The scrapping of teacher training in ICT in favour of computer science could cause staffing problems and threaten the future of courses, trainers have said.
From next September, initial teacher training courses in ICT will be replaced by those in computer science. The change is part of a push towards computer science backed by education secretary Michael Gove, who believes the subject is more rigorous and will give young people training in programming instead of just in using existing software.
As part of this drive, the government has already suspended the ICT curriculum in schools. Since last month, teachers have been free to teach the subject in any way they want until the arrival of a new curriculum, which will start in 2014.
According to the Department for Education, the new subject, which will be compulsory, will still be called ICT but will focus more on computer science.
Dr Roger Crawford, senior lecturer in education at the University of Huddersfield, said he could understand the need to give programming greater emphasis, but added that there was a risk of swinging too far from ICT.
"ICT and computer science are not the same," he said. "From my viewpoint, ICT is the subject everyone needs in order to function effectively in modern society, including education, work and leisure. Computer science is much more technical - it is much more about how computers work and is of limited relevance and interest to most pupils.
"Some are interested and it is very important that there are opportunities for them to study computer science, but it is also very important that all pupils have a good grounding in ICT," Dr Crawford added.
The shift towards computer science has similarly divided ICT teachers (see panel, right).
However, it is the speed of the switch that has especially concerned three organisations involved in ICT in education: the Association for Information Technology in Teacher Education (ITTE), Naace and the MirandaNet Fellowship, which represent teacher trainers, teachers and policymakers, respectively. They have sent a letter to Mr Gove describing the time frame for developing the new training courses as "challenging".
"Some universities may set up computer science courses in 2013, some may have to take a little bit longer if they don't already have suitable existing staff and some may not run them at all," said Kate Watson, chair of ITTE. "The whole thing is going to be really difficult. It may mean staffing adjustments for those without a computer science background."
The three organisations, which are in favour of more computer science in the curriculum, say that schools and universities will have to do "much more than simply adapting" existing courses because computer science and ICT are "distinct" subjects. They have instead suggested giving schools and universities two years to introduce the new courses.
A DfE spokesman said: "While timescales are tight, providers have nearly a year before starting computer science courses in September 2013.
"The providers will also team up with computer science departments at top universities as they design, test and validate their computer science courses."
- According to the School Workforce Census taken in November 2011, only two in five (38 per cent) of secondary ICT teachers hold a qualification higher than A level in an ICT-related subject such as computer science, information systems, software engineering or artificial intelligence.
- A total of 445 people have started ICT PGCE courses this September. These people will work as ICT teachers after qualifying, but will also be able to join the network of teaching excellence run by BCS, the chartered institute for IT, to improve their subject knowledge in computer science.
- From the 2013-14 academic year onwards, the Teaching Agency will cease to allocate any teacher training places for ICT.
- A DfE expert group recommended that computer science teacher trainees should understand key concepts such as algorithms, data representation, data structures, digital and analogue conversion, input-process-output, communication protocols and categorisation.
- ICT involves learning to use a wide range of computer systems to solve problems efficiently and creatively, while computer science is concerned with logical thinking, computer design and programming.
FROM THE FORUMS
Sooner or later the penny will drop that computing is a very small niche subject. Most pupils will find these courses hard and rather boring.
Well, if you teach them badly they will be. I don't see how they can be more boring than endless PowerPoint-ism.
Over the past four years it has been a breath of fresh air to teach computing. I agree it's not for everyone, but those same pupils who were turned off by dull ICT courses with little prospects now see the subject as a real challenge.
The government wouldn't even know the difference between computer science and ICT. So go on, prepare for computer science. Have two kids in your A-level classes - you know the ones: overweight smelly boys with a single eyebrow.
In 10 years' time we will hear the outcries of people who do not know how to design or build professional websites, presentations, letters, emails, etc, and a new compulsory subject will be added at key stages 3 and 4 called "key skills in IT". The cycle will then repeat.
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