Expert Panel report on the National Curriculum review

Yesterday, the Expert Panel for the National Curriculum review released its report: “The Framework for the National Curriculum“, alongside a written ministerial statement by Michael Gove.

I have a huge interest in the outcomes of the National Curriculum review in England, primarily through my work with Computing At School (CAS), but also its impact on education policy in Wales. With the BCS Academy of Computing (the learned society dedicated to advancing computing as an academic discipline), CAS submitted a response to the call for evidence in April 2011; one of the main aims was to highlight to the Department for Education that computer science is a rigorous academic subject distinct from digital literacy and for it to be considered separately from ICT in the National Curriculum review. This letter to Michael Gove in June 2011 from the BCS and high-profile tech industry leaders further reinforced the strategic national importance of computer science to industry and the UK economy.

Here are two key snippets from the Expert Panel’s report (page 24):

Despite their importance in balanced educational provision, we are not entirely persuaded of claims that design and technology, information and communication technology and citizenship have sufficient disciplinary coherence to be stated as discrete and separate National Curriculum ‘subjects’.

We recommend that…Information and communication technology is reclassified as part of the Basic Curriculum and requirements should be established so that it permeates all National Curriculum subjects. We have also noted the arguments, made by some respondents to the Call for Evidence, that there should be more widespread teaching of computer science in secondary schools. We recommend that this proposition is properly considered.

This has come a week after a rather damning Ofsted report on ICT in schools, which says that only one third of secondary schools achieve ‘Good’ or better at teaching ICT. There is clearly still a lot of work to be done to ensure that we are developing the appropriate level of computational skills in schools (irrespective of what the subject is called), but this statement from the Expert Panel is certainly a positive step (although “We recommend that this proposition is properly considered.” is a bizarre turn of phrase, with little commitment). I am also concerned that embeddding ICT across the curriculum has been attempted before, with little success.

Let’s see what the Royal Society’s report says in January.

5 Comments

  1. Although I have so much more to digest about what is going on here with this review, 2 points come to mind:
    Firstly:
    This seems to be leaning towards the cross-curricular implementation of IT education in schools and that is exactly what should be happening but the practicalities of this in most secondary school and the realities mean this is unlikely to happen. Sorry to be the profit of doom but I predict most schools will do cover up jobs and box ticking and the digital divide of personal/educational use of tech for most students will deepen not narrow.

    Secondly:
    It is encouraging to see their recognition of Computer Science but as I blogged about previously; http://largerama.creativeblogs.net/2011/10/13/brakes/ , to me such a specialist route at the expense of at least one other specialist route has to be questioned. Don’t get me wrong, I am a strong component of Computing (hence I am sat here in my Xmas hols teaching myself VB, learning Javascript through a codecademy challenge I set myself and some students in my school and developing Interactive Fiction using Quest. Yet, I can see digital media and digital literacy skills just not being developed and the education of students in these areas being completely ignored. Computational thinking and problem solving are such significant components of what we should be teaching students but there is a still a significant place for more than these in our curriculum.

    1. It would appear Nick has beaten me to the point.

      As we discussed Tom, and somewhat similar to Nicks points of a tick box ‘fudge job’ I am unsure how the panel review recommendations will mature into policy. Somewhat underwhelmed by tone, encouraged by the comment.

      ICT is outdated, technology enhanced learning is still, quite similar just good learning. ICT could be replaces with another term, when it should quietly simple be removed.

      ICT / technology enhanced learning IS learning, or tools for learning or part of the teaching methodologies at hand. Use ICT / technology where it enhances learning, this is not a curriculum audit or overview, its a teaching overview. Not forgetting that technology IS NOT a pre-requisitie for outstanding teaching and learning.

      In 2014 – ICT will be a skill not Subject – its barely a subject now.

      The best ICT teachers currently are those that teach young people, not content, seeking out inspiring learning opportunities (see Nick above) repackaged as ICT. In 2014 lets hope all teachers repackage ICT within their teaching. With that lofty aspiration, just that, an aspiration, there needs to be a digital outlet as well as computing, that is most certainly NOT ICT, and not ‘tick box fudged’ cross curricular audit exercise and at the forefront of digital learning. Digital learning that is rigorous, creative and challenging; animation, graphic design, audio engineering, video and after effective, modelling, CAD, that compliments programming.
      Now this might surprise you, but I also feel there is an employment benefit to being able to use Office software effectively. It is just that it is not part of a digital curriculum, but an employment curriculum.

      The commentary is encouraging, however this insistence with the term ICT is almost as annoying as educations insistence with the term 21st century learners. Both are 10 years out of date and offer little defintion.

  2. I don’t see this quite so positively Tom. The notion that any technological education isn’t sufficiently important to have a minimum entitlement specified by Government is likely to prove divisive – there’ll be many pupils in schools which get this, and provide a rich, challenging and creative curriculum encompassing all aspects of technology, but far too many which leave this to a minimal digital literacy embedded across the ‘proper’ subjects – 10 sorts of schools: those that teach computing, and those that don’t.

    Yes, there should be more widespread teaching of computer science in secondary schools, but also in primaries, as secondary is too late to start getting boys and girls excited about this. It’s nice that the ‘experts’ think this should be considered seriously; what a shame they didn’t.

    I do hope our esteemed secretary of state may be more willing to listen to Cameron, Willets and Vaizey than his expert panel. Also worth noting that of those responding to the Call for Evidence, 77% wanted statutory programs of study for ICT – these could, clearly, include the entitlement to study computing which I’d see as vital to any liberal education in the 3rd millennium.

  3. I question the expertise of a panel who have made this statement. Of course ICT should be used across the curriculum – and that has been a requirement for some time. But ICTAC is not the same as the curriculum subject ICT – which is, properly taught, so much more than the development of cross curricular ICT user skills. ICT teaches young people how to develop systems for a purpose. Developing a good system takes time. Even the much criticised Nat Strat. framework for ICT was at pains to show that ICT is about capability and understanding – not just skills development. I do not believe that embedding the use of ICT skills in other subjects will raise standards in either the use of applications or conceptual understanding of the processes involved in developing a system – unless those are the focus of the unit of work – but they cannot be – because the subject content/subject specific concepts will be the focus of the work in other subjects. ICT teachers have been criticised for their lack of knowledge/skills – how much less knowledge/skills about ICT does the average non-ICT teacher have? Even at the easiest end of the spectrum – look at the average presentation, leaflet, poster done ‘using ICT’ in other subjects – most will be poorly designed and will not evidence much skill in the use of whatever tool they are created in. Use of spreadsheets, databases, programming – already ‘weaknesses’ of ICT teachers (according to the report) are even less likely to be taught effectively by all teachers of other subjects. It is dispiriting to read that the government does not think that ICT is a worthy subject in its own right and that it can be covered by teachers of other subjects – they will not be able to teach the ICT curriculum – or ICT skills, as well as I and my ICT specialist colleagues can – as most HoDs, who have witnesssed the teaching outcomes of non-specialist ICT teachers will know only too well. I am glad that the govt are going to consider the teaching of computer science as a separate subject – but I think they are making a mistake about ICT.

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