Curriculum for ExcellenceSocial Comment

Computing Teachers? Time to wake up!

I’m a computing teacher. I love it! I came into teaching after a few years in the IT industry and I loved the challenge and the opportunity to teach new things to learners and really show how technology can be used to create exciting things. From memory computing departments started to crop up in schools around 1984 and most schools had established a department by 1988. I started teaching in 1992 and at that time things like word processing, spreadsheets, databases and programming were all the rage. New software applications and, for most learners, the first experience they had of using a computer. It was an exciting time and there was a huge interest in the subject. In the minds of many parents it was THE subject that their child HAD to take.

As time has moved on computing has become common place in the home; the topics we once taught have become applications or tools which every teacher should now be delivering, the computer is seen by many as another entertainment/communication device, a white good which does what we want when we want. And that gets me to the point of this blog post…Computing in schools is dying!

Numbers in Computing and Information Systems Higher courses have fallen by 30% since 2005 (that’s based on the official figures from the SQA web site). Computing departments are disappearing from some schools, classes are disappearing from the timetable, dual-qualified teachers are teaching their second subject and more…and I think most of it is our own fault!

We are to blame for our own demise
Computing in schools (and I generalize here) can be a mediocre hodgepodge of ICT. A curriculum for office skills: word processing, spreadsheets, presentations (in variably Microsoft products Word, Excel and PowerPoint) and maybe a few more “interesting” things thrown into the mix. Most of the teaching has no context; there is no point to the tasks given to pupils other than “type a letter”, “total a spreadsheet”. It is not great learning, it is mind-bendingly boring application training. It is my opinion that, and clearly stated in the CfE Experiences and Outcomes, that ICT is an area of the curriculum which is the responsibility of all teachers…don’t you think in computing you should be doing something…a little more about computing and less about ICT?

What we teach in schools has no link to the technological experience of our learners outside of school. Most of our learners (but not all) are using mobile technology, games technology, social media, instant messaging, digital services and more – they get instant results, instant feedback and are fully immeresed in what they are doing…and then we ask them to come to school, switch off their mobile phones, sit in rows and ask them to remember a whole load of stuff which they could probably look up in seconds online. Our formal approach to programming is based in the 1970s and our programming assignments from SQA are contrived, unrealistic tasks constructed to jump through a number of assessment hoops (that is a reflection on the course structure and not on the hardworking individuals who develop these assessments to fit the guidelines).

Today’s Computing skills should be all about solving problems, accessing information and manipulating digital media to creating digital products. Why do we teach what is inside a computer? Do we need to? What is it that modern and future Computing Science is about?

So what do “Computing” teachers know about Computing?
You know a phrase I invariably hear from Computing teachers? “I don’t know anything about that” or “someone will have to give me CPD for that”. How can we enthuse young people about modern computing when the people teaching it often don’t know the first thing about it? This general malaise which has come over the profession astounds me. Would we go to see our doctor and not expect him/her to be fairly up-to-date with modern medical treatments? Would we accept it if we turned up to a garage only to be told that they don’t service cars made after 1995? It is the responsibility of those involved in these professions to be suitably equipped and updated to perform their roles…and so, I feel, it is of all teachers and most of all for the Computing Teacher. Now, I’ve had no CPD worth a damn in terms of Computing knowledge for over 15 years but I know about APIs, programming for mobile devices, JAVA, PHP, MySQL, JavaScript, VisualBasic, C, XNA, Twitter, Facebook, iOS, Virtualization and lots more. I’m no expert in any of it but I know enough to use it in my teaching and try to encourage interest in these things in others. I’m self-taught (the Internet is a wonderful source of information) and I’ve invested a little of my time from when I started teaching on ensuring that I keep track of developments in my subject. I don’t think it is acceptable for a computing teacher to say that they can’t learn about something new until they’ve had a days cover and training course. If you really want people to learn about your subject…start with yourself.

Maybe there is too much to catch up on and I’m being unrealistic on my demands of the profession? Perhaps we need a refresh for some Computing staff? In the early 1990, some Craft, Design and Technology staff (those who had entered teaching from a vocational route) were retrained by undertaking a BTech on day release from school. A worthwhile programme which upskilled these individuals to deal with changes in the CDT curriculum. Is this something we need to refresh and update some Computing staff?

Courses: Something’s Gotta Give
Currently, new qualifications are being devised by SQA for computing. This is an exciting opportunity to embrace modern computing and consign the ancient waterfall model (1960s/1970s): Analyse, Design, Implement, Test, Documentation, Evaluation and Maintenance to the historical archive. It’s also an opportunity to sharpen the focus of the subject to something which meets the needs of a digital Scotland, a Scotland keen to embrace a digital economy in games, software development and digital products. There is no place for office application training in a modern Computing curriculum.

I spent some time looking through our current NQ courses for Computing and Information Systems, and I can find little in terms of content which would inspire learners. It’s tired, out dated and forces young people to learn facts about technologies which are no longer prevalent. And I have to hold up my hand and say that I was involved with the Information Systems course and the development of Database units. Time has moved on but the courses have not.

If we can change the courses then this will have a major impact on how Computing is taught in schools. And I don’t think we should pull our punches when designing these new courses. We should be striving for the very best courses and experiences/outcomes for learners without concerning ourselves if there is a profession able to handle them. Changing the courses is the first step to changing the profession. Secondary teachers, as we know from 5-14 implementation, rarely change their practice until there is an assessment at the end of it. Cynical? Me? I’ll quote an experienced PT subject I spoke to recently. “We’ll just tweak what we do now, and then when the new courses come in we’ll just work it backwards.”. This is unacceptable; we have CfE experiences and outcomes which are open to allow us, the teachers, to develop, deliver and assess meaningful, current computing content. We shouldn’t need SQA assessments to generate effective, interesting lessons for our S1 and S2 pupils.

Business Education and Computing: A clash of cultures?
More and more, when I speak to teachers I hear that business education and computing courses in S1/S2/S3 in schools are being merged. What does this tell us about the perception by senior managers in schools and local authority leaders of these subjects? Is that perception increased by the decreasing numbers of learners opting to study either subject? We need clear national guidance on these subjects or they won’t be here in ten years time. Each needs dedicated time and better to be on a shared rota than have staff, unqualified in an area, delivering content which results in a poor experience for learners.

So, what should we be teaching?
The content of S1/S2 courses is there in our CfE experiences and outcomes: Games Design, Animation, Application Development (such as web apps to make use of RSS and APIs) all using a range of hardware and software. We should be using a project based approach, allowing learners to rapidly plan and prototype great products. I’d bring in Mobile App development using Googles Android App inventor and some of the free online tools which make creating WebApps really accessible. I’d use a variety of hardware: cameras, web cams, scanners, mics, etc. to capture media elements for use in games and animations. I’d have the learners blogging about their progress and recording it for video and podcasts. My classroom would become a multimedia/game design studio with the learners leading the direction and efforts of the project.

A good teacher shapes and supports the learning, encouraging learners be creative and experimental with the medium. We need to get away from the mode of learning in secondary computer education being teacher lead or death by worksheet/workbook. We need to encourage learners to use online resources, just in time knowledge for just in time learning. Learners don’t so much need to know things but need the skills to find things out when they need to!

