The politicians have trumpeted about 400 master teachers – but where are they?
Nicky MorganNick Morgan: 'Master teachers for all'In her keynote address at the BETT 2015 educational technology show in London in January education secretary Nicky Morgan MP lauded England’s computing curriculum and claimed, “All teachers can now access support from a local computing master teacher.”

If that was true, why has the Department for Education (DfE) just issued a £1 million tender for a “Computing Support Contract: Network of Excellence”? Its purpose is to widen the so-called Network of Excellence, run by the British Computer Society and its Computing at School (CaS) organisation, to 400 master teachers by 2016.

One problem is that these 400 master teachers are supposed to already be in place, according to the politicians. This contract suggests the opposite. Another is the prospect of a new organisation taking over the Network of Excellence that is already being run by CaS.

The contract makes it clear that this is a “Network of Excellence in Computer Science” so should only computer scientists apply? Even though its aim is to “to improve the skills and knowledge of primary and secondary computing teachers”.

Is a take-over of the 'Network of Excellence' feasible?

The wording of the tender suggests that the work is suitable for smaller, voluntary, community and social enterprise organisations. However, the first feedback from observers is that the likely recipient of this funding will again be CaS because they are the organisation already doing it, so how could anyone else take over?

This tender is also regarded as an attempt by anxious civil servants to retrofit financial probity to a situation that has seen millions of pounds handed over to the British Computing Society by the DfE without any public signs of financial accountability like key performance indicators. If, indeed, the main KPI was the recruitment of 400 master teachers then there has been failure.

The difference between computer science and computing has been at the heart of the problems with the new computing curriculum. Clearly computer science is the new element for schools, and where many teachers need help, but the over-emphasis on computer science and coding in particular has skewed the subject which, as a result, is not sufficiently supported by accreditation from the exam boards.

Even the tender document discusses on the one hand of a network for computer science, but on the other suggests that these master teachers will “build the local computing community”. Computer science and computing are clearly not the same thing.

'The original contract appears to have failed to deliver'

Mark ChambersMark Chambers: 'disappointing'Naace is the educational professionals’ organisation that covers the full breadth of the new computing curriculum, not just the computer science element. Its chief executive officer is Mark Chambers who commented: “Naace is pleased to see the announcement of the new contract. The circumstances around the initial award of funding for this project remain unclear, and it is disappointing that, more than two years later, the wording of this tender suggests that the original contract appears to have failed to deliver.

“It says that the ‘current grant has provided funding over the past two years to create a cohort of up to 400 master teachers." Yet the new grant is to, in part, ‘manage the expansion of them to a minimum of 400 active master teachers’. 

“Truly effective professional development that underpins the introduction of the full computing curriculum is still largely absent and, according to all that we hear from schools, remains an acutely significant need.

“While receiving the announcement positively Naace is gravely concerned that the ambition of the new funding will fail to be realised in that the contract award is over nine months and is targeted in particular at teachers who, by their contracts, will not be available for at least two months of the contract period. Unfortunately it has often been the experience of the community that central government only has limited understanding of grassroots conditions.”

Mark Chambers asked, “Is there something that can still be achieved? This initiative is at least that, an initiative; Naace would be very interested to engage with any who have new ideas and experiences about how this could indeed be made a success and turned into something significant for young people.”

More information
“Computing Support Contract: Network of Excellence” 
Applications have to be made through the education procurement network Redimo
Mark Chambers on Twitter  
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Computing at School