Architects of ‘computing’ for English schools extend reach with UK-wide curriculum outfit
Chair of UKForCE Chris Mairs
The UK has a new body to provide curriculum advice, qualifications and assessment on computing education. The UK Forum for Computing Education (UKForCE) has been set up by The Royal Academy of Engineering (RAEng), which co-authored the new computing curriculum for English schools with the British Computer Society (BCS) for the Department for Education (DfE).
The UKForCE says it will also supply and train computing teachers, but its relationship with the DfE or other UK governments on this is unclear – it is an independent organisation.
The RAEng has set up the new forum to fulfil a recommendation in the report it co-produced with the Royal Society, Shutdown or restart: the way forward for UK schools. This called for the formation of “a lasting UK Forum for joint working and co-ordination between the many computing bodies”. Its purpose is to help implement the recommendations of Shutdown or restart and regularly report back on progress. One of its intended roles is to advise awarding bodies on “appropriate assessment methods for qualifications in digital literacy, information technology and computer science”.
‘Improving computing education across all education sectors of the UK’
UKForCE says it aims to “bring together representatives from across the communities of education, computer science, digital media, IT, engineering and telecommunications”. The press release announcing the venture also said it “will be independent of government and awarding organisations and will work towards improving computing education across all education sectors of the UK”.
“The new computing curriculum, which comes into effect in September 2014, is a most welcome step change in computing education,” says the chair of the new organisation, Chris Mairs, who is the chief scientist at Metaswitch Networks. “There are many amazing initiatives springing up to build upon this bold move both inside and outside the classroom.
“UKForCE will be the connective tissue between all these initiatives, central government and other relevant bodies. With a coherent voice and government commitment, our children will be the world’s most savvy digital citizens and a tremendous asset to the UK economy.
“As well as providing a springboard for great software engineers and computing specialists, effective delivery of the new curriculum can literally improve the life chances of an entire generation. UKForCE will help make this happen.”
‘We may soon see another Alan Turing emerging from our schools’
One of the authors of the new curriculum and chair of Computing at School is Microsoft’s principal researcher Simon Peyton Jones. A passionate supporter of computer science, he hopes that “we may soon see another Alan Turing emerging from our schools”. He added, “We need to generate the same enthusiasm for computing that the BBC Micro brought about in the 80s and that got so many people into programming and brought the UK to the forefront of computer science.”
However, there are those who feel the computing curriculum for English schools has too strong a focus on computer science and programming, and that the same people who steered that through will also effectively control the new organisation. Observers will be looking for educators and known experts in teacher and learniing, rather than a controlling group of computer scientists on the board (see below).
‘We must ensure that young people of all abilities have opportunities to learn’
One UKForCE steering committee member who is an advocate for the wider understanding of computing education is Bob Harrison. A Toshiba education advisor who also chairs the computing expert group set up by the DfE, he said: “Computing, in all its incarnations, is today one of the pillars of business and society; whether it’s digital literacy and basic software use, management of data and networks or advanced coding. We must ensure that young people of all abilities across the UK have opportunities to learn and be inspired by all aspects of computing education in schools.
“For UK businesses to flourish and for the UK to be an IT innovation leader not a follower, we need a fundamental change in the way that computing is taught in schools. Through UKForCE, we want to make sure the delivery of computing education in UK schools does not become mechanical and uninspiring, causing pupils to shun the subject when they move into work or choosing further education.”
Naace has welcomed the new body (it has two members – Mark Chambers and Bob Harrison – on the board) and says it is pleased by the wilingness to include messages of balance “not only in the curriculum”. Mark Chambers commented: The importance of computing in its widest sense to the UK economy cannot be understated; it is imperative that we achieve identification with this from the wider UK community and that learners are offered a real and a relevant experience of computing throughout their schooling.”