Make it happen
I believe we need strong leadership from government about where computing is to sit in our curriculum (including addressing issues such as maximum class sizes), we need a major effort from the profession to change teaching methods and update the subject knowledge and experience of teachers and we need a recognition from senior managers, at school and authority levels, that computing and business education cannot be put together in some kind of ICT homogenised soup of poor experiences for learners leading to diminishing subject uptake.

And we need exciting new courses developed by subject innovators, which lead Scottish education to the cutting edge of technology, and will enable our learners to deal with the challenges of a 21st century Scotland and exploding digital economy. Yes, I’m being controversal with this post and there may be many people who disagree with elements of it but we need a discussion about the future of our subject and what it needs to be to be relevant for our learners now and in the future. Don’t sit on the fence, you may not have one much longer.

  1. Kate Farrell

    I agree! I have liked teaching the Digital Media Computing units and courses because introduces new and interesting topics and opportunities like Games Design and Animation.

    I don’t think we can expect teachers to retrain themselves though. I felt having a day’s CPD at FE to learn Adobe Flash a few years ago and then an hour refresher from Colin Maxwell at the Game To Learn conference on Saturday invaluable. I learned enough in one day in FE to teach two whole animation units but I would not have had the time or focus or knowledge to do that on my own. Updates and refreshers are important as well though so we don’t lose new skills.

    Until nationally we can get retraining, we need to be getting together as a profession and arranging training and sharing of knowledge. Its a shame we don’t have an annual conference for Computing teachers despite a good start at HW last year.
    What has happened to SIoCE? Should we instead form a Scottish branch of Computing at Schools as a way to arrange training??

    Time out of schools is a major issue but maybe with the new Glow Meet we could band together to have regular update sessions on new skills. Even a couple of hours a month would be a great start.

  2. Brian Clark


    Your post is a great starting point for the redevlopment of our qualifications and illustrates the *need* for Computing teachers to develop their subject knowledge and interest in contemporary computing.

    While the internet is a wonderful source for information, whether that be via your personal social networks like twitter, online training or some of the great iTunesU content out there, I think you have hit the nail on the head with the idea for a refresh course. Even in its simplest form, a well thought out refresh course should illustrate the possibilities, give a flavour of what’s possible, but most of all, provide solid jumping off blocks for people to find, (and make them *want* to find) useful resources and share them with the community.

    We have the chance with CfE to make Computing in schools relevant, engaging and exciting again. As Computer Science teachers, we should be teaching computer science skills in order to give Scotland a new generation of digital content creators. The tools to deliver this are avaiable and a number of teachers are implementing this around our schools in Scotland – at all stages of the curriculum already.

    It is up to us to make the change. Lets make sure the change is significant and supported.

  3. Amanda Wilson

    Very interesting to read this and hope it inspires others. Think I may need to forward it to my daughters school who have now dropped computing off the s/grade list due to teacher retiring 🙁

    Im not a teacher (PhD student – Games based learning in schools) but have always had a great interest in the way computing is taught and my interest starts in primary schools where i’m using Scratch with P4/5s and soon to be P7 class as well. I think that kids need something in primary school which is enjoyable to get their interest in computing going at an early age.

    SIoCE are still going – i’ve just joined not really heard much though. I’m also a memeber of Computing at School as well and I think it would be good to get a Scottish hub going since most of the work is being done primarly in England.

  4. Walter Patterson

    Charlie – good call to arms! I too bear a big responsibility for promoting applications at the expense of computing science (based on the premise of making the subject more accessible to a wider range of pupils than just the geeks). I didn’t figure that the commoditisation of computing would happen so fast and be so ubiquitous!

    I guess from your entry that you are unaware of current moves to address the issues you highlight? For example, the Royal Society is part-way through an 18-month investigation of computing in schools. See

    And a “Future of Computing” group was formed about 4 years ago, led by Prof Andrew McGettrick of Strathclyde Uni and Quentin Cutts of Glasgow. I have a report of an initial workshop if you want to see it.

    e-skills UK and ScotlandIS (who know more about the computing industry than any one of us) are also collaborating to look at the skills that employers want. e-skills has also developed the IT Diploma for England based on the wishes and wants of the industry.

    Also have a look at Computing Science for Fun

  5. Walter Patterson

    Response to Kate’s suggestion of a Scotland-wide group for Computing Teachers. I have personally supported every such initiative over the past 25 years, with varying degrees of failure. I hope that Charlie’s “wake up” call might galvanise teachers into believing that active membership of such a group will help save computing in their school!

    And if you decide to take a lead in creating this group, you can count on my support!

  6. Helen Munro

    On a number of points I agree, particularly about looking to yourself, a good teacher professes their knowledge of their subject and their passion for same. However it also reads as if you’re still advocating teaching end-user skills – just different more modern apps?
    What about the teaching of “real” computing, the knowledge of how to build networks, infrastructures which will support all the modern “new-fangled” devices and apps – if we don’t encourage people to want to do this side of it then as computing teachers, in my opinion we are failing – both the pupils and the subjects, ironically the fundamental concepts of programming, networking and databases remain unchanged, they are the bedrock…

  7. Peter Liddle

    Agreed. Though things are better than a few years ago, if not in numbers, when people were saying “why do we need programming at all?”. It’s now pretty obvious how important programming is, culturally as well as for its intrinsic benefits (problem solving, planning, teamwork and so on). The Business Studies approach and the “integrated ICT” idea both have a place but as you say, they never will be the same as Computing, the subject which asks how things work and why, rather than utilising them for a purpose. Sadly the Computing courses themselves (maybe not as much for Higher, but certainly SG) are focussed on delivering this through a massive (>400) concept list. It’s probably a signature of the failure of the approach that “Open source” is not a concept at Higher or at Standard Grade.

    We’re running the NPA Games Development next year and I think this is a step in the right direction. We need to look at planning, media and programming as part of one big picture.

    I feel that games design is the way forward for programming – firstly, no 12 year old has ever sat down to write the best calculator program ever, but plenty have wanted to make games. While we don’t have the built-in BASIC to accidentally inspire kids, we do have level designers in lots of games, and the more we link their experience to their power of creation, the more kids might see joy of programming.

    I agree with Katie that some of the responsibility is on the national organisers. I think the main reason to do that is the fact that not all Computing teachers have a degree in Soft Eng/Computing Science. It’s not a snobby point, it’s the difference between living in a world devoted to a subject and learning from the arrangements. Many of those retrained teachers can probably out-program many programming graduates, but I think (from experience) some would not be keen on trying a whole bunch of new tech without any guidance.

    Since the best solutions come out of an iterative model, I think it would be great if computing teachers could build up a wiki focussing on programming, which could hopefully then be fed into discussions further down the line. I’m happy to sort that out as soon as all the SQA stuff is handed in (a couple of weeks).

    A final thought : even though I think there’s a place for the waterfall model (it’s only outdated if taken as inflexible: even extremely collaborative open source projects involve stages, however flexible) I think there’s more of a place for embracing the curiousity of programmers. That is, getting pupils to work out what they need to learn for problems they set. All programming languages and features exist out of necessity, after all.

  8. Mary Rooney

    I agree with lots of what you say. We do need to move on, we do need to invigorate our subject but there are buts!
    Like Kate said, often giving our own time on top of full time work and full time parenting and full time everything else we often have committed ourselves to, leaves very little for investing in our own future. While it is necessary, it always seems to fall down the priority list. CfE has given me the push to make some changes. More are needed, but a little done well rather than a lot done badly is my approach. I am one who prefers a training/development day and gets a lot more out of that than bits and pieces through the year.

