Anxious computing teachers to get online help with new GCSE

William Stewart

William Stewart

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Teachers anxious about their ability to teach an unfamiliar new computer science GCSE will be able to use an online programme to do some of the work for them, an exam board has announced.

A YouGov poll for TES last year found that most teachers were not confident about teaching the computing curriculum that replaced ICT. 

OCR has recognised the problem in its reformed computing GCSE, which will be taught from 2016.

The exam board has linked the qualification to an existing online computer science education platform. It says the website, called Codio, can help teachers get to grips with the unfamiliar subject and teach their pupils more effectively as a result.

“It does some of the teaching for them,” said Rob Leeman, the board’s subject specialist for computer science and ICT. “It uses this flipped pedagogy so that learners can learn in the classroom on the platform as well as in their own time.”  

He said it would also allow some pupils to pick up the fundamentals while others tackled advanced programming. A non-specialist teacher might find it hard to cope with such different rates of progression without it, Mr Leeman added.

“Ninety per cent of computer science teachers are non-specialists and have transferred over from ICT or a completely different subject,” he said. “And computer science is quite a technical subject; it is not something you can pick up and run along with."

He said the rates of learning varied, but that teachers who spent two hours a day on the platform would probably be able to bring themselves up to GCSE standards in computer science in “a couple of months”.

“Some teachers are doing it as they go along and staying one step ahead,” he said. “But it is quite a difficult way of doing it.

“You need a fundamental understanding to be able to excite kids and engage them. If they started using Codio now, they could be prepared for starting to teach it in 2016.”

The GCSE will allow students to learn about cybersecurity and how to build an app. They will be taught about topics such as phishing, malware and firewalls for the first time, alongside the legal and ethical concerns around computer technology.

Computing has been a compulsory part of the national curriculum since last year, and the revamp of the GCSE comes after a major overhaul of exams designed to toughen up the qualification.

Pupils will also have to use the programming skills they learn on the course to work on an independent coding project – worth a fifth of their grade – that solves a real-world problem, such as an app to help a teacher, a game or a method of recommending films.

Former education secretary Michael Gove scrapped the old ICT curriculum in 2012 describing it as ''demotivating and dull'' and in need of a radical overhaul to prepare for the future. It was replaced with a new focus on computer science, including coding.

A new AQA GCSE in computer science will also include cybersecurity threats including malicious code, phishing scams and weak passwords.

There will be sections on social engineering techniques – which involve manipulating people to give up information – such as malware.

Steven Kenny, who leads AQA’s computer science team, said: “Cybercrime is a growing threat. It’s vital that our young people have the know-how to protect themselves. There will also be a greater need for cyber security professionals in the future and this subject will provide them with a knowledge of the basics on which to build.”

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