BCS gets £2 million from DfE to create 16,000 'computing' teachers
The Government is giving the BCS (The Chartered Institute for IT) £2 million to help train teachers in English schools to fill the workforce skills gap opened up by a provisional Computing curriculum heavily skewed to computer science.
Announced by education minister Elizabeth Truss MP, the cash is £1m a year for two years to recruit 400 "master teachers" in computer science to help build the Network of Excellence run by the BCS Academy of Computing with support from its member organisation Computing at School.
The DfE picked an event co-hosted by Facebook and the Gates Foundation to stage the announcement which was welcomed by industry supporters present. Minister Elizabeth Truss is said to be a maths expert, and is thought to have been behind the request for revisions to the current Computing Programme of Study (PoS) to bring in more maths. This apparently squeezed out digital literacy and e-safety to the concern of educators who have been working in this subject area – a final revision is due soon.
Each 'master teacher' supports 40 schools – to reach total of 16,000 computer teachers
Her own number calculations are ambitious and optimistic, as the announcement reveals: "Each master teacher will pass on their skills and subject knowledge to 40 schools – so that computing teachers in 16,000 primary and secondary schools will be in position to deliver the computer science element of the new computing curriculum and the new computer science GCSE. This continuous professional development programme will enhance the preparations that schools will already be making so they can deliver the new curriculum."
The challenge is massive, however, as there are relatively few "computing" teachers in England's 20,000 schools, and teacher educators are already worried about falling numbers of applicants for training for these roles, while the DfE claims it doesn't have detailed figures even though other sources already indicate a major problem (see "Teacher numbers fall but DfE confident on 'Computing'").
"Computer science is a rigorous, fascinating and intellectually challenging subject," said the minister. "The new computing curriculum will mean pupils have a real understanding of how digital technologies work – allowing them to create new technologies rather than being passive consumers of them. This brings exciting challenges for computing teachers – we are raising our expectations of the subject knowledge they should have, including how computers work, programming and coding.
"We want a generation of children being taught how to write computer animations or design apps for smartphones – not be bored by lessons in how to fill in spreadsheets or learn word processing. These master teachers will spread good practice, knowledge and expertise throughout schools."
The funding is a major coup for the BCS, The Chartered Institute for IT, formerly known as the British Computer Society, which only three years ago went through a rebranding exercise which sparked internal strife described in the computing press at the time as "civil war". The following year, incoming president Professor Jim Norton pledged to "work on raising the profile of computer science and ‘computational thinking’ in schools, and on increasing the direct relevance of the Chartered Institute to students at all levels".
His vision has paid off although, ironically, the BCS has long been associated with the "Office' approach to ICT so criticised by detractors of the current curriculum, including Elizabeth Truss (see comment above), because of its close involvement with the ECDL course (the European Computer Driving Licence). This has a strong Office focus.
The BCS is, of course "delighted" with the funding. Bill Mitchell, director of the BCS Academy of Computing, said: "Children from the age of five will be taught computer science once the new statutory curriculum for computing comes into force. Therefore we need to ensure all teachers can teach the computer science and programming elements of the new curriculum.
"Our plan now is to work in partnership with the Computing At School group (CAS), universities and schools to extend the network into a national infrastructure that can provide CPD opportunities for 16,000 teachers over the next two years."
Having successfully leveraged itself into a position where it has effectively dispensed with the old notion of ICT (information and communications technology) and created a new one, Computing (based on computer science), the BCS is now a "contractor" (free of any competitive tendering) for delivering the new curriculum. Consequently it may well be in danger of being seen as having over-promised and under-delivered.
Such concerns can be seen in the CaS response to the latest round of PoS consultation, the result of feedback from its 3,500 members. It warns that the DfE should urge schools to review the curriculum time they give to computing, particularly as ICT at key stage 3 was normally given around one hour a week and many schools may well have dropped that because of the "turbulence" caused by curriculum review. Other concerns raised in this document include e-safety (considered more of a whole-school issue) and the need to perhaps point out the value of computer-enhanced learning in other subjects, and the DfE paying "sustained attention" to training and equipping computing teachers for this new PoS.
Computing (previously ICT) remains a statutory subject in all primary and secondary schools in England. The draft curriculum is heavily geared towards computer science and programming, including algorithms, coding and hardware, and computer science will be a science option for the English Baccalaureate from January 2014.
'We need our children to learn the foundations of computational thinking'
Get On programme which aims to help 300,000 young people get inspired, get skilled and get a job. We will continue to work with DfE and teachers to help schools deliver the new computing curriculum."Microsoft's UK director of education Steve Beswick was also "delighted by the DfE funding for the BCS/CAS Network of Excellence. "We need our children to learn the foundations of computational thinking at school so that they have the knowledge and skills they need to build successful careers here in the UK," he said. "This belief is integral to our
Facebook, a relatively newcomer to education and schools, also welcomed the news. Its director of policy for UK and Ireland, Simon Milner, said: "It’s vital for young people to receive the best digital education possible so we’re pleased to see today’s announcement. The UK’s digital industries offer awesome opportunities for young people, and it’s important that schools and educational institutions receive the necessary backing to enable pupils to grasp those opportunities.
"Through our partnerships with organisations like Apps for Good, we’ve seen first-hand that, with the right teaching, many young people can go all the way. Today’s announcement will help young people to develop and put their skills to good use."
Simon Peyton-Jones, principal researcher at Microsoft Research Cambridge, who is chair of the CaS working group and played a key role in developing the PoS, said: "I am absolutely delighted to see the DfE putting substantial support into equipping our excellent ICT teachers to deliver computer science, as part of the new computing curriculum. The challenge is enormous, and the timescale is short: I hope this grant will be the spark that ignites a broad partnership of schools, universities, employers, and professional bodies to inspire, support, and encourage our teachers as they move forward."
Other ICT firms have welcomed the inclusion of computer science. Gareth Davies, managing director of Frog, the UK learning platform company working with Google in a Malaysian project involving 10 million learners, said: "“Computer science lessons can’t come soon enough. It is an obvious thing to do.
"Today’s young people are highly likely to work with computers their whole lives and even those who don’t become programmers will benefit from the problem-solving and logical skills that learning to programme provides. But the primary benefit will be that we manage to engage more young people to think about a career in computer programming. We need to train more people so that as a country we have a pool of really good programmers to help us compete globally and benefit the economy.
"Here at Frog we’ve been doing our bit to improve young people’s skills in this area by sending developers out to share their knowledge with schools. In addition there are currently 1,100 schools involved in Code Club – a voluntary initiative aimed at inspiring 10 and 11-year-olds to learn computer programming skills working with Scratch, a programming language; Kodu, the Microsoft visual programming tool, and Raspberry Pi, the credit-card-sized computer designed to promote the basics of computer science in schools.”
More information from DfE
The DfE is already offering scholarships and bursaries to recruit and train talented new teachers.
The DfE funding to BCS is £2.085 million for two years (2013 to 2014 and 2014 to 2015)
BCS is the Chartered Institute for IT and accredits computer science and IT qualifications, including university computer science degrees.
The DfE has already provided BCS with £150,000 in the year 2012 to 2013 to establish its network of teaching excellence for computer science teachers. This network has forged links between schools, universities and employers, with pro bono support from Microsoft and Google. Since September 2012 the network has created an initial cohort of 28 master teachers in computer science teachers to lead CPD programmes for other local teachers. More than 120 schools have committed to becoming lead schools that support the development of CPD for other schools. DfE funding supports the release of teachers to participate in the network, and most administration and management time is provided pro bono.