    My second but, is the authorities blocking so much of what enables us to move forward and the price of software to make quality digital products. My colleague and I tried to use edmodo today but it is blocked. We tried to set up a blog with our classes, it is blocked, we want to use Flash in our digital media class but the software is so expensive, we need to use cheaper, more awkward alternatives. We need a national approach to enhancing digital and computing education by investing in hardware and software and welcoming applications rather than than blocking them.

  9. Dave Browning

    You make a lot of good points and nice to see someone bringing these issued to the fore. There are so many new and exciting things going on with technology and then you get down to teaching your certificated courses and it’s so badly out of date. I think that is one of the real issues with teaching computing, it is hard for courses to be up to date. If we do them in the “normal” way then we’d be replacing them every 3 or 4 years at the most to keep them up to date. How would this work? By the time the course is developed it’s out of date. That is a real challenge and I’d be interested to hear thoughts on how we might overcome this.

    With regards to first and second year courses I’d love to do more exciting things and we do have a good S1 and S2 course but it’s still curtailed by lack of development time. My school is very supportive we are encouraged to develop innovative and exciting courses but good courses need time to develop and maintain/update and with all the other time pressures it often finds itself fairly low down the to do list.

    Still, your post makes interesting reading and after the game to learn conference I can see glimmers of hope that our subject can be as exciting and dynamic as the IT world that is purports to teach about.

  10. Brian Clark

    Obviously computing isnt just about programming, but lets face it, it is the key core skill to almost every computer science degree. We cannot go on in school with outdated learning models and software tools and expect to engage our learners.

    Mary – I completely agree with you regarding authority firewalls / cost of software / fear of open source. In order for us to deliver meaningful courses using good tools, we need access to these resources – on a national level. And its not just Computing teachers who would benefit from this.

  11. Charlie Love

    Mary, Scottish Government is currently looking at these issues and the lack of consistency in ICT provision across local authorities. We need a reasonable system which allows as open access to information sources such as Twitter, Facebook and Youtube but which protects young people from inappropriate content.

    I think it’s very important that every Computing teacher in the land completes the Technologies for Learning survey which is part of the Scottish Government’s consultation on these issues.

  12. Jonathan

    Until we start to move away from relying on exam league tables and the heavy exams that young people in schools have to sit through as a measure of success for teaching Computing, we will get nowhere.

    Perhaps combine Computing with entrepreneurship/ Business Studies (quiet in the disgruntled braying crowd there) and the pupils could develop applications to make the most of digital distribution systems and the proof could be in the downloading?

    The best skills are those learnt on the job so to speak, so merge the classroom with the workplace (whether it’s a bedroom or a design agency office) and let them learn at their own pace with support through work placements /mentoring and we will soon produce a world class generation of developers and designers, one of whom might produce the next big idea!

  13. Cameron Archibald

    I’m a Primary Teacher, currently supporting schools using ICT in an authority, and completely agree.

    I would say that ICT in Primary is a very popular area of the curriculum, even when pupils are given pointless tasks to complete using Microsoft Office. It’s a shame, though understandable in boring circumstances, that this enthusiasm is lost in secondary. Personally, I try to develop knowledge and awareness of the world out there with pupils, whilst working on skills when we are completing projects, where the context isn’t ICT, rather topic based, or storytelling or whatever. We use ICT for a purpose, not to tick a box. Making films, animations, games or any other type of content integrates so many areas of the curriculum whilst requiring many soft skills to get there – it has to be said, CfE really opens this up. I have found so far however that I am an anomaly in primary schools, and I would say that some teachers avoid using ICT as they don’t have the skills. Boiling this down we get:
    CfE * teacher knowledge and skill level = Quality of E&Os;

    Developing teachers’ ICT knowledge and skills, for me, is the $64,000 question (and getting it on school agendas). Personally, I’ve had very little CPD (apart from Games Design 😉 where I generally find out about stuff myself (hey I’m a successful learner and confident individual) having heard about it from colleagues or by subscribing to blogs like this and then follow up on bits that look useful. I have kids and a wife, they are all currently speaking to me. I find this stuff interesting. Developing other teachers’ ICT skills, depends upon the teachers (some aren’t successful learners or confident individuals), although successes have tended to come where I have worked in classrooms with teachers on a weekly basis, with a session following up after school, for at least 4 weeks. That’s a lot of support, and that’s been with those that are keen.

    This is a fast developing part of the curriculum – developing application specific courses may be futile. That’s not to say you’re not going to use applications on courses, just keep it open ended – using a project approach works as it requires an end result but doesn’t say which applications are required to get there. Knowledge and skills are transferable across applications. Working on an integrated project is easy in Primary although I’m not sure how this is approached in Secondary.

    Technology has changed the ‘bedrock’ of real computing. For example, hardware is much more plug and play than it used to be and even databases, whilst in principal haven’t changed, due to the much cheaper costs of data storage, developers are more likely to care about speed of data retrieval and less likely to care about normalised data. Software developers now do everything, gone are the days where you’re given one little part of the process – they are now part of the whole life cycle. Sure networking, databases etc need to be taught but the amount of focus should be proportional to the real world (in the companies I worked in there were far more people developing software than working solely as network or db staff).

    CfE talks about future proofing pupils for the 21st century. I don’t like that term though what Charlie says about encouraging
    ‘learners to use online resources, just in time knowledge for just in time learning. Learners don’t so much need to know things but need the skills to find things out when they need to! ‘
    is a pretty good answer to this question. We need to teach our pupils to do think in this way and apply. Therefore we need to be able to do this, successfully and confidently. The good thing about that is that we would stay up to date and the CPD co-ordinator would be happy. Dunno about the assessor/examinor though, did I say I was in the Primary.

  14. David Smith

    Great post, Charlie!

    There has been a groundswell of opinion for the last year or two that you highlight very strongly in your post above. The more voices that shout about the more likely change will come.

    I whole-heartedly agree with your distinction between Computing and ICT skills, but I have met significant opposition to the idea that ICT skills-based courses should be taken away from Computing departments – often from teachers who, quite frankly, would be most uncomfortable teaching actual Computer Science or from non-Computing teachers who would be uncomfortable teaching ICT skills. A great number of Computing teachers have very limited or no programming (throughout I speak of programming, but similar arguments can be made for other core computing skills/concepts) experience beyond what is necessary to teach their courses.

    I think the course changes are a great chance to get things right, and on the basis that CfE is the foundation for these courses I am extremely hopeful that we will have something exciting and progressive to work with. However, if schools are presented with a set of Highers based on CfE I am pretty sure that most will be looking to get good pass rates, and that will drive how they teach the courses more than the wider educational benefit that our students might gain. So the *assessments* have to embrace CfE as well – and national authorities need to have the gumption to stand by them when the work, and the common sense to make changes when they don’t – but teachers need to be accepting of the changes. The current NAB resources are a poor attempt at assessment, even by the standards of the course. They are an attempt to lessen teacher workload, which is admirable, but at the expense of being a useful assessment tool, which is a great shame.

    I also think you do need to be careful what you wish for in a new course. No point ditching one set of tools for another. How about removing the need for teachers to worry about tools at all? Teach programming fundamentals in whatever language you wish. Analysis skills, design techniques, interim evaluation, algorithmics, testing strategies; these call all be taught in a waterfall variant model or a more rapid design-retest model – the skills apply to all situations. Don’t produce contrived courseworks every year, allow pupils to work on interesting and unique projects that engage them and get the best out them. I do my best to do that now, but only at Advanced Higher have I actually got the luxury of the time to do so properly.

