What does Computing look like?

Computer Science

Originally uploaded by Lower Columbia College

Has anyone seen the new Computing programme of study*?

I’m betting lots of you have heard about it, and a few of you have read it.

If you haven’t, you really should – it’s only short. In fact, for KS3 it amounts to 9 bullet points. Nine.

Most ICT teachers will probably look at it with dismay, or at least some trepidation. First, the DfE have ditched “ICT” and replaced it with “Computing”**. And the bullets cover topics such as computational abstractions, sorting algorithms, boolean logic and the fetch execute cycle to name but 4.

There are a few… addendums? Caveats? A couple of points to make, at least.

First, ICT has not been ditched. ICT, as a subject title, is seen as being devalued in the eyes of the DfE. I’m not getting into my own point of view on that, at all – it is what it is and while I appreciate that some feel angry, undermined and under-appreciated, that’s not what I want to talk about right now. The DfE has rebranded the subject as Computing – which isn’t the same thing as ditching it entirely.

Take a look at bullet points 8 and 9:

“undertake creative projects that involve selecting, using, and combining multiple
applications, preferably across a range of devices, to achieve challenging goals,
including collecting and analysing data and meeting the needs of known users”


“create, reuse, revise and repurpose digital information and content with attention
to design, intellectual property and audience.”

That sounds a lot like ICT to me. Looking at presentation software, designing documents for hardcopy (i.e. posters and leaflets), spreadsheet modelling, data handling with a database, web design, image editing, video editing, audio editing, digital creativity – it’s all in there.

It’s written up in a pretty vague way – but then it’s meant to be. The PoS is supposed to be slim, and vague. It provides the pegs on which we get to hang our curriculum. Again, I have my own opinion on the sweeping changes being brought in by the DfE in the last few years – but we are where we are. The government wants schools to have more independence. Here is an outline of the kind of stuff we want you to do – you fill in the blanks.

And most ICT teachers, and most ICT departments, should feel comfortable with their own curricula to meet those two criteria. The fact that it represents 2/9 bullet points (22%), doesn’t mean that it should equate to the same proportion of curriculum time.

So what about the other 7 bullet points?

“understand at least two key algorithms for each of sorting and searching; use
logical reasoning to evaluate the performance trade-offs of using alternative
algorithms to solve the same problem”

Well, that’s potentially a half-term’s work. To do it properly I’d probably want to build up to it over the three years – looking at algorithms in general and sorting algorithms in particular as part of a wider context (or I could try and sell the pupils on a unit of work all about sorting data – but I’m not sure they’d find the prospect as exciting as I probably would***). I doubt highly that anyone is suggesting we spend as much time on the bubble and shuttle sorts as we do on the whole “ICT” curriculum as it was.

Think back, those of you who’ve been in this game more than 5 years or so, and you may recall the KS3 National Strategy. A lesson-by-lesson programme of study for the whole of KS3. Many schools took it as a prescribed scheme of work that must be followed at all costs – when in fact it was designed as a starting point for schools lacking enough specialist ICT teachers. Here was a set of resources you COULD use as a starting point, and build upon until to meet your students’ needs and your staff expertise.

I see this new document in the same way. There are 7 new things that you might not be familiar with if you’re not a computer science specialist – so we’ve put a good bit of detail and a good bit of emphasis into them to make it clear and to give you a starting point. There are also two bullet points at the end to cover the stuff you already know – and we’re not going to patronise you on those ones because we trust you to know what you’re doing.

I’m sure some will accuse me of being naive (a criticism I’ve faced more than once), but until someone tells me that I’m wrong, that’s the way I’m planning to read that document.

My school’s KS3 ICT/computing curriculum is made up of 3 strands – digital productivity (e.g. MS Office type stuff****), digital creativity and computer science. Creating a computer game? You need to design it (creativity), build it (computer science) and advertise it (productivity). Find the user manual for any computer game and have a look at the credits – see what the different people have contributed to the game. I bet a lot of them have done some ‘coding’ at some level – but I bet a hell of a lot have done all sorts of other work – all of it done on, or with, a computer. That’s the model I’m taking at KS3…

* http://media.education.gov.uk/assets/files/pdf/n/national%20curriculum%20consultation%20-%20framework%20document.pdf, pp. 152-155

** I know that, technically, only English and other languages should be capitalised as proper nouns, but I think it helps differentiate between general stuff relating to anything computer based and the specific subject area we’re talking about.

