Computing at School Scotland

Introduction

Computing At School Scotland is the teacher organisation that advocates Computing Science and Informatics teaching in Scotland’s schools.  I am Mark Tennant, one of the national committee members with Computing at School Scotland.  I can be contacted by email: mark@cas.scot and twitter: @markjtennant.

Computing at School Scotland can be found on the web at http://www.cas.scot, on twitter @casscotland, and facebook.

Computing at School Scotland is part of the UK-wide Computing at School group, and is part of the British Computer Society (BCS), the chartered institute for IT in the UK.

Scottish Education

Education in Scotland is currently going through the final phase of a long-term redesign process called “Curriculum for Excellence” – CfE for short.  Part of the new curriculum includes specific outcomes for Computing Science which should be delivered to all students in the first three years of secondary education, with more advanced outcomes that can be studied by the most able students.

After the “S3″ (third year of secondary) stage, students can study Computing Science on an optional basis: National certificates administered by the Scottish Qualifications Authority are available covering a wide range of attainment levels from basic “National 3″ up to pre-university – called “Higher” in Scotland.  An “Advanced Higher” is also on offer in some schools, which roughly equates to first year of University in terms of difficulty.

As part of CfE, the certificate level courses from National 3 to Advanced Higher are in the process of being redesigned, with significant emphasis on Computational Thinking skills, as well as practical elements based around programming, web development and multimedia.

Computer Literacy

IT literacy – in terms of using computers for everyday tasks – is supposed to be embedded across all subject areas.  In practice, many schools still offer specific courses in IT literacy at all stages of the curriculum.  Teaching of IT literacy varies massively from school to school currently, and is known to be an ongoing issue in Scotland.  On the whole, most staff are IT literate and can use technology in their lessons.  Pupils and Staff are increasingly being given access to mobile technologies like Tablets to use in class.

Successes and Challenges in Scotland

The new CfE has been a boost overall for Computing Science; it is now explicitly in the Pre-S3 curriculum and the certificate courses in senior school are getting a much-needed update.  This has not been without problems though:

  • not all schools fully understand the need to deliver the Computing Science outcomes in the lower phases;
  • some schools lack the subject experts to do this, or to deliver certificate level courses;
  • there is still a lack of understanding about the subject, and it is often confused with IT literacy by senior levels of management;
  • Only 2 of Scotland’s 6 Teacher Education Institutions are training Computing Science teachers, and those are small numbers when compared to retirements and those leaving.  This has caused a drop in the number of suitably qualified teachers;
  • Student numbers electing to study at senior level were in decline until recently.  The introduction of CfE makes it hard to draw conclusions as to whether this has been reversed, as we have gone from two certificate subjects (Computing, Information Systems) to one (Computing Science);
  • Staff often do not have confidence in newer areas of the curriculum such as Web Development to teach it effectively;

Computing at School Scotland has only been in existence for three years.  In that time a lot of progress has been made.  We received funding in 2013 from the Scottish Government to run a Professional Learning programme – PLAN C – that aims to update the pedagogy used in classrooms to deliver the subject based on known areas of success in teaching Computing Science.  We have established a national conference focusing on new skills and ideas for the classroom.  We have built links with Higher Education, Government and Education Authorities to advocate Computing Science education in schools.  We have used a combination of approaches to gauge the Professional Learning requirements of teachers at both Primary and Secondary, and managed to use Freedom of Information legislation to track teacher numbers.  Lastly, the Scottish Government has launched a Skills Investment Plan for Computing-related careers; CAS Scotland was identified as a key partner in this to continue improving the delivery of Computing Science education in Scotland’s schools.

Exciting times in Scotland, but many challenges remain.