Are Primary Schools In Danger Of Causing Death By Coding?
Mon 16 March, 2015
Since Michael Gove mentioned his desire to change the Primary ICT curriculum, all the media headlines have been about coding and schools have been desperately scrabbling around trying to get themselves up to speed. But are schools in danger of death by coding? Will Scratch become the dreaded program that PowerPoint became? And most importantly is there another way?
CODING IS ONLY A PART OF THE CURRICULUM
This is a slide from a presentation that we recently delivered at a Primary Computing Network meeting in Bristol. It shows the Computing skills that children must have learnt by the time they leave primary education. What it serves to highlight is that even the curriculum is only just over 1/3 coding. So why has coding hit the headlines and why are schools fixated on it?
Our theory is that the introduction or re-introduction of coding to the Computing curriculum is the thing people have focussed on, because it is the part that teachers feel most nervous about. Most of us feel that we have a grasp of the generalities of Computing, but being asked to teach something that sounds so specific and so technical makes us feel that we might get found out. This has led to national training initiatives, schools scrabbling to change curriculum, but most worryingly though it has led to lots of money being spent on software and hardware, in the hope of plugging the skills gap and not being found out by OFSTED.
DEATH BY POWERPOINT BECOMES DEATH BY SCRATCH
Go into most primary schools, ask them about their computing curriculum and most will give you an answer that involves some form of practical activity, such as a BeeBot and some form of visual programming, usually with Scratch. This shows you three things. Firstly, it shows that schools are quick to adapt. Secondly, it shows that new ideas travel fast across the world of education and thirdly it shows that it is all too easy to fall into the trap of providing the expected.
This reliance on key pieces of software means that most pupils can expect to repeat the same subject in the same way over the next few years at school. If they are lucky their teacher will deliver this is a new and creative way, if they are less lucky then they the brand new shiny computing curriculum risks becomes just as dull, lifeless and useless as the last.
IS THERE A BETTER WAY?
We think that schools need to provide their children with a broad range of experiences of Computing and to develop curricula that focus on all the key skills of Computing and not just some.
We would advocate sitting down with the key people in your school and asking the following questions:
What Computing skills do children start our school with?
What Computing skills do we want the children to leave our school with?
What Computing skills will our children need when they reach employment age?
Do the skills we have chosen allow us to teach the programmes of study, whilst not shackling the creativity of the children that we are teaching them to?
You should then map out those skills, how they should be taught and when. This will allow you to track progress and ensure that children develop skills at the right time.
Alongside this skills based approach, children should be taught that technology is a tool to be used in all learning, when it is appropriate and when it enhances that learning. This is something that teachers need to model and students need to be taught.
If schools approached the curriculum this way, then it would free their children to enjoy Computing in a creative way, whilst still ensuring that they enter the jobs market skilled and ready for employment.
If your school needs support to improve the provision of IT and the Computing curriculum, then contact us on by phone on: 0118 936 0080, or by email on: firstname.lastname@example.org and we will visit your school for a cup of tea and a chat.