My head teacher won’t let me teach computing

I thought I should follow on from the last post “My ICT teacher can’t mark my homework“.

As I have mentioned a few times, I belong to the utterly excellent group called Computing at School, it is made up of over 700 ICT teachers and people who want to help improve computing in schools. Over the few years I have known of it I have seen many online conversations, most general calls for help and weeping on colleagues’ shoulders about typical teaching frustrations. (I imagine these are common, am not a teacher!).

But recently there has been a noticeable uprising of the JFDI kind, with people making and sharing lesson plans and resources, a definite rise in collaborative energy to kick this ICT and computing discussion into touch. And get on with doing it.

As these horses appeared to bolt from the gate, jockeyed by enthusiasm and a good glug of sheer bloody-mindedness,  I have watched as slowly many of them have fallen, beaten back time and time again either by heads who won’t consider even a computing club, or as today a senior management team who over-rode the supportive Head, with the reason given being (and I am quoting from the post):

  •  Computing is too difficult for the small number that would want to do it (the ‘small number’ being half the GCSE ICT lot).
  • ICT is more useful for a larger number of students.

I am not speaking out of turn here in saying that this is a very common theme and a common argument and it drives me insane and most of the teachers in the group were wearily starting to accept defeat. I have also, to my utter despair, seen members of Young Rewired State fall at the same hurdle, where they have gone into schools and suggested running computing clubs or events, only to be patronised and dismissed.

There are so many counter-arguments to it aren’t there? But you know that in fact, these are not the real reasons, if they were Physics would not be taught, nor music, nor high-jumps, back-flips or burpeez – who cares right?

So is it that the teachers can’t do it?

I don’t think so, there is plenty of enthusiasm to learn and more and more collaborations with local industry people who will lend a hand. Besides learning programming should be something explored and learned together – teacher and pupil, that’s what makes it exciting. It is also not hard, despite John Humphry’s best efforts on Radio 4 yesterday morning to make learning programming sound like learning how to navigate to the moon (and change the wheels on the rocket launcher).

Is it that the text books are too costly?

One person in the CAS group is writing a free one, as I am sure are many of you in Coding for Kids and the general community if you think that is what it will take. There is so much free and open source technology out there – it’s not expensive.

Is it that pupils are taking ICT as a soft subject they will easily pass, adding programming will skew the figures?

Given the ICT ‘A’ Level in this instance required no previous GCSE qualifications to get in, and the curriculum is easy to walk students through writing what they need to say in order to get a high grade. So pupils and the senior team *like* ICT as it keeps the average grade high for the school – (but the pupils in question here are so fired up by the programming this teacher has been teaching so far, and he is worried that removing it from the lessons totally will cause merry hell. It’s fun you see…)

I don’t know but I suspect the latter is more likely to be the case, it makes more sense – I think we might be starting to peel back the layers and it feels like we are beginning to see the actual problems.

You see, this is good, because once we have identified the real problem facing schools, it is far easier to help address them and ask for the right changes to be made to support the many teachers and volunteers who want to help.

So I leave you with the question. If schools were *allowed* to take a hit on their GCSE and A Level grades in ICT whilst programming is taught alongside the necessary ICT skills – what that work? If schools were rewarded for introducing programming as a part of the STEM subjects (computer science) separately to the grades achieved during transition, would that help?

The CAS google group is open and you can go read the thread for yourself, it’s title is: Well that’s crap

17 responses

  1. That is horrifying. The students needs an education not a good grade given to them. They are in a global economy and they need the education to match, they are competing with the best in the world and should be given all opportunities to excel, not be hindered.

  2. In my school we are getting year 10/11 students through an AS in Computing where we would have dispaired of getting them to do GCSE ICT coursework. They love the programming, logic gates Binary & hex. OK, so there is some less exciting content(how a printer works) but they are generally enthusiastic. Possible Aspergers & ADHD kids thrive and get excited by it too.

  3. GCSE & A-Level on the Isle of WIght in the early 90’s was a non-starter. I took A-Level computing but the teacher was an incompetent joke. Didn’t understand recurrsion or linked lists. Until degree level I did my best with magazines and those little Osborne books with the robots.

    The Goverment does seem to care about getting us to be (keeping us?) a significant player in the IT world — so maybe some lobbying needs to be done very high up.

    I can understand (but not sympathise) about wanting the highest grades possibe, but what’s the objection to a computer club?

  4. When I did my Computer Science A-level in the mid-90’s we had a great teacher for the 1st year who taught us Pascal, he subsequently left due to ill-health and when we started in the upper sixth the replacement didn’t have a clue about coding, and was set on teaching them how to use DBase and Excel !?

    We (upper-sixth) ended up teaching the lower-sixth to code in Pascal and we also picked up C/C++ and assembler on the way.

    Then I started at uni and they made us learn Ada and Eiffel…!

    I know which has been more useful in my career!

  5. Bang on target! with an estimated 975,000 IT jobs in the UK with 325,000 developers and even the nondevelopers have to write scripts and understand code & principles of IT. Then add in the web designers and creative people in film,TV etc. plus any scientist is going to have to have a good understanding too and thats alot of people.
    Of course Socrates wanted to ban writing and reading thoug not because it was too hard.

    I have to declare I work for Microsoft and so have a vested interest but my dad started IT in 1963 and he and I have had great careers and done very well. So if there’s anything you need from us swing by at BETT in January and say hello. and for your students we have Young Britain Works apprenticeships for those wanting to get into IT without going to university

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  8. Fully endorse your comments – kids who want to learn programming should have the opportunity to do so, for their sake and for the sake of the long term future of the IT industry in the UK. But I have to add a note of warning: governments and employers have been complaining about the “IT skills shortage” ever since I joined the industry 25 years ago, but they have rarely bothered to invest in developing or maintaining those skills.

    In the last 10 years, there has been a massive trend towards moving commercial IT development work offshore to places like India and China where IT skills are available far more cheaply. This has led to widespread redundancies among skilled and experienced development staff in the UK, and removed entry-level opportunities for UK-based graduates. In 2009 IT graduates had the highest level of unemployment (16%) of any subject area 6 months after graduation.

    Meanwhile, widespread abuse of the intra-company transfer (ICT) visa scheme had led to the situation by early 2010 where some 30,000 UK-based IT workers were out of work while more than 35,000 mostly inexperienced staff had been imported by large companies with bases in India. The ICT scheme was intended to address the “skills shortage” by allowing companies to bring in highly skilled staff if needed to fill specific project roles temporarily in the UK. Instead, it has been used overwhelmingly to bring in cheap graduate trainees and train them up in the UK for a few months before shipping them and their newly acquired skills back home at the earliest opportunity. This has compounded the impact of offshoring by eliminating more opportunities for UK staff at all levels, who may be able to offer similar/better skills but simply cannot compete on cost with people being paid a Mumbai salary and tax-free expenses while in the UK. Add to this the rampant ageism that persists across the IT industry, and you would be lucky to find much work as an experienced developer once you’re past the age of 35.

    So by all means encourage kids to learn programming, as they will enjoy it and a few may find exciting career opportunities with decent employers who will value and invest in their skills over the longer term. But don’t deceive the majority that they can expect to enjoy a life-long career in software development in the UK, especially if they have to take on massive debts in order to do so. Teach them foreign languages as well as programming languages, as at least then they will have the chance to emigrate.

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  11. dont let the B’s get you done -= keep up the fight – the cause is just, there are jobs at the end of it, there are interesting jobs, well paid, fulfilling, socially useful careers. ICT is anathema.

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