*** I’ve met Tony Hoare, who invented the Quicksort algorithm – I doubt the kids would be as humbled as I over that experience!

**** Doug Belshaw quite rightly picked me up on this point within about 30s of hitting the “post” button. I don’t want to amend the post too heavily as this isn’t the point I was trying to make, but his criticism is fair. Nomenclature is a big deal – just ask teachers whether we should call our subject ICT, Digital Literacy, Computing, Computer Studies, Computer Science, IT or something entirely different – then step back and watch the argument ensue.

I accept that being productive is not about using PPT and Word. I was trying to rapidly differentiate between a set of topics – a set of topics that are never truly distinct anyway. Does making a poster fit into productivity, or creativity? Ultimately both, but for the sake of trying to categorise things I’m going to lump it in productivity – with a tacit understanding that layout and design are key principles involved.

Communication and collaboration would fit into productivity, as would turning a machine on, managing files & folders, eSafety, etc. Call it digital literacy if you prefer. Call it Hungarian Basket Weaving if you prefer! And I apologise for making the reference to MSO (although I’m leaving it there – I don’t believe it editing all of my mistakes out).


A Programme of Study for ICT


Originally uploaded by Mark Brannan

Programme of Study
Medium Term Plan

It’s taken me ages to write this post, probably moreso than it took me to write the documents below – but anyone who has ever tried to make use of gained time will understand why.

With the official dis-application of the ICT Programme of Study (or PoS – and make what you will of that acronym…) schools have the freedom to teach what they want, how they want.

Some have seen that as a sign that ICT isn’t important and can be, at best farmed out to all of the other subjects, and and at worst just simply dropped without trace. This is, of course, incredibly short-sighted and probably likely to backfire. It’s true that Ofsted are focusing much more on numeracy and literacy, but if you listen to what the DfE are saying, their move to disapply the PoS is nothing to do with ICT not being important – quite the opposite.

People like CAS, BCS, the Royal Society, Microsoft and Google are all telling us, and telling those in power, that ICT isn’t doing everything it should (which is not the same as saying that ICT is no good). And so those in power are giving us an opportunity to do what we want. Not in the way that Mrs. C says “do want you want” when she’s in a strop, but in that positive, empowering way of saying “OK, you show me what you want to do and we’ll see where we go from there”.

In two years there will be a new, officially sanctioned PoS. One that will go beyond *just* using Microsoft Office and Flowol (I know that many people have been doing much more than that for years, but not because of the PoS, and it’s scary how many tales I’ve heard of schools that haven’t gone beyond that). What we do now will influence that PoS, so we need to try things out and push the boundaries a bit. Some stuff will work, some won’t, but that’s a part of education. Right?

Writing a PoS for my department was easy. Really easy It took me about an hour. Why? Well, largely because we’ve always treated the PoS with disdain. We’ve made sure we’ve ticked the right boxes, but we’ve treated it as a pretty low floor and pretty ugh done what we’ve wanted to anyway. Gove says we could have 11 year olds making simple 2D animations in a free program called Scratch? Our Y7s were writing Pong and Breakout clones years ago!

Along with that I’ve written what I have called a medium term plan. Now, don’t tell anyone, but I don’t really know the difference between a SoW and a MTP, but it’s a list of units we might do and how they will fit together to meet my draft PoS.

I think the two documents nicely lead through a 3-stranded curriculum, with digital literacy (using a computer on a day-to-day level) at the core and stretching out through creative skills and computing topics alike. There are a couple of notable omissions, specifically in the form of image and video editing. We do intend to teach those, but as the logistics can be tricky and the outcomes very risky we’ve not included them in the PoS – so there is no stick to beat us with if we fail.

This task is being emulated in lots of other places – check out ictcurric and digitalstudies for just two examples of collaborative SoW, but perhaps this might be a useful pair of documents for others.