a number of years, allowing those without ICT degrees to gain the subject knowledge required to progress to an ICT PGCE – 36-week courses have been found to have been particularly valuable. Given the shortage of computing graduates, the option to attract graduates from other disciplines, via SKE in computer science, is felt to be even more important for recruiting the optimum numbers needed. 

The TA has allocated a range of SKE places in computer science for 2012/13, of 2, 4, 8 and 18 weeks. Unfortunately, the decision on allocations was not announced until December 14, 2012, meaning the 18-week courses for 2012/13 could not recruit in time and these are not running. Other SKE courses are in place, but recruitment figures are very low. ‘Outstanding’ ITT providers can now bid to run Computer Science SKE courses of up to 36 weeks (18 units) in 2013/14.

'Emperor's new clothes' moments at Westminster Forum on 'Computing'

Ian AddisonIan Addison: 'Creativity?'There were numerous “Emperor’s new clothes” moments when the draft computing curriculum was given a public airing at a recent Westminster Forum event in London (for a comprehensive account read Bob Harrison’s Seced report “Whose draft ICT curriculum is it anyway?”). The first was when forum panel member and primary teacher Ian Addison, himself no stranger to things geek (see "'Essentials' hits creative buttons for ICT"), pointed out that “three fifths” of the draft Programme of Study was about programming and teachers would need support. Along with many others he asked where was the creativity and excitement associated with the subject.

Then the man from Ofsted, its iCT adviser David Brown, responded to a question on the scale of the challenge for continuing professional development (CPD), It was “enormous” he replied. Asked what sort of ICT the Ofsted inspectors would be looking for on inspections, he explained that they wanted to see evidence of a "broad curriculum", a moot point for those in attendance.

Huge contradictions were evident at the Westminster Forum, like the creativity championed by Ian Livingstone (one of the key lobbyists for curriculum change) and the complete lack of it in the PoS document, or the energy and vigour of grassroots teachers and organisations like CaS and Apps for Good for example, and the stultifying, narrow top-down approach of the BCS and its partners, unable, or unwilling, to incorporate the views of educators and eclipsing the learners altogether.

And then Professor Christina Preston, representing MirandaNet, revealed that the architects of the original curriculum for ICT, so reviled by the lobby for computing, had been told by industry and the then government not to include programming or ICT because of the massive implications for CPD needed to deliver it. Plus ca change?

The back-channels at Westminster were steeped in the resentment of educators at their exclusion, and the tedious arguments to get words like “creativity and “playful” into the document only to have them removed at the next stage, when the minister sent it back to its author, thought to be Microsoft’s Simon Peyton-Jones, to be “fixed” for more maths, more science and less digital literacy.

Fixing seemed to be a feature of the whole Westminster Forum debate. Curiously absent was the Open University’s Professor Peter Twining who had played a key part in the process that produced the original, favoured PoS document, but who was subsequently sidelined by the BCS/CaS presumably because of his inclusive practice and his constructive criticisms. Professor Twining would have liked to attend the debate to put his view from the platform. However, it is understood that his offer was declined and the organisers suggested that he pay a £200 delegate fee to put his point of view from the floor. Those who paid £200 might wonder whether they truly had their money’s worth.

Essential that computing gets 'shortage subject status' says ITTE

"Many of those involved in ITT are ICT experts but not computer scientists," concludes Andy Connell, "and they too are in need of CPD. The Teaching Agency has provided some support. They have, as stated, established ‘an expert group on computing’. The group has led a valuable project to identify existing resources to support those training new primary teachers in preparing their students to teach the new Computing primary curriculum in September 2014. ITTE has been fully involved in the group and the resource has now been launched (see http://www.itte.org.uk/node/833). 

"Hopefully the replacement for the TA will continue to support the development of this resource. At present there is no equivalent group for secondary ITT provision but it is believed that the TA is considering this. ITTE will continue to support members and would welcome a ‘secondary expert group on computing’.

"ITTE believes it is essential that CS is given ‘shortage subject status’ on a par with physics and chemistry, so that it attracts the additional funding to publicise the subject more and the higher bursaries for students. This is a view also echoed by the BCS in its consultation submission. There is evidence that some computing graduates have chosen physics as they currently gain a significantly higher bursary. We welcome the news that SKE Computer Science course will continue in 2013/14, including the 36-week course. We believe they will be needed for several years to come."

More information


Questions submitted to Department for Education (March 25) with full responses (April 12)

1. How many teachers will be required to ‘deliver’ Computing/Computer Science in 2013?
We estimate that there are sufficient teachers with the right skills and knowledge to deliver the new computing curriculum from September 2014 within the existing ICT workforce. They will be complemented by those who undertake initial teacher training in Computer Science in 2013/14.

2. How many ITTE places are there for Computing/ICT/Computer Science/studies in 2013
We have allocated 835 places for computer science ITT for 2013/14. More information can be found via the following link: http://media.education.gov.uk/assets/files/xlsx/p/postgraduate%20itt%20places%20ay%20201314.xlsx

3. What are the numbers for teachers registered for teacher education for ICT/Computing for 2013/14 (secondary and primary)?
The Graduate Teacher Training Registry (GTTR) does not publish in year application data for ITT subjects. We will publish figures for applications for the School Direct programme in early April.

4. What were the corresponding figures for teachers registering for ICT in 2011/12 and 2012/13?
According to the Teaching Agency ITT Census the figure for 2012/13 was 500, for 2011/12 it was 740.

5. What measures is the Teaching Agency taking to ensure that the profession has the capability to teach the proposed new Computing curriculum?
The Teaching Agency established an expert group on computing consisting of schools, Initial Teacher Training providers, subject associations and other education professionals. The group led a project to identify existing resources to ensure that NQTs are prepared to teach the new Computing primary curriculum in September 2014. The group has now expanded and includes industry experts. The group will continue to meet to look at the introduction of computing into the school system and how it can support the development of school-led initial teacher training and continued professional development.
In December 2012 we announced a scholarship scheme run by the British Computer Society to identify the best applicants for computer science ITT. At the same time we allocated places to a subject knowledge enhancement (SKE) scheme to support applications for computer science ITT. SKE is a flexible programme that is designed to enable ITT providers to meet the subject knowledge needs of individual candidates. Providers bid for, and were allocated, course lengths from 8 to 24 weeks to enable them to meet the needs of the applicant market that they had identified.

6. Will there be enough new teachers coming on stream?
We estimate that there will be enough teachers available to deliver the new curriculum.

7. How can current ICT teachers be upskilled to cope with the new demands?
We are working with the British Computer Society and their partners to support the Computing at School (CAS) network of excellence. The purpose of this network is to promote the teaching of computing and computer science in schools and to support the development of teachers accordingly.

8. The Teaching Agency official responsible for ICT/Computing, Mike Harrison, has just retired. Who will be responsible for this area now?
The Teaching Agency continues to support the ITT sector to lead and develop Computing, including ongoing work around the draft National Curriculum and recruitment. Jackie Behan is currently leading on the development of the Computing curriculum at the Teaching Agency.

9. Is there a concern that the challenge for a major staff development programme could lead to scaling back the reforms to the ICT curriculum?
No, we are confident that we have enough resources in place to support the implementation of the new curriculum.

ITTE
MirandaNet


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