    The courses need to be suitably open in their outlook that we do not continue to have this fact-heavy, slowly aging, dinosaur of a course structure replaced by a modern equivalent that will be outdated in a few years. Embracing CfE should allow that.

    From discussions of teachers and lecturers at Glasgow University over the past 18 months there seems to be support for this approach at a University level, and increasing numbers of Computing teachers I speak to are like minded. An annual conference is a great idea, and SCioCE and Computing in Schools are both possible avenues for this.

    I would also advocate a truly national forum and computing resource to allow teachers to share resources and ideas. I know that various mailing lists and groups have existed in the past, CompEdNet was put together by yourself, and GLOW now has similar capabilities – but none of them have lived up to their potential that I have seen. I think a promoted national resource and discussion place would be a great focal point! Or perhaps I am just being optimistic!

  15. Jonathan

    I think this is a great article and rings true with my thinking on the subject. We are currently looking (in our school) at alternatives to traditional qualifications and courses that require ICT and ‘multi-page A4 document report’ writing than actual IT learning.

    I think it’s time that we developed an Agile-style IT-based qualification that may be difficult to assess in traditional terms but will end up delivering school leavers with employable skills such as coding apps in languages that matter or are actually used, have practice and confidence in creating their own designs and not simply proficient at reciting definitions of terms and annotating improvements.

    It’s time to move away from old style exams and towards employability and skills-based learning. No more to report writing as a means of justifying ‘knowledge’ intake and writing ‘critical evaluations of file formats’… move on and produce something like an app that they can publish, the proof should be in the number of downloads, not the multi-page A4 report writing!

  16. Stephanie

    I now work in a secondary school that does not offer computing as a certificated subject at all.

    Go figure.

  17. Darren Brown

    I agree to some extent but as someone who has spent hours developing an S1/2 CfE course but now being told the ICT faculty staff are first for the chop.

    “Computing/Business are the same as ICT and ICT will be taught by everyone” seems to be the line. Up here in Highland computing is being systematically killed off with jobs being removed from numerous schools.

    Pupils don’t have the basic ICT skills and are not picking them up at home, in primary or across the curriculum as HMI have claimed.

    Universities still need to do more to make sure Computing is a pre-requisite for courses. The schools in this area don’t need computing as pupils are doing Higher Maths to access courses. In turn though uni numbers need kids inspired in schools.

    We do need to be more inventive and evolve but also there does need to be time & resources available. GLOW has massive potential but where is the content?

    Sadly Computing is in grave danger in our region.

  18. Gordon Milne

    Excellent post Charlie. Agree with nearly all your comments.

    Current SQA qualifications are largely irrelevant, content heavy and very restrictive.

    Alternative courses Digital Media qualifications and the like unfortunately lack “academic credibility”. CfE really has opened the door to new style computing but can that flexibility still exist at national 4.5 and the new Higher??

  19. Brian Clark

    “Universities still need to do more to make sure Computing is a pre-requisite for courses. The schools in this area don’t need computing as pupils are doing Higher Maths to access courses. In turn though uni numbers need kids inspired in schools.”

    Darren, I totally agree with this. Computing should be a pre requisite fir a CS degree, however, in order for this to happen, we, and the universities need to talk about what they are delivering in their CS courses in first year. And importantly, how they asses and deliver it. Maybe then we can make decisions about what we deliver in our courses so it’s more in line with with uni? For example, most uni courses in cs have assessed group projects. Should / could our new higher include a mandatory group project?

  20. David Smith

    Brian, having spoke to University reps about this, part of the rationale behind not asking for Computing as a prerequisite is the fact that not enough applicants have the qualification, or access to it – and the quality of candidate *with* the qualification is consistent high enough.

    Remember that many students come from outside of Scotland, which further complicates minimum requirements.

    They are, however, keen to support the SQA and make changes to this – the ones I spoke to at any rate. And I would like to think that, carefully crafted and universally applied, Advanced Higher qualifications could be seen as equivalent to level 1 university courses – which would help a lot.

  21. linzie

    You need to look at the Middle Years Programme/International Baccalaureate concept. I was a cynic of project based learning but in MYP technology everything is taught using the software development cycle. All content fits around an area of interaction teachers are not teaching packages but their own strengths and interests (I recently taught a unit on apps and currently I’m teaching film making).

    In IB pupils learn systems but their coursework is software development in JAVA following the software development process. If computing is going to be a serious subject we should be teaching serious skills – problem solving , higher order thinking etc. I was disillusioned with CfE but I’m convinced if you look outside of Scotland it is working.

  22. David Muir

    I was going to take issue with your statement that: “Yes, I’m being controversal with this post and there may be many people who disagree with elements of it…” because I don’t think I have spoken to a single Computing teacher in the last few years who would have a fundamental disagreement with what you say. However, comment after comment above has already made that clear. You’re pushing at an open door!

    I think the main problem, and the source of frustration for many Computing teachers, is that the people in positions of power (who are making the decisions to shut down Computing departments etc.) do not understand the difference between ICT and Computing; do not understand that ICT skill acquisition is a constantly moving target and needs the skills of Computing specialists to develop properly; and do not understand why it is important to develop Computing skills. Bah!

    Unfortunately, I think we Computing Teachers are in part to blame because I’m not sure that we can agree ourselves exactly what Computing is! The best soundbite definition I have heard is “Computing: The Science of the Digital World” but we need to put some flesh on those bones. Your post and these comments, along with some national initiatives, are beginning to do that.

    I think I need to reflect further on the issues raised here but I’d like to throw a couple of things into the mix now. First, I’d agree with the people who have warned against replacing one outdated curriculum with another that will be just as out of date in a few years time. The tricky bit is trying to design a curriculum that won’t date! Hard enough with most subjects; extraordinarily hard with a fast moving subject like ours. Second, I would be anxious if we went down a hard Computing Science route, or an exclusive games/mobile programming route. I think it is a strength of our subject that there are a huge variety of computing courses outside schools. Courses that focus on Computing Science and Games design but also courses that major on aspects such as networking, business computing, AI, multimedia, Database management, eCommerce, … I would like to see school courses (and by extension, the teachers who teach the courses) reflect something of that diversity.

  23. shirley campbell-morgan

    It’s true that teachers are busy people but there is no point in embarking on a career as a computing teacher if you are not prepared to keep youself up to date. The subject is so fast moving! Computing teachers surely have the resources and capability to learn in a way that our modern young people will need to in their lifetimes!

  24. Charlie Love

    Some great comments!

    David, I’m must agree with your that I am pushing an open door to an extent but someone has to push it to get us started! I really do feel that this is make or break for our subject – and the single biggest way to encourage the profession to change is with the new CfE courses. These need to be flexible enough to allow a variety of methodologies to be applied to the development of software and allow us to truly engage with new technology on an ongoing basis.

    These new course will eventually have to specify a domain of knowledge upon which a national examination will be constructed but I think, in our subject area, we need to set a minimum refresh for the content.

    And I agree with you, we need clear guidance from government on the nature of Computing in schools. This guidance will, in turn, shape decisions by senior managers at local authority and school level.

