How to tackle the new computing curriculum

1st August 2014 at 01:00
In September, England's curriculum is changing for key stages 1, 2 and 3. This week, teachers reveal how they are tackling computing


From the very first glance, it was clear that the new programme of study for computing was very different to that of its predecessor, ICT ; they don't even share the same name. My second thought was that there was a lot of new terminology, much of which I was unfamiliar with.

As ICT coordinator, my first task was to get to grips with this new vocabulary: algorithms, networks, debugging, search engine selection and ranking, to name just some. Luckily, the more I found out, the less intimidating it became. For example, an algorithm is a set of steps that solve a specific problem or perform a specific task. Or, put simply, algorithms are instructions.

Making staff comfortable with the new programme of study is vital. What makes preparing for computing unusual is that most teachers have no frame of reference: they were never taught it themselves. But tackling new things in bite-sized chunks can make them seem less daunting.

Teachers in my phase, upper key stage 2, have taught a unit of programming already this year and several also took part in the international Hour of Code movement, which gave them a taste of using visual programming languages with their classes.

I have started to make a series of videos for staff that explain computing concepts in just 15 seconds. My hope is that these videos will reinforce the point that it is possible to build understanding in a very short space of time.

Despite the heavier focus on computer science, we will not be ditching any of the elements that we have enjoyed teaching as part of ICT. Under the new programme of study, all children should be taught to "create a range of digital content". With this one sentence comes great freedom: the term digital content encompasses a wide variety of activities, from animation to building websites.

And computing is definitely not just programming. In my view, preparing for the new curriculum means adding computer science elements to what we currently do so well.

I have already seen children in Years 1-6 embracing unfamiliar tasks such as programming. And although ensuring that staff feel confident with the new curriculum presents a challenge, it is also a great opportunity to teach our pupils about new ways of thinking.

Claire Lotriet is upper key stage 2 phase leader for ICT, enterprise and maths at Henwick Primary School in London


The first feeling I had when I saw the draft curriculum for computing was shock: it was unrecognisable from anything that had come before. But I quickly overcame this reaction and set about working out how to deliver the changes.

Thankfully, much of what is new can be covered by evolving current teaching; total revolution is not required. A real strength of the way many schools taught the previous curriculum was the engaging real-world projects that showed students how ICT was used all around them.

I have heard the arguments and seen models for a wholesale switch to computing, delivering focused units on skills. It is something I may move towards as students begin to bring different skills with them from primary school. But this approach could lead to the loss of the best of our current teaching, and the alienation of children for whom computing is not a good fit.

Despite my own passion for computing, I recognise that not all learners share this. There are clear benefits in learning to program, not least the problem-solving skills it encourages. But engaging children who do not share my love for the subject is the challenge at the heart of the new curriculum.

I do not believe this change of curriculum was designed to discard all reference to the use of applications and focus solely on understanding and creation. All students will be users of technology; some will be creators. For me, a balance needs to be struck.

To this end, our approach is project-centred, covering a variety of skills and a range of knowledge through small, focused groups of lessons. For example, we have a unit on running a business, in which we use spreadsheets to simulate cost modelling, databases to store customer records, programming and interface design to create an electronic point of sale, graphics editing to customise the shop front and publishing to create a flyer. Each of these focuses lasts no more than four lessons and all are covered in a different way in the next project.

We prefer this approach, as it allows for frequent revisiting of skills. I strongly advocate a curriculum model where knowledge and skills are often returned to, and this is particularly crucial for complex concepts such as programming. A big push on a skill that is not revisited until the following year will mean that recollection significantly drops off among students. But frequent revisiting embeds and builds on what the pupils already know.

The next step will be to look at the new GCSEs when they are published and ensure that what we are doing prepares students for the next step in their education.

John Partridge is assistant headteacher for student e-learning at the Minster School in Nottingham

A look inside the new computing curriculum

ICT is now known as computing at all key stages.

Key stage 1

Students should be taught:


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