Probationer restarting department from scratch

  • Fraser McKay

    Hi all, first time I’ve posted here. I’ve been a PGDE student, about to start my probation in August. I’m going to be teaching in a school that hasn’t had computing for 5 years.

    Any tips for running N5 from scratch? The HT has asked me to think about teaching N5, and what I’ll need for that. I’ve been told there can be money if I need software licenses: right now, they have MS Access and (I think) Scratch. I’m planning to ask for free VB and a web package (for the N4 tasks). I’ve got resources from placements and downloads here.

    We think I’ll have two N5 classes: one each S4 and S5/6. The plan is 4x S4 periods per week, 5x S5/6. The kids won’t have done computing in S3 to prep them, so it’s a cold start. They’ve also missed the month after change of timetable. Wondering if anyone has any general tips? What order to do the topics in? I’m thinking they need SDD, web and databases by the time the assignment comes out. I’m not sure of prelim times yet. Is it feasible/needed to squeeze in computer systems after the assignment/before Easter? I haven’t really seen N5 condensed into a year before.

    My placement schools have been really helpful but I thought it’s worth casting the net wider too, before other schools go on holiday.

    It’s a good school and everyone’s really friendly, but I’m just aware it’s a lot to prepare for!

    Marc McWhirter

    Hi Fraser, congratulations on completing your PGDE. I was in exactly the same boat as you about five years ago – and it seems like a daunting task. My best advice to you is don’t reinvent the wheel (but feel free to modify it as you go!) especially in the first year.

    I quite often get kids coming back to N5 after I haven’t seen them since S1 – so basically an almost cold start. Crash highers happen quite often too. I’ve found a lot of the time the situation is never ideal, but you manage.

    The order I do topics has always been Web – SDD – DB – Systems. I tend to have DB finished by January, which is when we have the prelims, although I revisit a lot of stuff later and go deeper in different parts depending on the prelim results. Systems just gets whatever time I have left, but I believe the SQA recommends 10%. I have schemes of work I can send you.

    In terms of investing in a web package, which not try something like Codepen or and just teach basic HTML?

    Feel free to e-mail me at mcwhim[at] and I am happy to support throughout your year as well, like I say – been there, it’s tough, but you’ll manage!

    Fraser McKay

    Hi Marc, thanks! That’s really helpful to know roughly how you fit it in.

    Thanks for the advice about Codepen and I hadn’t thought about simple HTML. I was thinking they needed to use something bulky/downloaded like WebPlus for the N4 unit assessment but any HTML for N5, but admittedly I haven’t thought about N4 much. I don’t even know if I’ll have N4, or if they allow kids to drop down after prelim, or if we’re offering N5-or-nothing (maybe units). The letter to parents says it’s aimed at N5. I’m hoping to pin down the details next week.

    They’ve decided not to offer crash Higher, which I think sounds sensible this year!

    Eoin Neil

    I agree with Marc, not need to re-invent the wheel just tweak.

    When I was a probationer, 2 years ago, I had a N5 class and we taught them VB. I don’t think it was a cold start, but they really struggled with the concept of designing a UI and it took a lot of time that we didn’t have. In my current school we teach Python and I feel learners find it a lot more straight forward because they don’t need to worry about UI.

    They SQA recently released the dates for the next block of Understanding Standards events – It’s a good opportunity to see what the SQA expects, and meet other CS Teachers.

    Like Marc I’m happy to share resources with you and answer any questions you have – my email is e.neil @



    I was just in the same boat as you for last year. I wouldn’t worry about the pupils not having been in S3 Computing. I get 5 periods a week for my senior classes so I decided to do SDD throughout the year on the single period every week. This let me build up their programming knowledge (I used python) over a long period of time which I think was a lot better than if I had done a distinct block. As for topic order, I completed CS in 3/4 weeks, DDD from mid-Sept to Nov, WDD Nove to Dec. And then four weeks of SDD theory in Jan and Feb sitting around their prelim.

    The understanding standard will be really good to go to (I couldn’t make the one last year but a friend caught me up).

    Give me a shout if you need anything, I’d be happy to help (although my resources need a little fine-tuning based on my reflection of last year)

    btacmeechan @

    Fraser McKay

    Thanks both – that’s actually really interesting. I’d wondered about doing programming one period per week, so they could build up over time. It’s good to hear someone’s done it that way and it’s feasible – it might be the way I go. I think it’s how we did it when I was at school (but that was Standard Grade).

    I’m still wondering over Python and VB, to be honest. I know that’s a whole debate in itself, so not asking to start it here! Part of me thinks many schools seem to be moving to Python, so maybe it makes sense to start with it. I’ve done a bit out of school, but I’d be rusty. I’ve done quite a lot of VB with S3/4 on my placements, and my background’s more .NET before teaching. I hadn’t thought about UI though, so that’s another thing to consider. I could pick Python up, but it might be re-inventing what I’ve done. I’m still going back and forth.

    Understanding Standards sounds good – I’ll try to see if I can go to that.

    After weeks twiddling my thumbs post-PGDE, it’s all happening now I know my school! 🙂

    Stephen Stewart

    Hi Fraser,

    Feel free to join our Slack me and some colleagues are using for collaboration and sharing resources.

    All I need is your email address and I will get you added to it.


    Peter W Donaldson

    Hello Fraser,

    if you do decide to go down the Python 3 route there are a number of N5 specific programming resources on the Compednet site you can use as well as online browser based interactive textbooks with built-in coding exercises for Python 3 that you can use to supplement these.

    I would recommend taking a look at the earlier sections of some of the Runestone Interactive books particularly as there is an instructor feature that allows you to create custom versions of the books for your class and track their progress.

    CS Principles: Big Ideas in Programming covers N5 and some Higher level concepts

    How to Think Like a Computer Scientist- need to be more selective with this resource but may have some useful interactive exercises

    You’d need the Pygame library installed for this one and it doesn’t provide interactive code snippets however it does have a range of self-marking quizzes, worksheets and some code comprehension style exercises. This again covers N5 into Higher and even some Advanced Higher content. If they login it can also help them track their progress.

    There is also a newer resource by the same author for a simpler 2D game library called Arcade with a book

    My top tip for complete novices is to make sure you include plenty of short and focused code comprehension and tracing exercises, parson puzzle style code writing where they’re given the fragments and have to place them in the correct order, code modification of provided code and worked examples that scaffold the code writing process so that they can experience a high-level of regular success. The nice thing about code comprehension exercises is they can be set for homework as they often don’t require a computer. See Greg Reids Computational Thinking homework’s on this site or the national Computing At School community site.

    You can find out about various different types of research based novice activity formats on the PLAN C resource page on Computing At School

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