    We need new radical ideas, such as the wonderful S1 Mario Kart curriculum at Clydebank HS which was presented at GameToLearn. We need to exemplify good practice to give the profession new ideas to develop in school and we need to innovate in order to stay ahead.

    This is where the work of the Consolarium is so important, particularly in relation to games design. The team really are exemplifying CfE and providing support for schools (support which isn’t available from other sources).

  25. Ian McMillan

    I am glad that so many teachers are waking up! I agree that the days of word processing and making pretty presentations are behind us, As a foundation to allow acces to the curriculum yes! As a skill set to prepare for careers and the workplace? I do not think so.
    Experience of the different systems leads me to believe that Vocational orientated courses are essential. For Ideas I have looked at course option form a variety of countries and their structure is now orientated towards a range of software skills which target the needs of the pupils? imagine that. Games design, yes! but don’t we also have pupils who are anticipating hardware technical careers, programming, web design? Computing is so vast. maybe we should look for examples form such courses as the BTEC? A course with a selection of modules from which teacjers can choose according to thier pupil’s needs and aspirations (also their skills) Only an Idea to throw into the ring?

  26. Robert Dempster

    I agree with much of what is said in this post. However, there are one or two points that I would like to make.

    I accept that pupil numbers are dwindling in Computing courses. However, pupils are following courses in something. For example, in my school French and History are increasing in popularity. I doubt if pupils or I would consider the course content as either relevant or exciting. Feel free to disagree ….

    While I accept that many teachers across schools are attempting to support ‘ICT to enhance learning’, much of this involves an Internet search followed by a Powerpoint presentation, generally completed by pupils in a very inefficient manner and possibly infringing copyright. There is a huge question about the ICT skills of teachers in general. If I had £1 for every time I heard the statement from teachers ‘the pupils know more than me,’ I would be lying on a sun bed in the Bahamas and not writing this post. This cannot be acceptable and must be addressed. By the way, this also includes so-called ‘digital natives’ who have just left teacher training colleges.

    On the subject of ‘digital natives’, Mark Prensky’s, much used, ‘Shift Happens’ presentation needs to be consigned to the bin. If being ‘native’ means that you have certain skills imbued, why are schools spending so much time, money and effort on improving Literacy. Children have been ‘Literacy Natives’ for much longer than they have been ‘Digital Natives’. We cannot leave ICT skills to chance.

    Many Senior Managers in schools do not understand the difference between ICT and Computing. Consequently, they are happy to merge courses and leave it as a ‘Responsibility for All’. This allows expensive ICT suites to be ‘fully utilised’ (bums on seats) and saves staffing viz Computing teachers offer their second subject.

    For many teachers, the pace of subject content change is significantly slower than Computing. Does this mean that Computing teachers are overwhelmed by a self-imposed, relentless need to update content and knowledge? My own experience of ‘good teachers’ is that they are enthusiastic and in command of their subject content. The latter is much more difficult to achieve if you are a Computing teacher and can easily expand the working week to unhealthy levels.

    So how do we address falling numbers? Our courses and qualifications must enthuse our teachers. Teachers will enthuse pupils. For this to happen, our courses must be adaptable. We do not need to be ‘masters of everything’, but must be given the opportunity to acquire expertise in areas that motivate us. Curriculum for Excellence can give us this opportunity. We must seize this with both hands now and encourage the SQA to offer qualifications that gives us this flexibility.

  27. Brian Clark

    Should the new courses be designed in a way that embraces teachers skill and strength? For example, if we want to encourage and develop programming, should the programming part of the course be desribed as ‘Create a coded solution to a probelm’

    This would allow teachers/pupils to choose what they want to develop – an apps, or PHP/SQL web site, a game etc

    The concepts of software development can be applied to any of these areas, but the product can be differenciated to suit the skills and abilities of those who deliver it.

    SO could could our software development unit have modules as Ian suggests?

    This would allow us to deliver other aspects of computing in a second unit.

  28. Claire Johnston

    The major problem with computing as a subject is that it hs been taught by maths teachers. Evidently in the early days of the subject then this was ideal but with the technology changing the need for a different approach was needed but that would require retraining, investment which is just not there! This is not a slight on them but shows that the creative side has been ignored. The Office skills are important and make for an easy life but as for Databases and spreadsheets within standard grade it is pointless.

    It would be nice to teach flash, adobe director, XML, ASP, PHP but these programs are expensive and with the ancient machines used by most state schools it is total fantasy. In the school I am in we have an ancient BBC computer that is on a trolley and this is used to teach Automated systems which is nonsense.

    The subject needs overhauling but that will not happen until there is a wad of investment which will never be a priority

  29. Walter Patterson

    Sorry to diaagree, Claire – but your assumption about computing teachers coming from maths is misguided. In my time I have met with computing teachers whose first subject was other than maths – eg geography, chemistry, physics, classics, MFL, CDT, Business etc. But you are right to highlight the need for professional development and appropriate resourcing to support the modernisation of the curriculum.

    Anyone up for running an event like this in Scotland?

  30. Walter Patterson

    Pleased to see so many colleagues in support of Charlie’s campaign. What tag-line should we have? eg Charlie’s Angles on Computing Education?

    More seriously, I have been looking on the Scottish Enterprise website at the place of the IT industry in Scotland, and all I can find are entries under the “Creative Industries” section. Can we infer from this that we should re-badge Computing not as a science but as a creative subject?

  31. Chris Monk

    Claire – actually you could do a lot worse than having a BBC computer around – even by today’s standards it offers a lot of easily accessible ‘connections’ between a processor and the real world – but I take your point.

    We can argue for weeks about what technology and what software etc, but two things always result: the first is that whatever technology you have it will be out of date faster than you can afford to replace it; secondly high quality teaching and the effective use of whatever resource are available is far more critical to success than any other factor and surely the last few decades have proven that. Some can argue quite succesfully that many key elements of computer science can be taught without access to computers at all. The computer is after all just one tool of the computer scientist not the instruction book.

    I think the article inspires debate but be careful here. The real revolution (or need for a revolution) is in how we organise learning in a digital age. Basically, debates around classrooms, teachers as gatekeepers of knowledge, assessments, qualifications, resources etc; are increasingly ignoring the fact that this digital age is challenging the very ways we organise the education of our young. Most of these out dated structures and what we debate about ICT v Computer Science, being up to date, teacher training etc are all signs of the cracks in our concepts of education and learning that advances in the digital age, is causing.

    When I visit the doctor (as the article proposes), do I want my doctor to have a ‘retained’ depth of knowledge that she can apply to me or an ability to access the world’s knowledge and be able to apply that to me – or perhaps a balance of the two? Surely the application of information and the ability to solve a problem with information is now so much more important than the aquisition of information? What is a definition of knowledge fit for purpose for the next 100 years? Certainly within ICT and in many aspects of Computing, there is ‘content’ that is at risk of being outdated before a young person has barely any time to use the tools you have given them. How much ICT, IT, Computing ‘content’ has inbuilt redundancy of less than 10 years?

    I was a computer science teacher in the early eighties when micro computers hit the classroom. We had this exact same debate – with more traditional experts telling us that the micro was a distraction and we should stick to FORTRAN and punched cards. Of course us younger teachers were busy homing in on the exciting world of the micro to inspire kids – I dont blame teachers for chasing the fun. The article sadly sounds like ‘here we go again’ – and of course nearly all the hardware/software described will be dead in less than ten years and with it much of the so called knowledge.

