My name is Ann O’Neill. I am a part-time lecturer in Computing at Stranmillis University College, Belfast, Northern Ireland. I currently teach Scratch programming, the Raspberry Pi (including Python programming) and App Inventor 2 to primary and post-primary BEd and PGCE student teachers. I also deliver Professional Development training to teachers on each of these. I have 14 years’ industrial experience (before becoming a teacher) working in software engineering in all stages of the software development life cycle including programming, analysis, design and project management.
Background – School in NI
In Northern Ireland, school is compulsory from age 4yrs to 16yrs. Children attend primary school (age 4 – 11) and post-primary school (age 11-16/18). The school curriculum applies to all 12 years of compulsory education:
Primary: The Foundation Stage (Years 1 & 2)
Key Stage 1 (Years 3 & 4)
Key Stage 2 (Years 5 – 7)
Post-primary: Key Stage 3 (Years 8 – 10)
Key Stage 4 (Years 11 – 12)
There are approximately 800 primary and 200 post-primary schools in Northern Ireland with a total enrolment of approximately 320,000 pupils.
Although part of the UK, we have our own curriculum which is funded by the NI Executive.
The NI Curriculum
The Northern Ireland Curriculum comprises Areas of Learning, Cross-Curricular Skills, and Thinking Skills and Personal Capabilities. Using ICT (Information and Communications Technology) is one of three statutory cross-curricular skills.
There are a variety of Using ICT activities available at Key Stage 1 & 2 including Desktop Publishing, Film and Animation and Interactive Design. At Key Stage 3, Using ICT includes a wide range of activities including: CAD, Data Handling, Desktop Publishing, Exploring Programming, Game Making, Web Design, Working with Moving Images/Animation. Although programming is not mandatory in the NI curriculum, it is an option. Scratch and Logo are included in ‘Interactive Design’ at Key Stage 1 & 2 and Scratch, Logo and Game Maker are included in ‘Exploring Programming’ and ‘Game Making’ at Key Stage 3.
New assessment and reporting arrangements for Using ICT became statutory from 2013/2014. From September 2014 it will become compulsory for schools to assess and report a Level of Progression in Using ICT for each pupil at the end of Key Stages 1, 2 and 3.
Primary school pupils are taught Using ICT by their class teacher who up until now will have had little or no specialised training in the subject. Post-primary pupils may have as little as 35 mins of ICT per week for two of the three school years of Key Stage 3. This is usually, but not always, taught by an ICT specialist teacher.
All pupils sit GCSE examinations at the end of year 12 (age 16) and many stay on at school to sit GCE A Levels at the end of year 14 (age 18). Currently pupils can study ICT or Applied ICT at GCSE and A Level.
A new GCE A Level has recently been introduced, Software Systems Development, with the first awards due Summer 2015. This was introduced as a result of research with the IT industry which indicated a shortfall in programming skills in NI. Currently 12 schools (approx. 200 pupils) have registered to sit the new A Level in 2015.
There is no computing GCSE, although some schools enter pupils for a Computing GCSE through English examination boards (OCR and AQA).
Computing/CS Education for teachers
At present, Stranmillis University College Belfast is the only Teacher Education Institute in Northern Ireland where all (of the 600) Initial Teacher Education (ITE) students, each year, undergo training in Computing. This programme is in its second year. All primary and post-primary ITE students learn the concepts of Computing through Scratch programming. A course on the Raspberry Pi reinforces this through Python programming and Sonic Pi as well as teaching the fundamentals of Computer Science – from the Linux operating system to physical computing (e.g. creating a Scratch project to simulate traffic lights by illuminating LEDs). Post-primary ITE students are learning how to create apps for Android phones and tablets using App Inventor 2.
Computing / Informatics teacher society
The umbrella computing/informatics teacher society in Northern Ireland is Computing At School (CAS): http://www.computingatschool.org.uk/.
Industry has been supportive in sponsoring STEM events including a recent CAS NI conference. However, there has been a lack of government funding to train teachers in Computing. With budgets being cut, schools are finding it increasingly difficult to fund Professional Development training in Computing for their teachers.