- As ICT finishes, it is never more timely to be clear on what really went wrong
- The IT curriculum reform was not complete, there are parts of the jigsaw lost
- It is important now to learn the lessons of ICT and keep our IT teaching on track
The numbers up (or down?)
“Alarm bells” announces BBC technology correspondent Rory Cellen-Jones in an article released after exam time*. It seems the ICT GCSE has moved into its final lap, the last candidates sitting next year, but uptake for the replacing computing qualification is on the slump. Alarm bells indeed.
Of course it all depends on who you interview. A closer comb through the article doesn’t help. We are told computing student numbers should double but could halve. We are warned that numbers could halve by 2020 but have more than doubled since 2015. Buried among all this doubling and halving, with reassuring preciseness, Ofqual produce figures that show numbers have overall fallen slightly. Perhaps not alarm bells then?
Accused of crimes that ICT did not commit
This is all rather unfair to Rory as the debate about whether the computing curriculum is cool among the kids is a sideshow and detracts from a bold and refreshingly accurate piece of journalism. At last we read a news article that is ready to admit that there wasn’t really anything wrong with the ICT course after all. “Drew Buddie, who is head of computing at a school near London, has always argued that ICT was unfairly maligned and was far more creative than its critics assumed.” Rory reveals. Drew Buddie is absolutely right and not alone in this view.
We should never devalue skills and creativity in our schools
We have all been aware that, especially at primary level, the academic computing curriculum was welcomed in while the digital art, design and creativity of ICT was shown the door. ICT was skills based, but that did not make it less important than its knowledge and mathematical based sibling subject. They were important skills to learn. Not every child wants to design programs. Some just want to create a CV. Even the BCS, architects of our new curriculum, insist that it always argued for a new IT qualification to complement computer science. An argument that was probably not clearly understood by ministers at the time.
“It is unrealistic to expect teachers of ICT to turn into teachers of computer science without significant training and support.” The British Computing Society
Beyond the pointless number squabbling, Rory hits the spot completely by pointing out in a single article that the removal of ICT has left a vacuum for our pupils and that the expectation that teachers could change disciplines from teaching ICT to computing was unrealistic. Thank you Mr. Cellen-Jones. I’ve waited a long time for these truths to be aired. If only we could all now accept them and move on to finding solutions, not waste print on the ‘maybe doubling or perhaps halving’ of student numbers nonsense, that would be real progress.
The bad workman and his tools
ICT was accused of being dull, boring and out of step. This was never the case. It was the approach to teaching ICT that could, in too many schools, be described in that way. Schools without specialists in technology had uninspiring schemes in place. The truth was always the lack of support, training and technical understanding in schools that resulted in poor delivery, not the subject itself.
The introduction of computing has been a positive move but we still have a situation where not enough schools have the expertise to bring it to life. Again it is the subject that is being blamed – narrow in focus, only appealing to boys, the exam’s too hard. This is the result of insecure teaching, not the subject content.
However there is good news here. The push to promote computing and equip teachers shows no signs of slowing, the acceptance of ICT being not so bad after all permits schools to become more confident to be creative again, and the acceptance that we still need a skills rich qualification to sit alongside computing is inevitable. There is every chance that obituary of ICT will note that it ended just as we found the balanced and comprehensive suite of IT provision for our pupils that we had always hoped to replace it with. Maybe.
ICT was a good subject. It deserves a happy ending.
*Computing in schools – Alarm bells over England’s classes Rory Cellen-Jones BBC News 18 June 2017