    We have to be careful about chasing the ‘now’ as if it is the holy grail. We need to use the ‘now’ to excite, motivate and inspire, yes! – but we must ensure there is a recognisable body of knowledge under it that has a shelf life that can be useful for young people as they grow into adults and the ‘now’ becomes those funny quaint little things we played with all those years ago. Teachers of mathematics teach concepts going back hundreds of years but many excite young people by the way they approach these concepts, otherwise if mathematics harked only for the ‘now’…the mathematics curriculum would be strange and unrecognisable.

    The most important thing for a teacher of Computer Science to know will always be ‘how to teach effectively’ and increasingly how to facilitate learning not be a gatekeeper. A good teacher and good school will break down the barriers of the classroom and work with expertise on the web, in the community, in local business, in our universities and with each other – to help provide an inspirational but solid opportunity for young people to begin their journey into the world of computing. I simply do not believe that you can economically train, retain and update an army of teachers of Computer Science – it is not possible. We have to think of another way – and the very subject itself is the answer.

    Computer science could be the first ‘subject’ to see the solution of the problem of its place in the curriculum as actually partially outside the curriculum – as something defined, resourced and delivered beyond the conventional concept of a single school. Imagine if all those pushing for change worked with the IT sector, the academics, the creators, the users etc and instead of delivering yet another round of lessons, examinations, courses, CPD etc… actually built an online world wide resource accessible anywhere, using the best people, the best resources etc… so that the lone teacher finding themselves having to deliver this subject could turn to the best possible ‘buddy’ resource and CPD ever – all online built by a community for a community. Actually it would cost less than any CPD and would be far more long lasting, easily updated, would offer universal access, and able to be used in a differentiated way according to the needs of the young person, the teacher or the school. Deliver Computer Science online with teachers as genuine facilitators – if the problem is impossible to solve, change the problem! Oh and get the IT sector, who have benefited most, to pay for it!

    Computing is and always will be about breaking new ground – thats what makes it so difficult to tie down in the current model of education. Why not use the very subject itself, the sector thats delivered the web – the very means we need to deliver, keep up to date and revolutionise learning. Stop looking for solutions in structures built over the past 100 years; lets have some more imagination here and stop assuming schools+ hard pressed teachers can deliver everything and are the only way forward.

    Damn, Sunday morning rant – now my breakfast is late.

  32. Claire Johnston

    The main problem is deciding what exactly should be covered in computing subject. I have been in many schools and have had to be a page in front of the pupils because the teacher training I received was naff!! No mention of the subject content was ever discussed!
    I have been in aschool where the PT was a serious computer geek who had the pupils build motherboards and had them ctreating games. It was a great environment where the whole subject was about gaming and the actually technology behind a computer. He skipped over the microsoft software and concentrated on programming and developments. The Boys in the class loved it. Then I was in a school where the focus was on robotics. Again brilliant teacher who loved all things robotic. Another was a maths teacher who loved the logics of programming and made that her focus. Then there was the teacher who had come from business and her slant on the software. Another who was from creative industry and focused on video and sound. The subject has to be decided on which area is important and which is just for the exam. THis is where the confusion and lack of investment occurs. It has been good for me as I now have taught lots of different software and theory but I feel that I have limited knowledge. I know life is a buffet and dont just eat coleslaw but its hardly making me a subject specialist!!

  33. Simon Humphreys

    Good post, and equally good comments. just a quickie … folks commenting here are, I am sure, aware of SiOCE and/or Computing at School ( (?) I represent the latter and we are doing what we can in England and Wales to support teachers engage with computing. CAS is formally supported by BCS, The Chartered Institute for IT, plus Microsoft Research, Google etc.. (To answer one post about what BCS is doing. Answer: lots!)

    – We have developed a curriculum – which will be published at the national conference in Birmingham on June 24 (see website for details)
    – We run a number of local regional hubs
    – Sixth form conferences (one poster mentioned the York event)
    – Have a very active online forum for members
    – Are working on a repository of resources
    – etc etc

    Sorry this is not meant to be an advert for CAS, but merely to point out that if we, as teachers, group together then we can effect change at a grassroots level.

    CAS are very happy to work alongside SiOCE in setting up regional hubs and other events for Scotland. Do get in touch with either myself or David Coull (SiOCE) to take this further 🙂

  34. Rob Williams

    As a university lecturer and Award Leader for a Computer Systems degree, I am very worried about the candidates I meet. On the whole they have been demotivated by their “computing” experience at school, they lack technical curiosity, rarely have programming or practical electronics experience, and expect software to just work. All very depressing.

    While we struggle to recruit students to courses at the “technical” end of computing, I have employers offering twice as many placements as I can fill, and my graduates often receive multiple job offers. I only hope that the changes in IT/Computing syllabuses now being discussed can mitigate this appalling situation. Several local firms, of moderate size, have already given up on UK Computing graduates, and are looking to India and Malaysia for appropriate skills.

  35. Derek Harris

    This is going to be a long post as I want to reply to all of your points

    I also spent a good number of years in the computing industry before I entered a career in education

    Firstly I would like to agree with you that computing needs to change in content, however, I would like to comment on the following points,

    “Computing has become common place in the home” this is true, however, we should still not assume that because children own a computer they know how to use the hardware and software correctly and in the most efficient and creative ways possible. How often have you had a parent at parent’s night telling you that their child is an expert with the computer at home and they are never off it? Many a time I have listened to parents stating, “I thought he should have been doing better in computing he/she is a whiz at home.” This is because they are on MSN, twitter, facebook etc or playing games; they still can’t use many of the applications or understand why they need to install a piece of software to make a piece of hardware work. Does this not tell us that there is a problem? There is a basic level of understanding of how a computer system, in its fullest sense, works and of how all of the component parts communicate. Children don’t have this basic level of understanding and need to be taught it.

    “Computing in school is dying” I totally agree with this statement, however, will filling it full of software development / games design actually revitalise the subject and actually solve the problem? Will this not make the courses in computing much narrower both in content and appeal – not everyone is interested in computer games and to suggest that games is the panacea for all of the ills that beset computing as a subject is also a very narrow focus. Not all of our pupils have android phones are we really going to set up a school course where the prerequisite for entry is that your parents have to fork out a couple of hundred pounds or more for a mobile phone. Has anyone noticed the recession!! In terms of games design and programming there is not such a national or international shortage of game designers that we need to make a school course that bases 50% of its success on being skilled in this area. Surely we still need people with the knowledge to design and build the hardware for the software to run on and the networks so that they can play games with their friends. Surely we still need people with the knowledge to design and imagine new hardware that future programmers can exploit to create and even better user experience. Hardware is maybe not the most inspiring of topics but it is our job to deliver it in a way that enthuses students and educates them that the computer does nothing by magic. Hardware is still essential to computing as is networking, programming and the inclusion of emerging technologies – remove any one of these aspects and the rest do not make the same amount of sense.

    “I think most of it is our own fault” So why has no one noticed it has been our fault until now, should we have gone against SQA? Teachers are in the catch 22 where we teach what we have to teach so that our pupils pass the exams; we don’t teach what we would like to teach as if we did, when the pupils fail the exam we would get the sack!

