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Where Are All The Computer Science Teachers? Terry Freedman Has A Few Ideas

Only 35% of computer teachers in schools have a relevant degree, and 30% of the required number of computer science teachers have not been recruited

  • Where Are All The Computer Science Teachers? Terry Freedman Has A Few Ideas

These figures come from the June 2016 House of Commons Science and Technology report into the ‘digital crisis’, and in my opinion there are several reasons for this state of affairs.

First, the emphasis on ‘coding’ in both educational circles and the media, together with a succession of disparaging remarks made about ICT courses of the past, has led many teachers to feel that they have no expertise at all as far as the computing programme of study is concerned; and as Sue Nieland, director of education at the Tech Partnership, states, in the recent CREST report into GCSE reform, “there is no real funding to upskill ICT specialists to become computer science specialists”.

Secondly, not enough is being done to attract potential computing teachers. The golden handshake of £20,000 offered to graduates training as computer science teachers is very nice but, as the CREST report states, does not match up to the far higher earnings potential in industry.

Thirdly, the term ‘[Computing At School] Master Teacher’ is a barrier. Most teachers would probably not feel comfortable describing themselves in such terms - to themselves, or with colleagues.

Fourthly, look at the criteria for applying for Master status. While there is some flexibility, that is not apparent from the first couple of sentences. The CAS Master Teacher programme is aimed at “Advanced Skills Teachers and Excellence Teachers with a STEM background”, and teachers with a computer science background, who have been graded as ‘Outstanding’ by Ofsted. Each of these rules out potentially excellent computer science teachers.

The insistence on being an existing teacher excludes anyone who was good enough in their teaching to become advisors working with several schools, as well as people used to be teachers of computer science and perhaps are now retired, but who may consider coming back into the classroom.

And what if you have never been observed by Ofsted, or the Outstanding grade was not in use when you were? As for the insistence on a STEM background, what of those excellent ICT teachers who did teach programming in the old Programme of Study, but who have no formal qualifications in the subject?

I have a few suggestions to address these issues:

Enhance the scheme

Rather than having the all-or-nothing designation of ‘Master Teacher’, why not implement a tiered scheme that recognises a wider range of people with the required expertise? For example, in addition to Masters, Associates could be drawn from the ranks of non-teachers who are experts in programming, while Professionals could be teachers without a STEM background but who nonetheless have expertise in programming.

Work with teachers

The ‘Hands-on support’ programme mentioned above worked as follows: an ICT advisor would work with an ICT teacher for three lessons, over the course of which the advisor would move from taking the lesson while the teacher observed, to observing the teacher’s lesson. Something similar could be implemented through the CAS network, financed by some of the funding it receives.

Finance CPD

The DfE could introduce an extensive CPD programme aimed at ‘upskilling’ ICT teachers to be able to teach computer science.

Source volunteers

The Apps for Good programme uses experts in various fields to act as mentors to students, eg by Skyping in to their class or visiting them. Why not set up a national network of programming mentors?

In conclusion, despite the apparent recruitment crisis there is much that could be done to address our current shortage of computing teachers. What is needed is the relaxation of the CAS criteria - plus a bit of imagination.

Terry Freedman is the author of Education Conferences: Teachers’ guide to getting the most out of education conferences

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