Computing At School – England

(1) What is your name? What do you do? Where are you from?

I’m Simon Humphreys, National coordinator, Computing At School (CAS), which roughly translates to managing the day-to-day activities of the CAS group!  I taught music before a hearing impairment forced a change in direction and went back to university to read Computer Science.  Having graduated I taught in Cambridge.  With colleagues and friends from other schools, academia and industry the Computing At School working group was formed.  The CAS group now has over 15,000 members and recently won the Best Practice in Education Award from Informatics Europe!   In whatever spare time he has left he is writing and arranging music for the nationally regarded Cambridge Touring Theatre Company.
(2) Is there informatics teaching at K-12 level in England?
If so at which level and it is mandatory or optional? How many
students take this courses? What does the curriculum look like? Who
teaches it? Do you have informatics teachers in England or is
it taught by teachers of other disciplines?

A new national curriculum was introduced in September 2014 for all state maintained schools in England.  This includes a brand new subject – Computing.  This has replaced the pre-existing ICT curriculum. The curriculum starts when pupils enter the school, we call that Key Stage 1, through to the end of Key Stage 3 when pupils elect to follow exam courses taken when they are 16 years old.  It is also expected that pupils at Key Stage 4 schools have the opportunity to study aspects of IT and computer science at sufficient depth to allow them to progress to higher levels of study or to a professional career.

The curriculum includes three strands:

  • Computer Science – the academic discipline encompassing programming languages, data structures, algorithms etc
  • Information Technology – the use of computers including aspects of IT systems architecture, human factors and project management
  • digital literacy – the general ability to use computers, a set of skills rather than a subject in its own right

(3) Is there an informatics teacher society in England?

Yes.  Computing At School!  CAS is a grass roots organisation, whose energy, creativity, and leadership comes from its members. It is now part of BCS, The Chartered Institute for IT who have provided much needed support and recognition for CAS.  CAS has additional formal support from major industry partners, including Microsoft Research, Google, Ensoft. Our membership is open to everyone, (teachers, parents,exam boards, industry, professional societies, and universities), which has been hugely significant in our development and success.  We are now recognised as an influential organisation in terms of policy and decision-making at a statutory level.

(4) How has the situation evolved in recent years?

As mentioned earlier, the English National curriculum for ICT (Information and Communication Technology) has been completely reformed, and now explicitly embodies Computer Science as a foundational part of the curriculum, starting from primary school.  This is a very significant change.  In 2008 there were no GCSEs (age-16 national examinations) in Computer Science. Now every awarding body offers such a GCSE.  For CAS, our online community is attracting over 800 new embers each month and we are now running over 130 local “hubs” for teachers.  We are also funded by the government to run a national programme of training for Computing teachers.
(5) What are the main successes and failures of K-12 informatics
teaching in England?

We are the start of our journey!  I could quote statistics illustrating how the previous curriculum did not adequately support the needs of industry, nor did it encourage students to want to study Computer Science at university but I’m not sure how helpful that would be.  One thing does seem to be clear is that in almost every country in the world the realisation has dawned that young people should be educated not only in the application and use of digital technology, but also in how it works, and its foundational principles. Lacking such knowledge renders them powerless in the face of complex and opaque technology, disenfranchises them from making informed decisions about the digital society, and deprives our nations of a well-qualified stream of students enthusiastic and able to envision and design new digital systems.

Here in England we’ve been very clear to:

  • Articulate and define the subject as a discipline, something that ALL children need to learn from the moment they enter the school.  Computer Science is not just a university-level discipline!
  • Trust our innovative teachers.  They are in the vanguard of implementing this change and enabling them to share their experience and passion with their colleague is very powerful.