    “ICT is an area of the curriculum which is the responsibility of all teachers” While I agree with this statement, I have observed a number of young and old teachers who have had very limited ICT skills. Moreover, I have witnessed the basic skills of ICT being taught incorrectly. If students are not able to grasp the basic foundations of ICT from a subject specialist and are being taught many differing methods from a variety of teachers surely the child will be confused! In addition to this many teachers shy away from the use of ICT in their classrooms, and on some occasions teachers are unable to use ICT within their classroom due to the lack of resources within the school. Reinforcing Robert Dempster point, children have been ‘Literacy Natives’. Children use a multitude of literacy mediums in every day life, some children even have books at home! However, the basic skills in literacy are being questioned, so much so that it has become a fundamental part of CFE that must be taught in school by teachers. This highlights the fact that ICT can’t be over-looked or left to chance or knowledge assumed because they have computers at home. We can’t assume that because a child has a computer at home they will be computer literate nor can we assume that our fellow colleagues are incorporating ICT skills within their courses. I feel it is the ICT specialist within the school who should take responsibility for making sure that pupils have a good understanding of ICT otherwise we are setting pupils up to fail.
    “Why do we teach what is inside a computer? Do we need to?” in response, “do we need to teach what is inside software on a games DVD?” In my opinion of course we do. It should be an integral part of the course. Am I missing the point or do I have a feeling that this is just a huge push for a software dominated course because that is of specific interest to some who have an involvement in designing the CFE course in computing? To say that we should not teach what is inside a computer is beyond me. Is it being suggested that we don’t need to know about the hardware that makes it possible for the software to run? What about the pupils who want to study the engineering side of computing, where they will need knowledge of memory mapping, computer architecture, combinational logic, RISC etc or will we not need these skills in the future?

    “Would we go to see our doctor and not expect him/her to be fairly up-to-date with modern medical treatments?” well I hope you have another doctor in another country to go to because most doctors in the UK are not bang up to date with modern medical treatments. Proof of this can be seen if you look at breast cancer survival rates in the UK compared to the rest of Europe. Scotland is 6th from the bottom out of 22 countries. If you do go to the doctor and the doctor is unsure what is wrong with you they will send you to a specialist in that area. If that specialist is unsure how to treat you or have to operate on you I would be very wary if he / she just went onto the internet to find out what was wrong with you or how to carry out the operation. I would hope the doctor was given training on the procedure. CPD is a very important part of training teachers and to suggest that we should all go home and do it ourselves is fine if people are willing to do so and have the time to do so. However, what about teachers with young families, illness within their families, or teachers who are going through a period of time in their lives where simply keeping on top of their normal day-to-day commitments is proving difficult. You could be placing even more pressure upon an already over worked / stressed teacher. I currently work over forty five hours a week and any more I feel would be a detriment to my health, family life and the pupils because of an overly tired teacher. Moreover, if you are asking for teachers to complete CPD at home or research new topics on the internet I fear that this may lead to many teachers feeling isolated in their subject areas. Many schools have only one computing/ICT teacher, CPD is a fantastic opportunity for single department teachers to share ideas, resources and discuss new advances in computing. Without CPD many teachers will spend hours at home trying to solve a problem or research a certain skill, whereas if they are able to meet with their fellow colleagues ideas, problems are shared and solved. This helps to develop a sense of co-operation and collegiality between teachers rather than a sense of isolation. I also just can’t help wondering what we are saying about our profession if as professionals we accept that we don’t need training as we can do it ourselves!!!

    “Maybe there is too much to catch up on” I would agree with this. If a course is going to change dramatically then the only way to make sure all are capable and up to speed is to offer the chance to have a day release system where we are taught by professionals. We would, therefore, have the knowledge and confidence to pass our learning on to our pupils. In my opinion continuous re-training is essential as I would like to know that I am using new technology correctly and understand it fully before attempting to look confident teaching our future generation. Re-training has been proven to work, as it was used successfully when re-training the technical education departments. The question must be raised, therefore, why are we any different? Although I understand we are in a recession, if the course is to undertake dramatic changes; if we are to be taken seriously as a profession and considered to be professionals then we must insist on more than ‘self-help’ as the solution to our CPD needs and ensure that we have access to the best possible additional training when required.

    “This is an exciting opportunity to embrace modern computing and consign Analyse, Design, Implementation and Test to the historical archive”. In my opinion there is a strong argument for using the old Analyse, Design, Implementation and Test. Technical Education still use this approach to teach their design process. Surely pupils need to show that they can understand a problem then create a plan of how they are going to solve the problem. If you don’t have an implementation process then how will any program ever be created? Testing is integral to any program, I would be very unhappy if I purchased a game and it crashed every time I used it or got half way through a level; or to continue the analogy to the medical profession I would be extremely unhappy if the life support software being used on me had not been tested. No matter how programming is taught it will still involve the waterfall stages. Why not let the pupils know the steps to fulfil a process? You would not go to a garage and ask them to fit a new tyre and expect them to balance the wheel before the tyre was put on and inflated! Everything has a logical sequenced process.

    “Scotland is keen to embrace a digital economy in games, software development and digital product.” Is this really the way universities want us to go; programming, programming and more programming? This does concern me. Moreover, who was consulted that this was definitely the way forward? Or is this the way forward for some individuals whose main specialities are in programming and games design.

    “No place for office application training.” I will guarantee that there are more pupils leaving school who need to use applications software correctly than those that need to program in a work environment. We can’t just turf them out of the computing curriculum. Who is going to create our databases, spreadsheets or even create a properly presented presentation in the future? I agree that the way we teach these applications is outdated and that needs to be addressed. I also believe that we do not need to teach all genres of application software, however, we must teach the basics, as I have stated before knowledge of the basics can’t be left to chance.

    “We should be striving for the best courses and experiences for learners without concerning ourselves if there is a profession able to handle them.” I fully agree that as teachers we have the duty to make our courses the best and the most interesting for the pupils. However, we must provide the pupils with knowledge and practical skills that they are able to use in life outside school and in their working environment. This is the basic concept of CfE, we need to develop the whole pupil and prepare them for life outside of school. If we teach pupils a narrow curriculum or are not “concerning ourselves if there is a profession able to handle them” we are fundamentally failing the pupil.

    “Business Education and Computing A clash of cultures.” I completely agree with this statement. If schools are merging these subjects in S1, S2 and S3 they will only be taught by the subject specialist 50% of the time, is this in line with CfE? How will the pupils have the knowledge in order to choose to study Business Education or Computing Science if they can’t differentiate between the two because thy have been merged. This has happened under the old 5 – 14 curriculum. At the end of 2nd year when the pupils were making choices you had to re iterate the topics they would be studying in each course. We must make sure this does not happen again and CfE provides the perfect platform for us to make a difference to this problem.

    “So what should we be teaching?”

    We need to be teaching more than just games design, animation and application development. All the way through this post, programming has been at the fore front. Please, please, lets not get bogged down in programming and only programming, the new course is beginning to sound like death by programming. Create a game, build an app and then code a web site, interesting as it is it does not provide a course that is well balanced. The course is not called computer programming. We are not trying to create specialists in a certain topic, that’s why we have universities. We are trying to create well balanced individuals with knowledge of a broad curriculum. When you ask how many girls go home and use the Xbox or Playstation very few do, however, the majority of teenage boys will be on the playstation/xbox every night. So who are we trying to promote this course to – don’t girls count? The CfE outcomes include much, much more than just programming outcomes. Yes they can be interpreted differently by different practitioners, but I am not going to create a program to decide what hardware requirements I would need for a specific purpose. In digital media, I may create a public information system without the use of programming.

