Letter to @NickyMorgan01 on #ICTgone cc @ruskin147

Here is the text of a letter I’m sending to Nicky Morgan regarding #ICTgone – hope I haven’t been too soft.

Dear Mrs Morgan,

I am a Head of ICT and Computing at a state secondary academy in Oxfordshire.  I am writing in my personal capacity and not as a representative of the school.

I would like to seek clarification on the decision taken by the Department for Education to cease redevelopment of the GCSE and A Level Information and Communication Technology specifications as outlined in the ‘Further additional GCSE and A Level subject content consultation’ launched on the 3rd of November.

  1. The consultation document lists ICT for both GCSE and A Level subjects for redevelopment as recommended by Ofqual on May the 10th (Pg. 9). This means that in-between May and November a decision has been taken to not redevelop the subjects.  However I have been unable to find any public consultations prior to this decision.  I would like to therefore know how this decision on not redeveloping two subjects was taken.
  2. The decision to not redevelop ICT on the basis of it being in a similar qualification space as Computer Science is difficult to understand. ICT and Computing are two fundamentally different subjects offering different outcomes to pupils with different interests and abilities.  Computer Science as a subject will prepare those pupils who choose to take it for a career in fields relying on aspects of Computer Science such as programming and systems development.  It will not however provide the digital literacy which all pupils require and which is not currently not served by any DfE curriculum.
  3. Although there have been many excellent programs throughout the years encouraging girls to take Computing recent figures such as the number of pupils who sat A Level Computing in June 2015 (456 female students out of 5383) indicate that for the foreseeable future Computing is going to remain a largely male subject. There will therefore not be a recognised digital subject which is seen as an attractive option for girls.
  4. If the decision to not redevelop ICT is maintained I am also concerned about the lack of DfE support for schools to continue to deliver alternative options such as level 2 ICT courses offered by other providers. I believe it is paramount that further guidance could be issued by DfE to schools to help safeguard necessary alternative IT education for pupils at KS4 and KS5.
  5. Although I am fortunate to be at a school where I have the full support of my leadership team I see it as likely that schools will look to make cuts if they are unable to increase computing uptake. Although looking forward it will be difficult to make predictions this decision seems likely to have an impact on jobs.
  6. Lastly I would like to seek clarification on how much influence BCS, as providers of the ECDL course, had on the decision to not redevelop GCSE and A Level ICT. As they stand to benefit financially from schools moving to their qualification this would call into question whether your decision was made in a completely impartial manner.

I look forward to your response.

Yours Sincerely,

Brian Sharland

Open Letter to @LucyMPowell MP regarding loss of #GCSEICT #ICTgone cc @ruskin147

This is the text of an email I have just sent to Lucy Powell regarding the loss of GCSE and A Level ICT.  It has been written very quickly so please excuse any flubs.

Dear Lucy,

I am a Head of ICT and Computing at a state secondary school in Oxfordshire.  Like many others who I have been speaking to this afternoon I have been dismayed by the DfE’s decision to launch a consultation today on GCSE reform but from the outset make it clear that GCSE and A Level ICT are not to be included and are therefore now ended.
This brings up the following issues:
  1. Is it correct for the DfE to make a decision on ending ICT at KS4 and 5 without going to public consultation?
  2. Suggestions have been made that BCS, who administer the rapidly increasing in popularity GCSE ICT alternative ECDL course, may have influenced DfE decision making in some way.  It is fairly clear that those schools who can are going to be taking the ECDL which at the price it is offered at is a lucrative money spinner for BCS.
  3. From a teaching point of view this removes a popular alternate pathway for pupils who are interested in effectively boosting digital skills and literacy but who might not be interested in a very different subject such as Computing.
  4. Although it may be hard to come up with statistics on the number of teachers who teach both Computing and ICT when one considers that close to 112000 pupils sat GCSE ICT this equates to a lot of teaching hours put in by teachers.  With the ending of the subject these teachers will eventually face a reduction in their role and possibly even job losses due to a lack of funding to support the subject.  Not every pupil is going to automatically now choose Computing as an alternative.
I chair a local group of ICT and subject teachers through a learning partnership forum and also enjoy a small measure of notoriety and influence online.  I have also copied in Drew Buddie who is the chair of Naace.  We would certainly welcome the DfE being held to account on these issues as we feel they will have a disproportionate and negative impact on pupils and teachers.
From an initial and informal discussion with colleagues we feel that not only do we need answers on the processes which have taken place but we also are interested to know whether an effective framework could be put into place to support teachers choosing to offer another Ofqual registered IT course.  There are other less well known courses which are available and our worry is that if teachers are going to start teaching radically different courses at KS4 this will dilute the impact of decent IT teaching across the country.
Brian Sharland

Being a 21st Century Educator #Picademy

This is my blog post to apply for the Raspberry Picademy in October half term.  I decided to write a blog post instead of a video as after this week a video of me would have consisted of nothing but snoring and occasional mumble of ‘paperwork!’.  I digress …

What is a 21st century educator?  This is a hard question to answer as I have seen many people argue over the meaning of it on Twitter.  A quick Google search yields a general consensus that 21st century education is about adopting a new paradigm for educating pupils.  I can completely understand this as from the early 90’s onwards schools largely in the developed world have experienced massive change in the way they do things as a result of the internet.

