Are educators ready for Michael Gove's new computing curriculum?

By Peter Gothard
07 Feb 2014 View Comments
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From September, schools will be teaching basic coding for five-year-olds, while secondary school students will be required to study several programming languages, under a new national curriculum that Education Secretary Michael Gove first outlined two years ago.

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To help smooth the way for the new focus on "computing" skills, £4m was given to bodies such as the BCS, The Chartered Institute for IT, to recruit 400 "master teachers" to educate the educators. So how ready are schools to deliver the new curriculum?.

Mike Philipson is subject leader for IT at Sale Grammar School in Manchester, where this author was educated, and where Philipson occupied the role back in the 90s, too.

In those days, a handful of Acorn Archimedes systems was just giving way to a new computer lab filled with middling Pentiums and a BT broadband connection. Occasional English lessons where poetry was typed up on Wordpad and decorated with clipart took place here, and ancient art packages were used to print t-shirts.

Today, Philipson commands a large, fully-connected school-wide IT network for the 1,200-pupil secondary school, which he describes as "second-to-none". The local authority, and those who call up for IT consultation "know we know what we're doing here", says Philipson.

Sale Grammar achieved Trust School status in 2010, and Academy Trust status in 2011. Its links with national and international organisations mean it doesn't have to follow the national curriculum directly, but this hasn't stopped Philipson's determination to match its new demands.

In preparation for September 2014, Sale Grammar teaches 11-12 year-olds HTML coding, as well as MIT's Scratch environment. Animation, graphic design work and even some game-making are all taught in Key Stage 3, before the age of 15. Thirteen year-olds also study the European Computer Driving License (ECDL) as standard, "so they end up with a qualification before the summer time", says Philipson.

Fourteen and 15 year-old pupils in Year 10 are also offered a school "enrichment course" - an eight to 10-unit sequence of extra classes of their choice. One option is "programming", in which Philipson introduces pupils to action scripting, algorithms, bubble sorts, the Tower of Hanoi and other basic programming techniques.

The module has proved popular, and Philipson has been using these classes to gauge how to approach September 2014's curricular demands for all age groups.

"It's allowed me to practice some of the things Gove is putting into the new programme of study," Philipson tells Computing.

"So I'm looking at these, and how successful or not they've been, and am going to be creating some schemes of work to introduce to year sevens [11 year-olds] and eights [12 year-olds] from next year.

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