Software giant backing Computing at Schools in bid to upskill 50,000 teachers  
Zoe Ross and Simon Peyton-Jones'Master teacher' Zoe Ross and CAS chair Simon Peyton-Jones: 'Quick sort' activityWorries over the capability of schools in England to teach the new computing curriculum have prompted Microsoft to invest £334,000 in a partnership with the Computing at School (CAS) organisation to run a series of "Back to school" training sessions aimed at getting 50,000 teachers up to speed by September.

The initiative hopes to reach one in five primary teachers (there are 16,839 schools) and three specialist teachers in every secondary school (there are 3,127). Microsoft is also supporting a bid by CAS for matched funding from the Department for Education (DfE) to further extend the programme.

The initiative was launched with a pilot training session at Westminster City School yesterday (April 7). It featured Zoe Ross (pictured above), one of the "master teachers" who are being recruited by CAS (part of the BCS – the Chartered Institute for IT) to train other teachers. She demonstrated how teachers can approach the new subject. Commenting at the event, she said: “Today was about showing that the ideas of computing can be taught without a computer. It was great to introduce different approaches to teaching computing and teaching the core of what Computer Science is really about and not just coding.”

'Curriculum is pretty daunting if you’ve never taught it before'

“We know from talking to teachers that the new computing curriculum is pretty daunting if you’ve never taught it before, and September seems very close," said Microsft computer scientist Simon Peyton Jones, chair of CAS. "But, if we can help them to hit the ground running in the first week, capture kids' natural enthusiasm for technology in that first lesson and allow them to grow at their own pace, it’s amazing what they can create."

Microsoft and CAS are setting up two training courses for teachers – primary and secondary – that will be backed up by classroom resources focused on the first term of the new subject. The 103 local 'hubs' already set up by CAS volunteers will be used to run 2,500 face-to-face training events that will be led by experts including the CAS master teachers. More flexible training options via Microsoft's online video-conferencing service Skype are also being considered.

Teacher Claire Lotriet, ICT co-ordinator at Henwick Primary School, highlighted the problem and challenge faced by teachers: “How do you explain an algorithm to a class of 6-year-olds and make it fun? We have a real opportunity here to excite and inspire the next generation of games developers if we get this right. But we need to move fast to bring the curriculum to life and grab the interest of kids in that very first term.“

Although educators and schools are pulling together to make it a success, the computing curriculum is mired in controversy as its creation was dominated by computer scientists from the BCS and the Royal Academy of Engineering (RAEng). As a result it was heavily skewed towards computer science and coding. Criticisms that the focus was too narrow were brushed aside. Now it appears that the high-stakes assessment for this subject will in fact be made for computer science rather than computing (see "Why the 'computing' umbrella is letting in water").

In December the BCS and CAS were given £1 million by the DfE to create and run Barefoot computing, a programme to support primary teachers with computing. It is producing "teach yourself" materials and is due to deliver 800 in-school workshops by the end of May. They had also been given £2 million by the department to recruit a task force of 400 master teachers (fewer than 100 had been recruited by the end of 2013). The total amount of money given by the DfE to the BCS since it led the creation of the new computing curriculum is thought to be as much as £5 million.

casWho needs computers? Teachers learn to “quick sort” for Computer ScienceThat is likely to be a factor in the evident pleasure of chancellor of the exchequer George Osborne MP at the news of Microsoft's contribution. He commented: “Making sure our children are equipped with the right skills for the future is a key part of our long term economic plan. The new computing curriculum teaches students not just how to use computer applications but how to write them too, and we need skilled teachers to deliver it. So with a field that moves as fast as technology, it is absolutely right we work in partnership with industry.

"It is great to see Microsoft and the computing at School group backing our new computing curriculum and providing this level of support for teachers. Together, if we encourage more of our young people to be producers, not just consumers of digital content, we will keep our technology sectors booming and help build a more resilient economy.”

'Equal parts excitement and trepidation'

Russell Hobby, general secretary of the headteachers' union NAHT was also supportive: "The new computing curriculum fills teachers with equal parts excitement and trepidation. Excitement because they know that this subject is a gateway to opportunity for their students. Trepidation because many fear they lack the skills to deliver it. Industry support from companies like Microsoft will help build confidence and is both timely and welcome."

Schools computing has had more good news recently with the announcent of a new £1 million Raspberry Pi Foundation Education Fund and the PA Consulting Raspberry Pi Competition results which revealed highly inventive entries from UK schools. And Samsung has unveiled a Samsung Digital Classroom at the Royal Albert Hall in London. This will host "a unique cross-curriculum music programme for children in the UK aged 7 to 14". The first subject focus will be for maths. Samsung has been the Royal Albert Hall's official screen supplier since March 2012 and is now its official digital and technology partner for its education programme.

More information

Training dates and locations will be published at 
CAS master teachers undergo 120 hours of CPD with their local university to become regional computer science teachers.
The ‘Countdown to computing’ programme is part of Microsoft’s long term ambition to ensure that every school leaver in the UK is computationally literate and that 80 per cent of all jobs requiring computer science knowledge can be filled by a UK graduate by 2025. Earlier this year, the company launched a brand new suite of materials, aimed specifically at primary school teachers in partnership with educational publishers, Rising Stars. Nearly 30,000 Switched On Computing materials have been distributed to teachers across the country with the aim of helping teachers develop computer science skills in children as young as five.

See also: 
"Why the 'computing' umbrella is letting in water" 
"'Computing' is getting close - is your school ready?" 
"Another £1m goes to BCS for computing skills gap"
"Who’s afraid of computing? Not Islington's schools"

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