I need your help
CASScotland, Computing, Computing Studies, Curriculum Development, Information Systems, National 4 & 5, News
Kate Farrell
March 25, 2012


Next month I will be meeting Michelle Wallace from the Scottish Government’s Learning Directorate along with Professor Alan Bundy (Edinburgh University), Dr Quintin Cutts (Glasgow University) and Professor Muffy Calder (the new Chief Scientific Advisor for Scotland).

We will be talking about the promotion of Computer Science to head teachers and parents, CPD for Computing teachers, assessment in the new qualifications, and developing teaching resources to support National 5 and Higher. We will also be talking about our concerns about the limited amount of time given to Computing in schools and the delivery of whole school ICT in schools.

I need your help. I need examples of where staffing has reduced, staff not replaced, and departments closed. I need examples of how much time your school gives in the timetable for ICT and Computing in S1-2 compared to other subjects (particularly Science). I need examples of schools where pupils are not getting level 3 and 4 Computing experiences. I need examples of schools where there is not a class limit of 20 (as is the case for other practical subjects) or where there isn’t a regular one-to-one ratio of pupils to computers.

I have done an FOI request to the SQA and I am in the process of doing requests to all 32 councils but I would like to back up the numbers I get from those with real cases and issues from all round Scotland.

We will also be trying to plan out our suggested CPD provision for Computing teachers across Scotland. If you have opinions on the content or delivery of this please get in touch.

Please can you email me at kate@katefarrell.co.uk or add your comments here on CompEdNet before 22nd April.

Also, as ever, the more members we have in Computing at School the stronger our voice becomes. Please visit bit.ly/joincasscotland and join the CASS group in CompEdNet to become a member for free.

Many thanks,

Chair, Computing at School Scotland

22 Responses
  1. Scottish Borders:

    5 schools out of 9 now have no computing department – in 4 of them the head of department retired and the position was not re-advertised. In one the head of department was told that he must now teach Maths.

    • Thanks Ian! Have the departments generally been one-person departments? What has happened to any other Computing teachers in the departments?

  2. dbrown said on 25/03/2012

    Hi Kate, sorry this is a long one.

    In Highland region there has been a drastic cut in Computing staff over the last 10 years. Out of 26 secondary schools only 16 have Computing. Over the last 5 years I would say around 10+ teachers have retired and not been replaced. A number of schools have been reduced from 2 staff to 1. The end of this year I already know of at least 2 more staff retiring and pupils being told there will be no Computing in August.

    I can’t be exact with my figures as even my own authority when questioned claim they can’t give me exact info on Computing teachers??? I act as the regional subject contact and try to keep up communication between us all. I do get to question various managers who agree with all our points and issues but I am always told that information is fedback to the “powers that be” – that is 4 years with no response. All media coverage and latest reports are passed on.

    I personally work in a school like many in Highland that went from 2 teachers with large classes to just myself a few years back. I knew S1/2 was in danger but saw CfE as a real positive, creating a brand new course while knowing staffing in Business Ed would be cut meaning the course would not run. I certainly dispelled the myths of “all pupils doing 3rd level outcomes” and “creative and innovative new courses will run”. We were given a positive HMIe inspection Jan 2011 but I was disappointed that ICT was not on their radar and the inspectors had few answers on my questions and concerns. Our ICT faculty has no classes S1/2 – we are covering none of the Computing/Business outcomes and have major concerns with no change in Primary school education. It is clear even basic ICT skills are lacking. Science get S1/2 3pds a week.

    I am to have two 3 period a week option classes for S3 Computing, 4th level outcomes with pupils who have no previous Computing or even ICT. It does seem clear that we still need to have the majority of pupils reaching N5 by the end of S4.

    CPD needs to be in regional hubs due to our geography and even then it is difficult just within Highland. I personally don’t mind being given materials to work through myself but we have such I wide range of new software to get through it requires a range of teachers working in different areas and sharing basic starter materials. We are only given one day a year to get all Computing colleagues together. Robert Gordon University have offered us free CPD but I don’t think we would be able to get all staff together.

    There are so many options of software, in a range of areas, we need a central web space to show a few examples of the best similar applications to get started and it needs regularly updated. I have spent hours on certain software materials to then find a better alternative soon after and it is ever-changing. All required Computing areas also need Freeware material options as money is almost non-existent. We also have just started a new ICT contract which is making even basic software installation very difficult but that is story for another time…

    I really hope the government are going to be going to authorities and schools asking how they are teaching Computing.


