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How Digital Schoolhouse is rebooting computing education

Author: Laura.Martin

The much awaited Royal Society review on the state of computing education in schools was revealed last Friday. “After the Reboot: Computing Education in UK Schools” presents a comprehensive picture of the current delivery of computing and highlights just how far the UK is falling short of its targets.

Here at Digital Schoolhouse (DSH), we're thrilled to see just how closely our programme aligns with the recommendations and examples of good practice presented in the report - we decided to pick a few of these recommendations out for you:

Recommendation 1: In England, school governors and Ofsted should monitor whether and how schools are teaching computing to all pupils.

Our team of Digital Schoolhouse Lead Teachers (DSLTs) work closely with visiting schools to help train teachers and provide advice on curriculum provision and delivery. Our workshops are often viewed as the first step taken by schools to help them embed the computing curriculum.

The central Digital Schoolhouse team has often been approached by school senior leaders asking for advice and guidance around the computing curriculum. Additionally, we worked with the Education Endowment Foundation to jointly develop the first Computing Guide for Senior Leaders (2015).

Recommendation 2: Ofqual and the government should work urgently with the learned societies in computing, awarding bodies, and other stakeholder groups, to ensure that the range of qualifications include pathways suitable for all pupils, with an immediate focus on information technology at Key Stage 4. The learned societies in computing should establish a curriculum committee, to provide government with ongoing advice on the content, qualifications, pedagogy, and assessment methods for computing.

Digital Schoolhouse continues to explore and develop pedagogy and assessment methods for computing. Our network of DSLTs continues to work with the country’s leading academics, as well as conducting their own practitioner research to identify good practices. Our team also continues to engage with awarding bodies and stakeholders in addition to contributing to key working groups.

Recommendation 3: Research projects on pedagogy and curriculum development in computing should also investigate how to improve female participation.

The Digital Schoolhouse team actively engages with practitioner research to further develop the effective delivery and provision of computing in schools. Our research and impact data, particularly around the Digital Schoolhouse approach considers our programmes impact on females and the learning provided around this.

Recommendation 4: Government and industry-funded interventions must prioritise and evaluate their impact on improving the gender balance of computing

Each year, we evaluate the impact of the Digital Schoolhouse programme across a number of factors. One of these is always our impact and outreach amongst female pupils. Our results consistently show that participation in Digital Schoolhouse workshops help close the gender gap in student’s attainment, confidence and understanding of computing. Female students continue to report that the workshops help make computing more accessible and fun. Students and teachers consistently feedback how the DSH activities challenge traditional stereotypes surrounding the subject.  

Additionally, workshops are deliberately scheduled to take place during the school day, and visiting primary schools bring entire class groups for a Digital Schoolhouse visit. This structure ensures that we have an equal split of boys and girls in each workshop.

Recommendation 5: Governments should introduce quality-assured computing conversion courses for existing teachers, equivalent to those in physics and mathematics.

While this recommendation isn’t strictly applicable to the DSH programme, it is nevertheless worth noting the programme’s inclusivity. Our team of DSLTs includes non-specialists, and enables each teacher to contribute their areas of strength to the overall provision of the programme. For example, our physics specialist Lead Teacher is currently developing cross-over computing materials from the Physics and Engineering perspective. Additionally, our university DSH’s are currently exploring how the programme can best integrate with the Initial Teacher Training courses.

Recommendation 8: Industry and academia should support and encourage braided careers for staff who want to teach as well as work in another setting.

Digital Schoolhouse has always been described as an effective bridge between industry and education. Finding multiple ways for teachers, schools and students to continue to engage with industry is one of the things that we do; and included within that are ongoing opportunities for teachers and their professional development. While industry expertise is a key factor of effective education provision; the Digital Schoolhouse recognises that teachers are valuable experts in their own right. For video games companies wishing to break into the education and EdTech markets, access to our teachers is a valuable resource to help them build a successful product. All DSLTs are offered exciting opportunities to help develop and build upon their professional expertise by working with the creative digital industries.

Recommendation 9: Government and industry need to play an active role in improving continuing professional development (CPD) for computing teachers, as exemplified by the Network of Excellence. Investment in a national network needs at least a tenfold increase to expand the reach, and to have rigorous evaluation measures in place to strengthen the offer of such networks. Importantly financial support should be made available to schools to release staff to attend professional development opportunities.

Now this recommendation seems to sum up Digital Schoolhouse perfectly, here’s how:

  • Digital Schoolhouse actively works with local government, industry and academia to pool cutting edge innovation and expertise and embed it into effective classroom practice.
  • All Digital Schoolhouses work closely together. Our 30+ schools are a network of shared expertise, with each Lead Teacher contributing their areas of specialism to the group. For example, our primary Lead Teachers, keep us up to date with primary computing pedagogy, science teachers contribute their scientific expertise and so on.
  • Reflective practice and evaluating impact are an integral part of the Digital Schoolhouse process. They help to not only quality assure our delivery, but more importantly, help to build the expertise of our Lead Teachers. Our structures and processes surrounding this help to contribute towards an ethos of openness and honesty within the DSH community.
  • Schools do not pay to join the programme, rather, they are able to bid for an annual bursary allowance to support their delivery costs for running the programme. In times of austerity, these bursaries provide significant support to already stretched school budgets. In the words of our DSLTs: “I’ve been given time in my timetable and training. It hasn’t cost the school a penny.” - Eammon O Hare, St Malachy’s High School.
  • Our workshops are free; visiting schools do not pay for the experience. Each workshop is personalised to meet the needs of the visiting teacher and includes an element of personalised CPD. All visiting teachers leave with follow-up support and the full set of resources used to deliver the workshop.

Recommendation 10: Industry and non-profit organisations need to work with and through the British Computer Society and STEM Learning to provide a coherent offer of teaching support to teachers and schools.

We believe in connecting the dots, rather than re-inventing the wheel. That’s why we choose to work closely with leading organisations such as the BCS/Computing At School (CAS) and others. We believe that partnering with leading non-profit organisations not only enriches our programme but also provides a more coherent and comprehensive offer to our schools.

Recommendation 11: Education research funders, researchers, teachers and policymakers should develop a strategic plan that achieves:

  • The establishment of the long-term research agenda for computing education in schools
  • A commitment to this programme by a number of stakeholders
  • The development of UK capacity to conduct research
  • The effective sharing of knowledge between researchers, teachers and teacher trainers

We firmly believe that education research is needed to inform current and future direction of computing in schools. Therefore, all DSLTs are encouraged to undertake practitioner research to explore a variety of relevant issues. This year they are working closely with academics to help direct the research, with a view to publishing results in the summer term.

With our prime position in both the education and industry sector, we are able to additionally explore a range of avenues which could have significant impact computing education. Work is currently underway with key industry partners, and we hope to publish begin publishing our results next year.

Ultimately, our vision is to bridge the gap between industry and education, to prepare the next generation for a digital age, and it’s great to see that we’re working towards our goal in a way which is supported by the wider Education community.

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