Computing starts in England's schools next term, but a Nesta/TES survey reveals the depth of disquiet
Helen GouldenNesta's Helen Houlden: 'very worrying'Critics of the new Computing curriculum are vindicated by the findings of a new YouGov survey, commissioned by Nesta and The TES, that finds that more than half of England’s teachers (60 per cent) are not confident delivering the new computing curriculum that starts this September, after the summer break.

“With the new school year just around the corner these results are very worrying,” warns Nesta executive director Helen Goulden. “The ability to make and create through technology is key to participating in and understanding the world around us, as well as an increasingly desired and required skill in the jobs market.

“Many great organisations are already teaching children to code and create – such as Code Club, the network of after-school clubs. There’s a big opportunity here for this ever-growing number of organisations to work with teachers to help children learn how to create – rather than just use – digital technologies.”

Schools are now breaking up for summer, so the likelihood of a breakthrough in attitudes and resources by September is highly unlikely. Despite warnings about the general exclusion of experts in learning teaching – learners too – from the process of creating the new curriculum, the Department for Education was happy to ‘outsource’ it to computer scientists at the BCS (British Computer Society) – the Chartered Institute of IT and the Royal Academy of Engineering (RAEng).

Criticisms and warnings ignored

While the resulting inclusion of computer science as a science in the curriculum was broadly welcome, the heavy weighting of coding was not. It was felt that only a minority of children would take this up at examinations level, while there was a serious shortage of teachers capable of teaching this computer science element of Computing. These worries are already being borne out in some areas. For example, in Hull there are only two teachers across 14 schools who can teach computer science.

The criticisms and warnings have been ignored and the DfE released around £5 million to its friends at the BCS to, among other things, set up a new network of volunteers to help schools “deliver” the new subject. Much was made about a new team of "master teachers" for computer science to be run by Computing at School, but it is believed that full recruitment has not been successful (see “Teacher numbers fall but DfE confident on 'Computing'”). While the BCS has enjoyed the benefits of a tranche of fresh funding for its agenda to lift the profile of computer science, the Nesta/TES survey strongly suggests that those required to teach it have been left largely untouched.  

From September English schools have to teach “computational thinking” and basic coding to children over the age of five. Secondaries are expected to be able to teach several programming languages. A press release from Nesta says “Half of teachers surveyed said they had yet to look for any support, guidance or resources to prepare for teaching the new computing curriculum. The most commonly reported source of support was other teachers at school (26 per cent), followed by online teaching resources such as TES (15 per cent) and professional training (15 per cent).

“A fifth of primary school teachers – who will all be expected to teach computing – surveyed said they were not planning to look for any support, guidance or to prepare for teaching computing in the future.  

“Over two thirds (67 per cent) of teachers said they didn’t feel very or at all supported by the Department for Education – despite the department announcing a number of funding packages over the last year to help train teachers. Last month, the government announced it would be working with top computing firms, including Microsoft, Google and IBM, to train more than 45,000 computing teachers.”

Numerous companies and organisations, like Naace (see also "Tapping into the Codecademy at The Minster"), have been stepping up their support for teachers and schools, often with free materials and online resources. However, only a minimal two per cent of the teachers surveyed said they had turned to them for support so far.

See also TES' “Teachers unready for computing ambitions”. The TES is also running a Computing Week from July 14 with Computing at School – check it out on Twitter with the hashtag #ComputingWeek.