But when I look at diagrams such as the first one on this page here and think about year 10 ICT last period on a Friday where some of the lads have taken to twirling their mouses whilst grunting at me that they are ‘using the ICT stuff like you told us to sir!’ I wonder which of the 21st century circles (see the aforementioned diagram) and skills I should be aiming for!  21st century education as a theory sounds very nice but putting it into use in a classroom is not as easy as it may be.

I come from South Africa and due to the luck of my birth and an immensely racist educational approach in the country I received a very good standard of education and opportunity.  But over the years I met, especially through the church I attended, many people who grew up on the other side of the fence and for whom education was a very sparse and humiliating affair.  For them and for many pupils who do not have the fortune to attend a reasonably well resourced school in the leafy suburbs of Cape Town or Joburg, it is about getting any form of decent education, 21st century or not.  It is no use calling it 21st century education when you have a classroom of 40 upwards and little resources to speak of compared to the UK.

Having said that I do know that in South Africa at the moment there are great programs such as ICT4RED which are developing fantastic ways of using technology to support rural education.  I’m sure some of the people involved might call it ’21st century’ education but that is less important with the overall principle of bringing the best technology into areas of South Africa which need that investment and support.

What does this have to do with the Raspberry Pi?  Obviously the Pi is a prime example of the sort of technology pupils should be using in class whether it is a wealthy UK school or a rural school in South Africa.  When I think about the Raspberry Pi I don’t think about ’21st century education’, instead I think about the opportunities the Pi brings much the same way any new technology introduced into classrooms over the last 150 years has brought.  Yes there may be different pedagogical strategies which we can draw on to use with the Raspberry Pi in class but my central focus as a teacher is the Raspberry Pi itself.

The Raspberry Pi is an opportunity for challenge and discovery.  You may think I am sounding like a ’21st century’ educator in using those words but when TV or Radio was introduced to classrooms years ago this was an opportunity for challenge and discovery as well, regardless of which century we are in.

Ultimately though I think the Raspberry Pi should be seen less as a device in context with ’21st century’ education and more in terms of the digital divide.  A cheap computer in a ruggedised case in rural education environments with new content being brought into the area cheaply on micro-sd cards?  Outside of bringing Computing education up to scratch in the UK that is where the Raspberry Pi is going to do well.


IT Advice Clinic at the Community Cafe Sunday 17th

Have you ever had a question about something your smartphone, tablet or laptop is doing or you want to do with it and you can’t find the right advice online or don’t want to go a shop.  The IT Advice clinic will be setting up shop at the Community Cafe this sunday the 17th of August.  Run by myself, a Head of ICT and Computing at a local secondary school, it will be an excellent opportunity for you to seek some quick advice or tutoring on questions or issues you might be having such as using apps, customising software or keeping yourself secure online.

It will not be possible to take on any repairs on the day.  Before any advice is given a small fee will be discussed ranging from £2.50 to £5 depending on the nature of the question.

Brian Sharland

Will learning be significantly more global in the next few years? #etag1a

The Educational Technology Action Group (another edu-advice group set up by DfE) has set up a consultation seeking responses on a number of questions.  Even if my response disappears without a trace it’s still a great opportunity to flex some rhetoric on an interesting question.

The consultation phrased the first question for discussion as “Learning will be significantly more global” and as you can see I have changed it in my own blog title to a question rather than a definitive statement.  This is because in a way, although I see a lot of positivity ahead in learning in the future, there is also some issues ahead.

To understand this I first want to take a look at the issue of ‘silos’ in technology.  For an excellent look at the issue of silos I suggest reading Doug Belshaw’s take on them here.  In essence though we are increasingly becoming stuck as users in a technology silo whenever we choose products from a company.  Do you become an Apple user, Android etc?  The web, originally envisaged as a way to hopefully open up human innovation and thought, has instead become quite a closed off place.

This same principle can apply I think to education and it’s defined by something I saw this morning when I responded with concern to this tweet about Pearson administering OECD tests.  In looking into this I found this further blog from Pearson about how they are developing the frameworks for the OECD PISA tests.  I therefore ask the question – could learning be truly open and ‘global’ when key assessment frameworks for judging pupil progress at a national level are being set up by one company?

