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Fears mount over readiness to teach new computing curriculum

Concerns are mounting over whether primary school teachers will be ready to teach the new computing curriculum in time for next September. 

From the start of the next academic year, all pupils from Key Stage 1 to Key Stage 3 will be taught an almost entirely new curriculum when the new subject – computing – replaces ICT.

But fears are growing among industry experts over whether teachers, particularly in the primary sector, will be ready to deliver the computer science element of the curriculum.

Back in April, education minister Elizabeth Truss announced £2m in funding to recruit 400 of the best computing teachers to be trained up to become so-called master teachers in computer science, who could then pass on their subject knowledge to other teachers. 

The project is being led by the British Computing Society (BCS), the Chartered Institute for IT, but it has attracted just 79 master teachers so far, only 14 of which are primary school teachers.

Bob Harrison, education adviser at Toshiba who also leads an independent computing curriculum steering group, believes the Department for Education faces a significant task to ensure teachers will be ready in time for September. 

“Although the DfE has finally started to get moving on this, I still think there is a massive challenge [to make sure teachers are ready to deliver the curriculum],” Mr Harrison said. “There are 24,000 schools in the country and about 22,000 are primaries and just 400 master teachers expected to train them all in computing.

“Even if you had a 50/50 split of the master teachers, so 200 in each sector – just do the maths. They are only released to schools for half a day, you have to ask will it be enough?” he added.

Mr Harrison's comments follow claims made by experts at a roundtable held in October by organisers of the New Developers Conference - an event for IT developers to be held in December - who said "not enough was being done" to prepare teachers to deliver the new curriculum.

The event featured speakers such as Simon Peyton Jones from Microsoft Research, who called on the technology industry to volunteer their skills to schools.  

DfE officials have since announced they will provide grants equating to nearly £1,500 to primary school teachers willing to spend four days increasing their subject knowledge of computing.

And ministers have increased bursaries on offer to graduates with a 2:1 in computing from £20,000 to £25,000 in a bid to recruit more teachers.

Miles Berry, board member of IT subject association Naace and principal lecturer in Computing at Roehampton University, described the new curriculum as “ambitious” but said it was the right change to make.

“It is ambitious but the DfE is right to be ambitious,” Mr Berry said. “Will the teaching of the new curriculum be perfect in time for the new curriculum? Of course it won’t. But we are working with a bright, committed profession who know how to teach so it is not beyond our capability.”

Bill Mitchell, director at BCS, who helped pen the new curriculum, said primary school teachers will feel more confident once guidance is issued on how the computing programmes of studies are expected to be taught. 

“The curriculum was intentionally written as a high level document because the DfE wanted it to be left to other people to say how the curriculum should be taught, and in two weeks’ time we will be issuing guidance along with Naace that will help advise teachers on how to teach the new curriculum,” he said.  

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