  3. The situation in Dumfries and Galloway appears to be similar to previous posts included. There are 16 secondary schools and only 10 have Computing teachers. Within those 10 schools, S1-S3 provision is variable and ranges from no S1/S2 provision to two periods per week. S3 Computing is likely to be optional. Either pupils who select it will be involved in CfE Third / Fourth Level courses or making a start on National 4 / 5 qualifications.

    Typically, Science will be compulsory in S1-S3 for all pupils for three periods per week.

    As a rough estimate, over 20% of pupils in Dumfries and Galloway will have no access to Third / Fourth Level Computing Science Outcomes or National qualifications. This figure does not include pupils who do not opt for Computing Science courses in the Senior Phase because it ‘clashes’ with a large number of other options.

    Teachers in Dumfries and Galloway have discussed the recent Royal Society report (Shut Down or Restart) and (largely unsuccessful) attempts have been made to raise relevant issues with school and local authority senior managers. There is a general feeling amongst Computing teachers that their concerns are not being heard.

  4. Dear Kate
    Thank you for doing this.
    The department and faculty have raised this issue a number of times with SMT, especially in light of recent press articles, with no success whatsoever.

    Computing and Business Studies are the two least important subjects in the school.
    S1 – no Computing, one period of Bus. Ed.
    S2 – no Bus. Ed, one period of Computing.
    So ½ period per year each, with limited time for E’s and O’s.

    In contrast in S1-S2, maths and English have 4 periods per year.
    Science has 3 periods per year.
    RE has two periods per year.

    Art and Drama have one period per year. So Computing is 1/8th as important as Maths and English, ¼ as important as RE (in a Catholic school), 1/6th as important as Science. This is something that the pupils do pick up on.

    Under CfE, pupils are still choosing at the end of S2. Computing is not compulsory. It was in two columns, but in the Technology column it was competing against 8 other subjects, and in the Elective column was against 9 subjects. Compare this with Maths, English and French (all compulsory). Sciences and Social Subjects had 3 subjects per column to choose from. All subjects get 3 periods per week.

    Again Maths and English were virtually compulsory, all other subjects competing equally in the last 3 columns.

    CPD – we need quality CPD, that is worth taking time off work for, with materials to take away, using Freeware. Also suggestions as to software route to take ie Scratch to Small Basic to Python to Greenfoot for Higher?


  5. Kate,

    I’m not sure if you will have seen my original post – Strathclyde University: Pi-oneering – Innovations in computing education with the Raspberry Pi | CompEdNet – that outlines an initiative by staff and students to create RPi-based resources for schools and for CPD. My
    latest post in that thread highlights the fact that it’s likely that we’ll get some support from our Education Strategy Team to put our proposal into practice.

    There’s been some very positive responses from computing teachers and so I’m hopeful we can work together to improve their lot and to help promote computer science in the curriculum.

  6. Hi

    I teach in Renfrewshire and the position in my school is:

    Comp/ICT/Business S1 2 Periods (Only started this year)
    S2 1 Period.

    Science S1 & S2 3 Periods
    Technical S1 & S2 2 Periods
    Music S1 & S2 2 Periods
    Maths S1 & S2 4 Periods

    Coverage of Third Level outcomes is not possible when trying to cover both Business & Computing E’s & O’s.

    Computing appears in the Technologies column with 6 other subjects.

    As with most we are expected to provide exciting, quality courses which are relevant and reflect what’s going on in the world yet we’re reliant on freeware!
    It seems to me that Computing is sadly irrelevant to those running education.

  7. Great stuff Kate!

    We so need a national CPD programme for Computing teachers – so much has changed and as a profession we need training on both pedagogy and content! More on how to successfully teach software development would be a great help!

    In my school, Cults Academy, computing classes in the junior school are still in twenties but after pupil options the classes can go up to 30. We have had 26 in a room with 20 computers in the last few years but since moving to the new school we have 2 classrooms of 30 computers. Next year we have 2 higher computing classes and both are over 20 pupils.

