Austerity not a problem as funding for BCS to bridge teacher skills gap it created tops £3 million
htmlChildren will be taught coding from the age of fiveThe Department for Education has handed over a further £1 million to the British Computer Society to address the worrying teacher skills gap in England created by the new computing curriculum which was steered through by the BCS and the Royal Academy of Engineering (RAEng).

The BCS has done well out of its relationship with the DfE. It was given £2 million in March for its much-vaunted bid to recruit 400 computing ‘master’ teachers (it has found fewer than 100). It was also given funding to set up its Computing at School network.

Curiously, the announcement about the new £1m funding, which will be used for “teach-yourself” computing resources for primary teachers, was not made by the DfE. It came from the BCS via a press release. As with the £2m hand-out, no mention was made of any tendering process. It appears that the DfE is outsourcing responsibility for teacher support for the new curriculum to the BCS.

The conduct of the DfE is in stark contrast to the treatment handed out to its own expert group which continues to produce resources for teachers even though the department’s political advisers have withdrawn travel and subsistence support because of criticism of the curriculum (see “DfE pulls cash to gag own computing expert group”). Of course there will be no criticism from the BCS; it has expertly lobbied and courted politicians in its drive to push computer science higher up the education agenda.

New subject criticised for being too narrow

It has been very successful in this aim, so much so that the new subject has been criticised for being too narrow, with not enough scope for digital literacy and the creative use of ICT across the curriculum. Few would have argued with putting computer science in its rightful place alongside the other sciences, but it is the foregrounding of computer science at the expense of other elements of “computing” which has created the skills gap.

Not many teachers feel confident about teaching the new subject. From September 2014  primary school children aged five will learn about algorithms and how to write computer programs.

That is why a government preaching austerity policies has handed out more than £3 million to an organisation not known for its expertise in teaching and learning, and which is motivated by a mission to further computer science rather than any wider notion of learning with technology.  

The new funding will be spent on a project to support primary teachers, and it is understood to involve educators Miles Berry and John Woollard. It’s called Barefoot Computing and is being run jointly by the BCS and Computing at School. It aims to “equip primary school teachers with the basic knowledge and confidence needed to begin the journey towards becoming an excellent computing teacher”.

Barefoot computing will produce new support materials and aims to introduce them to schools by running 800 in-school computing workshops across the country up to May 2015. There are around 16,839 primary schools in England.

Bill MitchellBill Mitchell, BCS director of educationOne of the main architects of the new computing curriculum is Bill Mitchell, who has the title of director of education at the Institute (as in BCS, The Chartered Institute of IT). In the BCS press release he says, “Barefoot computing will create primary school-friendly classroom resources that exemplify how to teach computing through topics that are relevant to the cross-curricula primary school environment. For example, the materials provided will cover how to write computer games and other classroom computing activities for children from Year 1 (age 5) to Year 6 (age 10/11) that also support progression in subjects such as literacy, maths, history and science.”

Chair of CAS, Microsoft computer scientist Simon Peyton-Jones commented: “The CAS mission is to ensure every child has an outstanding computer science education, from age five onwards. The Barefoot Computing project is part of that mission and will be run as part of the CAS Network of Teaching Excellence in Computer Science, which includes over 750 schools and 70 universities.”

Barefoot Computing press release