Teachers unready for computing ambitions

11th July 2014 at 01:00
Lack of confidence in ability to deliver new curriculum for September

The majority of teachers are not confident in their ability to deliver the new computing curriculum even though it is due to be introduced to all schools in England next term, according to a survey.

The results were described as "very worrying" because little time remains to train staff before the majority of schools break up for the summer holidays next week.

England is leading the way by becoming the first country in the world to mandate the study of computing for all children aged 5-14. Only Estonia has embarked on a similar commitment, but its students do not begin studying the subject until they are 7.

The ambitious move - backed by technology giants including Google and Microsoft - is likely to be watched closely by other nations to see how schools cope. The decision to scrap ICT and replace it with a computing curriculum was announced by education secretary Michael Gove in 2012 as an attempt to arrest the decline in young people studying computer science and in response to concerns voiced by industry.

But according to data collected by YouGov on behalf of TES and innovation charity Nesta, just 7 per cent of polled teachers are "very confident" in their ability to teach computing. More than a third (35 per cent) are "not at all confident" and a further 25 per cent are "not very confident".

Almost 800 teachers were surveyed in total and more than two-thirds said they had not received enough support from the Department for Education (DfE) in preparing to deliver the new curriculum. Just over a quarter had not received any formal training at all.

Helen Goulden, executive director of Nesta, said the figures were "very worrying" because so little time remained to train teachers who felt unprepared. "The ability to make and create through technology is key to participating in and understanding the world around us, as well as an increasingly desired and required skill in the jobs market," she added.

From September, primary school children will be expected to create and debug simple programs and have a basic understanding of algorithms, even though most schools do not have specialist staff. Ms Goulden said an "ever-growing" number of organisations could work with teachers to help them deliver the curriculum. But the scale of the problem was illustrated by the fact that when confronted with a list of computing terms, 43 per cent of teachers had never heard of "binary digits".

Bob Harrison, education adviser at technology company Toshiba, said that although much positive work had been done by organisations such as the Computing At School charity to prepare teachers, the timescale was "always against them".

"This was the warning I have always given," Mr Harrison continued. "The level of resources made available by the DfE has been too little in too short a period, so it is not a shock.

"But, having said that, I am positive teachers will largely ignore the programmes of study, as they usually do, and make the curriculum work for their students."

Concerns were raised when ministers announced that just pound;2 million would be made available to train a network of "master teachers" to support the delivery of the curriculum.

Earlier this year, the government announced that it would offer bursaries of pound;20,000 to computer science graduates with upper-second-class degrees to train as teachers. Just 18 per cent of respondents to the YouGov poll had studied computing in higher education.

Miles Berry, a principal lecturer for computing education at the University of Roehampton who serves on the management board of Computing At School, said the challenge to train teachers was "not insurmountable".

"The results of the survey are disappointing but perhaps not surprising," Mr Berry said. "The new computing curriculum is, I think rightly, ambitious. But it does draw on a knowledge of computer science that many teachers won't have acquired in their own school days or teacher training."

A spokesman for the DfE said: "Industry experts agree that the rigorous new computing curriculum will raise standards, giving children the skills and knowledge they need to compete with their peers from around the world."

What else?

These resources from Microsoft help younger pupils to take their first steps in computing:

Computing first steps

Computing case study

Computing resources

Hit the `help' key

All next week, TES Connect will be looking at the new national computing curriculum at primary and secondary level. We have teamed up with Computing At School and other experts to bring you blogs examining the key changes and how they will affect your teaching, as well as resources and ideas to support your planning.

We will be keeping you up to date on Twitter using the hashtag #ComputingWeek.

To take part in a live Qamp;A session with curriculum experts at 6pm on Monday 14 July, go to www.tesconnect.comComputingLiveChat


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