    Time allocations for next years CfE plans for S2 are (all 54 minute periods):
    Science (discreet sciences on rota): 4 periods
    Technologies: 3 periods a week split between Computing, Business Education, Home Economics and Design & Technology. 🙁
    English: 4 periods
    Social Subjects: 4 periods
    PE: 3 periods
    Modern Languages: 3 periods
    Mathematics: 4 periods
    Expressive Arts (Art, Drama, Music): 3 periods

    Most of these are delivered on a rota.

    To me a significant issue is this “blending” of the Computing Science outcomes in schools with the Business Education ones. Due to staffing and timetable pressures in school the Computing experience is often delivered by a non-computing specialist as part of an “ICT” course in the junior phase. This is the case with our current S1 provision which is delivered by both Business Education and Computing Staff. Clearly each will have a different emphasis but I have never felt that this arrangement best meets the needs of learners or allows the most able to fully achieve level 3 (or move on to level 4) Computing Science outcomes.
    I also forgot to say that we have gone from three teachers in 2009 to a forecasted 1.5 for next session. A lot of this has been due to changes in school structures, reduction in computing options (i.e. cutting Information Systems, Advanced Higher, NPA Web Design, Games Design units) and the use of other staff to deliver Computing/ICT in S1/S2). There is also a small reduction in the overall school roll too!

  8. Good Stuff Kate,

    At my school we are a Computing/Business Education faculty. We have no access in S1 and one period in S2. As a result no discrete Computing or Business E’s & O’s are covered in S1/2. The few I.C.T. E’s & O’s are covered with a very limited range of software being covered. This has been raised with SMT but there is a firm reluctance to move away from the “traditional” model.

  9. HI Kate,

    I’m a parent, but I am also an IT manager at a Marine research institute (SAMS, Oban) and my interest in all this was the fact that my local high school (Lochgilphead) had no computing science courses for my son to study in S3 onwards. There is some element of computing in Business Admin, but that is more ‘user’ stuff, rather than the technical knowledge he wants to pick up.

    The issues at Lochgilphead are complicated – being a rural school it does not have huge numbers (there are only 500+ in the secondary part) and it can be difficult to attract new teachers to the area ( I believe all the schools in Argyll have this issue). The problem with Computing science at Lochgilphead is also two fold:
    1. The last Computing teacher left last summer. In the current (difficult) economic environment a decision was made by the school not to replace that teacher.
    2. This decision was partly based on the fact that only 9 pupils actually sat exams in computing science last year.

    And of course this is all exacerbated by the fact the my son is the first year at Lochgilphead that will be following the CoE when they enter S3 after this summer so the school has to concentrate on that in the first instance.

    The headmistress, Ann Devine, has said though that she would be willing to look at having some Computing Science available for when my son reached S5: this could be in partnership with the local Argyll College which is an academic partner of the University of the Highlands & Islands ( of which my institute is also). There was also some thought about ‘sharing’ an ICT teacher across the schools, but again I believe the ‘system’ doesn’t make that easy. We’ve discussed these issues at some length on the parent council.

    However, my main feeling is that Computing science has an image problem. Most people, including the kids, just see the ipads and the iphones and the games and the internet and don’t really want to learn how these things actually work: in other words they are taking technology for granted. I feel there needs to be some way to get kids actually interested in doing these things (e.g. programming, etc) and actually understanding the potential of computing science and what careers can open up with these skills: there is almost no area of science or the arts that isn’t impacted by computing. I started off as a Geophysicist in the mid 80s – not an IT manager, but it was potential and the use of computers in that field that finally led me to where I am now. On a personal note I am also trying my little bit by becoming a STEM ambassador ( but the new disclosure system seems overloaded at the moment).

    In comparison to the sciences at Lochgilphead, computing seems to be doing only marginally worse than the likes of Chemistry, but this is also influenced by the distribution of subject teachers – Lochgilphead seems particularly top -heavy with Language teachers as opposed to science teachers – but again I suspect that is related to our location: many teachers are settled in the area and there is not much choice for moving (given that high schools hear are over 40 miles apart) so there are human issues too that might prevent a better distribution.

    As someone who has worked in the IT field in a scientific environment for almost 16 years now (plus my 10 years “Geophysicking” on top of that) I am concerned about the way both science and computing is going in schools. We are seriously lacking in well-qualified, experience IT people (far too much is being out-sourced overseas) : as I am sure you are aware, Computing science at university is one of the few courses where numbers are actually dropping ! I really do find it all ironic – when I was in High school in the late 70’s, my then school, Oban, was actually teaching programming (Fortran) on their own system (when floppy disks were dinner plate sized !)- and it was a full class – we now seem to be going backwards.