    To summarise I agree to change but we must make sure we have a well balanced course, providing a broad educational experience that appeals to both sexes. Not one which is narrow and will be outdated in a few years time. We need a course that is sustainable and includes Software, system hardware, Networks, mobile technologies and future technologies etc. We need a course architecture that is flexible; can be added to with new up-to-date modules as emerging technologies enter our schools. A course that does not stand still but works from core modules – not mandatory modules – and a menu of optional modules. This would then allow for teacher specialism’s to be expressed. It would encourage teams of like minded teachers to work as writing teams adding to the menu of optional modules as the need arises. This is a real opportunity to take Computing in schools forward in a way that is forward thinking but still grounded in the need to work within the specialist knowledge that our computing teachers in schools actually have. Yes there are as many questions and problems with this suggestion as there are with any other but what I really do not want Computing to become is a one trick pony ie a programming course.

  36. Brian Clark

    Derek, I really enjoyed your post and you make some very fair points. Just wanted to pick up on your comment – “I really do not want Computing to become is a one trick pony ie a programming course”

    I think its fair to say that I dont think any of us want an entire programming course, however the topic has managed to steer itself in that direction. The software development aspect of computing courses – in whatever form – has obviously been the most thought about by the contributors here- and for good reason in my opinion.

    Of course networking, hardware, AI etc are equally important to Computer Science and they should indeed have a significant part to play in the new courses. As too are relational databases and multimedia.

    When you look at the course outlines for the new N4 and 5 qualifications – although they are in DRAFT form just now – all of these elements seem to be mentioned.

    When we try to take all of these elements of computing and try to package into a single course, I wonder how much depth and meaningful challenge we will be able to provide our learners in the timescales we will be given to deliver these courses at school.

    We as a profession of Computing educators have the chance to voice our opinions on the new courses at

    N4 –



  37. Derek Harris

    Brian thanks for your reply and I am glad you enjoyed reading my post. All I was meaning when I said “I really do not want Computing to become is a one trick pony ie a programming course” is at present in national 4 and 5 it looks to me that Software Design and Development is going be designated 50% of the course, so the other 50% of the course we have to teach networking, hardware, AI , future technologies etc this seems very unfairly waited. In the current standard grade course software development topic equates to 22% of the course (35 hours out of 160) As you stated “how much depth and meaningful challenge we will be able to provide our learners in the timescales”, well obviously more detail in programming and all the other topics will have to suffer, can we not have a look at the way the time is allocated to each unit in National 4 and 5 “DRAFT”? What if the pupil is not very good at programming but is an expert in all the other topics? Does that then mean because they were not able to grasp a part of the course they should be penalised a whole unit (50%), this does not seem fair to me nor would it happen in any other subject and it is against what CfE stands for as it could hinder the students progress (another debate). It just looks like we are pushing hard towards programming but as stated in my previous post, why is nothing else in computing as important?

  38. Kate Farrell

    OK, rather than just talking and moaning, here’s my contribution to trying to solve the problem. I’ve set up a Glow Wiki with suggestions of CPD sessions that might be of use to Computing teachers. Please add to it and join in the discussion!

    I can use my Edinburgh “lead teacher of Computing” hat to organise this (or some of it as a start at least!) and hopefully we can host it as a National Glow Meet and invite teachers from all over Scotland to attend as well

  39. David Coull

    As the chair of the SIoCE (Scottish Institute of Computing Educationalists), I have read most of the comments and I can assure those of you who wonder what we have been doing that we have not been idle.

    For those of you who have not heard of us – we are trying to be a focal point for action across Scotland in relation to the teaching of Computing at all levels – Secondary to Higher Education. We have around 300 members and are growing apace. Membership is free so if you are not a member, please think about joining us.

    What I would ask is that if you are keen on doing something can you please let us know what you are doing so that we do not duplicate effort. We may even be able to put you in touch with others who are trying to do the same as yourself.

  40. Colin Fisher


    Having read your post, it certainly gives rise for debate. I agree with your comments about the need for the subject to keep pace with the fast moving developments in ICT. Some of the problems stem from the update to the Computing course that took place several years ago, when it was decided to stick with the 6502 microprocessor to teach aspects of the course. I also found, and still do, that the subject was male dominated. I was delighted to see the launch of Information Systems. Incidently, I think that the subsequent update in the Information Systems course was, in my view, trying to put too many eggs in one basket. However Computing along with Information Systems seems to meet the needs of all wishing to progress in ICT. In general, I have found pupils moving on to higher education choose Computing if they intend to follow an “engineering/pure science” route, while the Information Systems course provides other students with the “tools” to allow them to engage with other courses requiring a more application based design approach. The courses seem to articulate well with FE courses. I remember the day a 3rd year Computing Student came into school to request a copy of the course notes she had been given at Higher. Not only this, but many pupils going straight into employment find the skills they had learned invaluable in finding jobs and using them in a practical sense within the areas they had found work e.g. Designing web pages for companies, refining Information Management Systems, Design and Implementation of databases to improve efficiency to name but a few.

    I agree with you whole heartedly that the subject is a vehicle that can encourage creative thinking and should not be restricted by the “rigours” of course design perhaps laid out in other subjects. I am concerned about the drop in numbers of students taking the subject, lack of support from management and how moderation can be achieved. It is surprising how in so few years we see what was perceived to be a focus on the future of Scotland being a leader in many aspects of ICT, Optical Computer Systems, Games Design, Virtual Reality Applications to name but a few, is not being given the opportunity to seed itself in the minds and inspirations of the youngsters on whom the future of this country lies.

  41. Suzie Stewart

    I agree totally with what you are saying. I am a computing teacher and also a frustrated parent. The school my children attend do no computing in CfE and S1 BEICT is just business studies material. My son, in S2, wants to do animation and I spoke to a friend’s boy who is just finishing an animation course and he has said how programming intensive it is. I sent and email to ask why there was no programming in the school and this is the reply I got…

    “I hope it will give you some reassurance to know that, having discussed this with our Careers advisor who also consulted a number of Universities who offer Animation courses, it would be true to say that there are a great number of courses which include Animation (some of which are based in the Creative Arts, others in Computer Games Technology) but none of them state that Computer Science is essential. In fact, Maths,Graphic Design, Art and Design or Physics seem to be the preferred subjects for the wide variety of Animation courses. This is sensible as all schools do not offer Computer Science.

    As you may be aware Technology Experiences are not delivered in only one curricular area but across many . For example, our S1 pupils work on an Animation (which my son did not do) product which is the culmination of skills developed through Art, Music , Drama and using knowledge of computer software developed in Enterprise (delivered in BEICT).

    The S1/2 course in xxx Academy fulfills the Curriculum for Excellence guidelines , given that , by the end of S2 pupils experience up to level
    3 with a few experiencing some of level 4. Level 4 experiences and outcomes are intended to be part of the choice element of the curriculum and therefore, all pupils would not be expected to cover these.

    Technology, in its widest sense and Computer science context specifically, continues to be developed throughout the curriculum in many subjects. Our pupils encounter these experiences on a regular, frequent basis.

    My understanding is that programming has not been taught here for some time as this was not helpful/useful to Further and Higher education courses due to a difference in the computer language used.”

    How do you reply to that??

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.