I then also think about situations where the curriculum is censored around the world and I wonder whether we can have truly global learning when there will continue to be pupils growing up in countries without access to certain areas of knowledge.  I know it is an extreme example but if you look at North Korea and how it controls access to information could countries begin to exert even more influence over what pupils gain access to online?

Even if a country doesn’t enact censorship of education a simple lack of resources will restrict pupils from being able to take part in global learning.

How does this affect the UK?  Although this country is obviously not struggling with the resource issues which countries like South Africa face it should still be careful about silos of education being established.  Although it may be a small example if lets say a publisher releases an app for only one brand of tablet to read only their publications then a silo has been established.  Much like a technology company I can understand their need to maximise their profits but for pupils the content they rely on is now controlled heavily by that one company.  Could they share information with someone else in another school, another country?  Although we don’t have any educational censorship in this country, at least not that I’m aware of, could a future UK government bring in such censorship and local publishers then use their silo to enforce that censorship?

I may be thinking quite widely here but it does seem probable.  So how would we go about ensuring that learning becomes more global over the next years?  By moving content out of silos, making it open and licences for sharing, and making the content available regardless of which platform you are using.

This is why on the majority of my work, when I remember, I use a CC-BY-NC-SA licence.  This is why I am also teaching myself how to use an HTML framework to write slide-decks for class so that I can finally cut the PowerPoint cord.  This is why open courses (or MOOCs if you wish to call them that) and investment in course providers like http://futurelearn.com are vital.

I therefore think that out of all the possible paths ahead for the future the one which I would most like to see happen, and towards which I hope my own work which I create will help, is the one where pupils may use devices from a range of companies but which through those devices they can access content developed by their teachers in school but also select from a range of open online courses to supplement their learning in class.  If they use apps developed just for one platform, fair enough, we are never going to be able to exclude content from a silo in schools.  We can however work to make sure that the best content available for pupils is one which they can access for free, openly and with no restrictions.  That is the root of a truly global learning movement.


A #computingmodule structure – open sourced and ready for collaboration #computing

Yesterday I posted some of my ideas on setting up a module structure for Computing as well as reflected in a couple of tweets about how everyone seems to be setting up their own Computing curricula.

Let me say again, I don’t think that everyone setting up their own Computing curricula is a bad idea. Far from it, in fact it’s a fantastic thing.  The issue is that teachers are likely going to be duplicating effort a lot and then producing work which is probably heavily tailored for their own contexts and not usable elsewhere.

I would therefore like to propose that a structure for developing a module is setup, open-sourced and made available for download by teachers.  This isn’t about defining content at all but rather a template for any teacher to build their own content.

If they are downloading this structure and using it themselves, how is it then shared?  I would probably say Computing at School is the best way to do just that.

So in summary:

  • This is not about developing content but developing a structure to allow any teacher to develop content
  • This should hopefully enable teachers to share what they have done, gain some recognition and look for work which others have done
  • This will therefore hopefully reduce duplication
  • It could also hopefully bring ICT teachers who might feel a lack of support in their local area a little bit quicker up to speed

Things to do:

  • Get a github repo setup containing the structure
  • Decide on a structure (currently I’m thinking md files)
  • Garner some interest / promote this
  • Find skilled devs who can add features into the structure such as a nice glossary etc
  • Develop the best way of sharing completed modules

Any help – very welcome!

Setting up/Updating a KS3 #Computing Curriculum

A short while ago I was involved with a project to redevelop ICT as a new subject called #digitalstudies.  It was going quite well but it ran into a few difficulties as well as a brush with the reality that the subject was now going to be known as Computing.  Having said that it taught me a bit about planning new curriculums rather than just projects and it’s this experience I am going to use in continuing to tweak/set up/update my Computing curriculum for next year.

To begin with I am not going to look at content but instead at the structure of a project or module within a Computing Curriculum.  This is important as it will ensure that each module is structured in the same way and therefore consistent in approach for pupils.

So what should a good computing module contain?

  • A Title!
  • An indication of which year or age group this project might be suitable for
  • A purpose containing an outline of knowledge and skills to be taught
  • An expansion on the knowledge and skills to be taught
  • Cross-curricula links
  • Examples o further modules to progress towards
  • If the module requires the creation of a digital product an example would help
  • A glossary
  • Self-Assessment questions to begin with
  • Theory questions
  • Work-criteria questions
  • Mapping to DFE Computing Curriuclum
  • Mapping to CAS progression pathways (yes I dislike the word progression but it is a good document)
  • Step by step instructions – this could take the form of lesson by lesson
  • Links to software resources and other website resources
  • Opportunities for pupils to expand on what they have done (challenges and extension work)
  • Work for home

I’ll hopefully be using this structure with some future work I’ll be setting up on my Github account.


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