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Government cash to train teachers in computing dismissed as a 'drop in the ocean'

The level of funding to train teachers to deliver the new computing curriculum has been branded a "drop in the ocean". 

On Tuesday, Elizabeth Truss handed out £11m to create new maths “hubs” to boost teaching in the subject, but a day later she announced just £1.1m in additional money to train teachers in computing, which will be taught from September.

The difference in the cash being made available has led experts to voice their concerns that the government is not doing enough to prepare schools to meet the "seismic" changes to the ICT curriculum, which is being replaced by computing. 

The extra money for computing brings the total amount to train teachers to deliver the new curriculum to just £3.1m, which, spread across all 17,000 primary schools, comes to just £182 per school.

Primary schools are the area of main concern, as they do not have the level of expertise to draw on that secondary schools might.

As of September, primary teachers will be expected to explain to Key Stage 1 children what an algorithm is, as well as teaching pupils to “use logical reasoning to predict the behaviour of simple programs”.

Bob Harrison, education adviser at Toshiba and former adviser to the Department for Education on computing, said there were “serious questions” to be asked as to whether children will be taught by teachers who are capable to deliver lessons in computing come the new academic year.

“You have to ask the question why the subject with the greatest changes has been given just over £3m – including running costs – and in contrast maths has been given £11m for transition when it has nowhere near the seismic changes that are happening with ICT,” Mr Harrison said.

“The changes taking place between the two subjects are not even comparable, and while the extra money is a step in the right direction it’s a drop in the ocean as to what’s actually needed.”

Back in April, Ms Truss announced £2m 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.

In a bid to get to train more teachers, Computing at School (CAS), which is part of the BCS, announced a partnership with Codeacademy, which will offer teachers a free online computing course.

But Leng Lee, head of operations at Codecademy, told an industry website this week that the government faced significant challenges to get schools ready in time to teach the subject.

“To get teachers in schools ready and with the resources they need is obviously going to be very difficult,” Mr Lee told TechWorld. “Right now it’s December, so we’re nine months away from the rollout. I’d say the majority of schools haven’t even started thinking about it to be honest.

“There are 17,000 primary schools and 3,000 secondary schools [in England]. There’s major concern around the primary schools and how they’re getting ready for it because a lot of their teachers are generalist teachers who have to worry about a lot of different subject areas. So there’s no one really with the background in primary schools to take care of it.”

Miles Berry, board member of IT subject association Naace and principal lecturer in computing at Roehampton University, is involved in developing the primary computing materials. He said that the challenges were substantial, but not impossible to manage.

“The changes from ICT to computing are significant, but the challenge facing primary schools in implementing these is not insurmountable,” Mr Berry said. “I'm sure that many primary teachers will get at least as much out of learning to program and about other aspects of computer science as their pupils will.”

The DfE said extra £1.1m would mean primary teachers, "even those with little or no experience in computing" would be able to deliver the new curriculum.

 “We are also providing over £2m to boost the supply of computing teachers – this includes scholarships for graduates training in computing with a 2:1 or better, which have increased from £20,000 to £25,000, and funding for a new computer science initial teacher training course from September 2013 to replace current ICT courses,” the spokesperson said.


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