My final article follows on from looking at providing a solid KS3 foundation on which learners can make realistic choices and looks at the expectations of results being placed upon current learners who likely do not have a solid KS3 foundation on which to build.
“You are about to deliver Biology for the first time, as a former PE teacher. It’s ok though, because it’s all to do with the body isn’t it? To add to that, your lab is a little bit outdated and missing some equipment. There is no training for you, but you have the summer to get ready. No, we don’t deliver Biology at KS3, but they do build sporty things on the local field, so they must be good at it. Your KS4 predictions are based on KS2 scores. You are in an option block where most people will pick your subject because they probably enjoy sport. Oh – and Biology is viewed as one of the hardest GCSEs out! Yes – we still expect above national average performance.”
Not really a conversation that you would have within a school, is it? And yet, parallels allowed, this is the same position that 70%-80% of our non-specialist Computer Science teacher community are potentially facing.
Computer Science as an Ebacc subject has really thrust it to the front of performance tables – and yet is not currently treated in similar fashion to English, Maths or the Sciences. Computer Science is now classed as a Science, and can be taken as one of the three sciences, if studied individually. Therefore, you could naturally expect learners to be able to choose Maths, English, Physics, Biology and Computer Science for their core options at GCSE.
However, as it stands, teachers (mostly non-specialists) are being expected to produce the same flight path for learners with respect to target grades as specialists are, and also all teachers have to deal with the fact that Computer Science has almost no preparation time allocated at KS3, whilst all other subjects have significant dedicated time at KS3. To add insult to injury, all too often during ‘peak season’, learners are removed from Computer Science for extra Maths/English or Science ISAs.
Computer Science is also recognised as one of the more challenging subjects – and at A Level is rated as the Top 3, along with Physics and Further Maths. A comparative study at GCSE shows that, out of 61 different GCSE subjects, Computer Science is estimated to be the 9th hardest. It is bettered by subjects such as Law, Applied Engineering and MFL.
These expectations really add to the pressure experienced by specialists and non-specialists alike and at the moment, it certainly feels like a very uneven playing field for Computer Science.
Whilst in the short term, there is no realistic instant solution to this problem, the problem remains. Crossing over to Computer Science is a challenging task for both learners and teachers. CPD is massively important, and especially in gaining confidence in Computational Thinking and good coding design/practice. Where a recognised lack of specialism and infrastructure exist (including KS3 embedding and network facilitation), Computer Science will be inherently challenging when compared to other subjects. This can lead to the misconception that ‘Computer Sciences is only for the brightest of pupils’. I would disagree with this statement.
OCR has responded to these challenges by creating our Teacher Delivery Packs, which provide a firm basis for delivery for non-specialists to teach from, whilst also hopefully saving significant planning time, which can then be used for personal development. OCR have also been working with ASFI, through my colleague Rob Leeman, to develop a CPD Teaching Certificate which can be certified through Wolverhampton University, which will provide great grounding for teachers delivering Computer Science. This is now available to all teachers through our CPD Hub.
I have seen many low-ability pupils deal well with Computer Science and attain their target grade – the fact that this is not an A* - C (or new 9-5) does not mean that they have failed. Unfortunately, ICT GCSE is often viewed as a GCSE where a significant majority will attain A* - C irrespective of target grade, which is a discussion for another time. Computer Science definitely does not fit into this perception. Again, the false belief that GCSE Computer Science is just ICT rebranded does nothing to support realistic Computer Science expectations. Reflected in any planning would be, where appropriate (i.e. no KS3 embedding), an acceptance that learners undertaking Computer Science are effectively trying to catch up with two years of basic preparation and learning, whilst trying to add another two years of learning into the mix to reach GCSE standard; doubling the rate of learning. No wonder only the ‘brightest’ learners seem able to cope with Computer Science.
It is my belief that, as Computer Science study increases both through KS2 and KS3, that the ‘challenge’ rating of Computer Science will lessen. As this ‘lessening of challenge’ occurs, the development of teacher expertise will also be increasing. This double effect will hopefully manifest itself in more learners feeling confident in securing target grades and making informed choices as to which route they want to take through their options, be it through Vocational or General Qualifications.
My biggest worry is that the mass transition to Computer Science will result in an automatic move away from Computer Science in two or three years, when the first sets of results arrive. There will also be the micro-analysis of results, which invariably falls at the feet of teachers.
It is something that appears to be happening already, where large cohorts of learners are being reduced from the 100’s to the 10’s. Whilst there is no hard data to support why, I would hazard a guess that, as the A*-C percentage has fallen from ICT, schools are looking at other courses to keep the Attainment 8/Progress 8 measures as healthy as possible. I can then also see a stabilisation of this trend as expertise, familiarisation and embedding start to have an effect, and then we may see a re-visiting of Computer Science as a viable option for learners.
The underpinning theme for Computer Science for the next few years would be – ensure you have the ‘rock’ on which to build, otherwise the potential for the ‘house falling down in the rain and waves’ is a lot more likely to occur!
Ceredig Cattanach-Chell - Subject Specialist - Computer science
Ceredig joined OCR in September 2015 incorporating his breadth of experience from education to support the reform and development of the new GCSE 9-1 Computer Science and Entry Level R354. A keen advocate of the challenges faced within the classroom, Ceredig led on concept and delivery of the delivery of the new teacher delivery packs, which have become one of the flagships for the new GCSE’s success with teachers.
Prior to joining OCR, Ceredig has had eight years of educational and teaching experience across a wide range of schools, including primary, secondary, academies and SEN sectors. Ceredig has a degree in Computer Science from Liverpool University and a PGCE from Liverpool Hope. Outside of work, Ceredig is a keen modeller/painter, gamer and all around geek. From wildlife to war games, his varied hobbies ensure that he is never just ‘sitting down watching the box’.