    Maybe one of the answers is to introduce more computing element into the science subjects – too much computing seems to be in the realm of admin teaching. Rather than using presupplied software, let the pupils actually program the science into a computer, e.g. formulas, and then let them play with that to understand the behavior of a particular equation.


    • dbrown said on 28/03/2012

      The drop in uni uptake is an interesting point. I have spoken to a couple of head teachers in “big” schools in the Inverness area that have no Computing at all. The key point seems to be a pupil wishing to study Computer Science courses only needs Higher Maths. The argument being we don’t need Computing teaching at all and pupils can still do the uni courses if they want.

      Obviously it would be a brave move from the Unis but they may need to give more weight to the new Higher course as a pre-requisite for entry. The uni numbers are dropping as pupils are having less and less experience of Computing in schools so why not be bold and say pupils need Higher Computing.

      CfE implementation is a distant second to saving staffing costs. If parents start finding out their children cannot follow career paths they desire because the schools are not teaching the subjects that would really push the Computing agenda along.

      • Yes, the ‘Maths’ requirement was the one given to me as the important subject for access to University computing degrees. I don’t deny it is essential for Computing Science, but I can only feel that if a pupil also had a computing Higher they would get preference over someone who only has Maths (along with their other subjects, of course) as such this does put at a disadvantage those that are at a school without. I am in a position that I can teach my child this particular subject, buth others will miss out.

        Regarding the issue of parents you are making the assumption that all parents think the same. At the end of the day what limited funds there may be will end up going to support those subjects required by career paths for those that shout loudest or where numbers can count.


      • Yes, this is a real dilemma and a catch-22. I was an undergraduate admissions selector for CS between 1996 and 2010 so have a good insight into this question/suggestion. It’s a point that’s often been made and the basic issue is that Computer Science at HE level assumes no prior experience and is taught from ‘ground zero’. There are historic reasons for this – the main one being that the Higher Computing curriculum was not designed to be a pre-requisite for the study of the subject at HE level.

        It’s a real catch-22 and unless, and until, the curriculum of Computing in schools becomes much more aligned to the requirements of Computer Science degrees then there’s little prospect that HE will ‘harden’ their first year (foundation level) courses to require Higher Computing and build upon that knowledge base.

        OTOH, if the (equivalent of) AH Computing was to incorporate rigorous “computational thinking” concepts that more closely matched the first year university CS curriculum in combination with, say, AH Maths, then there’s the real prospect that advanced entry into the 2nd year of a CS degree programme would be achievable.

        Any university that unilaterally decided to require Higher Computing as it currently stands as a pre-requisite for entry would, IMO, see application/intake numbers fall rather than increase since, I presume, they would need to harden their first year curriculum and, thus, reject applicant without the relevant pre-requisite knowledge.

        A sight aside: Strathclyde has been seeing a steady increase in applications year on year since the low-point that coincided with the dot-com ‘bust’ – a 20% increase in applications this year over last year has been the biggest jump we’ve experienced for a while. Nevertheless, the general trend across the sector is a decreasing pool of applicants – Strathclyde just seems to be bucking that trend.

        • A lot of work has gone into the new Higher to make it more meaningful for entrance to H.E. The increase in the software development content and the keen focus on programming and scripting (in both units) makes it much more aligned to needs of H.E. and the feedback, from those in the H.E. sector who have been involved, has been positive – if we want a Higher that is also a pre-requiste for further study at University then it has to have a significant amount of software development in it – learners need to be able to really program at the end of it.

  10. muriel said on 27/03/2012

    Muriel Blake Pt Computing Mearns Academy We currently have 2 full time computing teachers for a school of 620. 1 period (50/ 55 min) a week in both S1-S2 for Computing and same for Business ED. This is slightly above the level for IT when both subjects are counted Science get 3 periods per week. Classes of 20 are norm unless a tutor group is 21 in which case we get a laptop to use in the classroom. We teach Standard Grade and both Comp and IS from Int2 to AH level.

  11. Hi

    Currently Science has first year for 3 periods, second year for three periods and up to 9 periods in third year. Science is in multiple options columns, Computing is in one.

