My head has been spinning since I left Stirling and I haven’t sorted my thought out yet but maybe blogging will help me with that. On Thursday teachers from all over Scotland came together to listen to staff from the SQA and Education Scotland discuss the new qualifications and to feedback on them.
There are some positives about the new Computing and Information Science course. There was a lot of discussion about more flexible assessment. It will be a less prescriptive structure than the existing NABS. They do plan to bring more rigour and quality control to assessments though in all three stages of assessment: setting, conducting and marking. At stage can be SQA-led, Centre-led or shared responsibility. Centre-led activities are unlikely for National 5 and above. There will be a lot of exemplification of assessments rather than the existing prescriptive NABS. Specimen question papers with marking instructions will also be provided. Most courses are hierarchical so that pupils can move down a level and don’t have to redo assessments at a lower level.
Some interesting questions raised were how do we have more active learning in the senior phases, how do we continue to challenge pupils coming back in S5 who are still at National 4/5 level, and how do we improve our partnership working and involve CLD and employers more?
Overall this seemed to be an event aimed at getting our responses to the documents and plans so far rather than giving us new information.
The SQA said that they were genuinely looking for feedback. However many of the Computing teachers present didn’t feel that our feedback was going to make any difference. In fact, when one of the development team was informally questioned about whether our feedback on the quantity of programming in the new course would make any difference, the response was ‘no’.
I was very interested to hear at the end of the event that every three months all the feedback they have received is put onto their website. Looking at the page though it is just a vague summary of the key messages they want to show. For example, in Computing there is no mention of the feedback about the two courses merging into one yet every Computing teacher I have talked to is greatly concerned about this.
The key issues that were brought up during the day were:
- The lack of breadth in the new C&IS course. We will be going from a Standard Grade course with an incredible number of topics in it to a course with just two. Isn’t breadth what CfE is all about?
- There is still huge concern from the teachers present about just having one course. The reasons for this were explained by David Bethune. The course development has been based on the Experiences and Outcomes and a lot of the content that was in the IS course is now included in Business. Both the previous courses involved using analytical skills to develop a solution. Also, there is government pressure on educating youngsters who can develop solutions on computers. I know that HE want just one Computing course too.
- A huge need for not only CPD but retraining (or in some cases training). Many schools only offer either CS or IS at the moment so teachers will need training in how to deliver the other half (eg someone may have been teaching databases for 10 years but hasn’t taught any programming in that time or vice versa). We will also have Computing teachers who have had minimal or no programming in their degree, depending on when they qualified.
- About 50% of the course is programming. Imagine you are teaching Nat 4/5 over two years instead of Standard Grade Computing. You will need to spend a whole year on software development with the pupils. What happens to the kids who can’t get their heads round programming? They will fail.
I accept that we need more programmers in our society. But we also need young people leaving our schools ready to do whatever career they choose – whether it be network security, sysadmin, project management, business analyst or whatever. If we focus so heavily on programming and databases within a year or two we will only have the course being selected by the 5% of kids who ‘get’ programming. Courses will not become viable and where departments survive the staff will be supporting ICT across the curriculum.
I currently have no kids in my school who have the aptitude to do programming in any depth. I will be the first to admit that we are a small school and have a different cohort from most schools. But can you imagine doing programming in the way you are already teaching for 50% of your time??
We need to change, I know. We need the training to teach better, in a more engaged and active way. Even still, if we spend next year training every teacher in Scotland how to do games development and mobile app development and web development, will we get more kids understanding programming??
We do have an alternative in the form of the National Certificates (NCs) and National Progress Awards (NPAs). These are hugely flexible courses that can involve a great deal of software development depending on the cohort and skills in your school. The NCs and NPAs offer progression too, from Int 1 up to Higher level. They offer great progression on to FE college but they do not offer a good basis for progressing on to Higher Computing and on to University.
How do we nurture the few talented programmers in our schools without alienating the rest of their peers? How do we develop Computing as a subject so that departments across Scotland are growing instead of dying?
I don’t have the answers, but we need to find them, and quick. We need to all come together and have a dialogue about what will work in our schools.
Please join me in becoming a member of Computing at School Scotland and encourage all your colleagues to do the same. We need to work together and we need to talk with industry, with our HE and FE colleagues and with our government …and we need to do it quickly.