    IT is one period in first year, one period in second year and three periods (one standard grade class) in third year.

    Next year, the one period in first and second year remains for IT and in third year I will see each pupil for 18 periods. That is a maximum of 18 periods in third year. Science will see pupils for 156 periods (max) or four periods a week. Level 3. I am in a curriculum area with Technical and Home Economics both get 36 periods over the year.

    In 4th year (Level 4) there will be a maximum of 20 pupils, at present I have no information on the amount of 50/55 minute periods will be allocated.

    I would like advice on what programming language should be used at level 4 and 5 and CDP for this.

    Phil Currie
    Campbeltown Grammar School

    • Hi Phil,

      I have no idea what the CfE recommends for programming, but a good start would be python. It is free, as are a lot of the utils for it (e.g. an IDE) ,and it is a nicely structured language -although it is bit weak on variable declaration. it also runs on Win and MACs

      Alternatively there is Scratch http://info.scratch.mit.edu/About_Scratch developed by MIT.


  12. edsinc said on 28/03/2012

    The position in my school is for next year:
    Computing and Business Studies (lumped as IT on Seemis)
    S1 –Computing, no Bus. Ed. 21 periods
    S2 – Bus.Ed., no Computing. 31 periods
    Very limited coverage of CS Es and Os

    Over S1 and S2 pupils get
    Computing 21 periods
    Business Studies 31 periods
    Science 213 Periods
    Technical 108 Periods
    HE 131 Periods
    Art 142 Periods
    PE 142 Periods
    Music 135 Periods
    Maths 284 Periods
    English 284 Periods

    S3 & S4
    Under CfE, pupils are still choosing at the end of S2. Computing is not compulsory. It was in two columns last year but now is only in one column as Computing Science which probably will be limited to 1 class of 20 as school roll is falling and teaching other subjects been mentioned. Can’t see how all pupils have access to CS Es and Os at moment.

    Composite Higher/Advanced Higher class.

    Desperately need CPD for Computing Science sooner than later.

  13. Thanks for doing this, Kate. If you haven’t already done so, can I suggest that you also contact SCIS as the representative body for independent schools?


  14. Hi Kate

    S1 ICT 1 period per week, taught by both Computing and Business teachers, trying to cover some O & E ‘s however we made the decision that we would not take responsibility for the General ICT O & E’s.

    Under Cfe our S1 choose options for S2. The pupils have to select 2 technologies out of 4, which are Computing Science, Home Economics, Technical Studies and Business Enterprise. We have then 2 periods per week for the whole year. We are covering level 3 outcomes however for the year past we only managed to get 100 pupils out of 220 in the year group. This means that the majority of pupils have not had access to level 3outcomes. We have continually questioned this and our Headteacher has said that it is acceptable as the pupil have made the choice not to study to this level themselves.

    Going into S3 pupils only need to select 1 technology course. We are in the same column as 6 other subject being, 2 x technical, 2 x HE and 2 x business. This is the stage that we are really worried about. The s3 course will be covering level 4 outcomes and some nat4 and wil come 3 periods per week, changing to 4 periods per week in S4.

    Hope this helps.

    Lorraine Muir
    Cathkin High School

  15. Kate
    2 periods per week in S1 and S2 doing a combination of computing, business and IT Es and Os (and obviously responsibility of all Es and Os also).
    Similar story in S2, although we are looking into the possibility of separating computing and business to provide 1 period each (the combination model is not satisfactory for computing or business education).
    S3 will see computing in a technologies column, where pupils will experience 3 periods of 50 minutes periods per week if they choose the course over administration, graphics or practical craft skills. I am still in consultation with SMT over the possibility of also having computing in an optional column for a “2nd chance at the cherry”. Again, teaching the broad general education (mainly level 4). S4? Who knows.

  16. Hi Kate

    At Forrester High School in Edinburgh we have a single period per week in S1 to deliver an ICT course. The course is delivered jointly by Computing and Business Education teachers. We are not able to deliver Computing or Bus Ed Es and Os in any depth and I am currently trying to lobby SMT to increase our time to a period per week for each subject. At the end of S1 our pupils make their choices for S2-3 where Computing is in a technologies column against 3 other subjects. Take up last year was good (2 classes of 20), just waiting to see if we can match that again this year.

    Staffing has remained largely static for the past few years and we do have a limit of 20 pupils per class.



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