New Year, New Topic?



by Elizabeth Hidson

Can it be that we have been stuck for so long in this loop of arguing about the old ICT curriculum versus the new Computing curriculum?

I’m a former ICT teacher, trained in 1999 just as the even older IT curriculum became ICT (…cue lots of laughs on my IT PGCE course as we all agreed we were going to graduate as IT teachers, unqualified for this new world of ICT). I experienced my share of changes as ICT qualifications came and went – the rise and demise of the old GNVQ Part One Intermediate, the AVCEs that became Applied ICT, the cul-de-sacs of the IT Diploma and Key Skills.

Throughout it all, those of us who were trained as IT/ICT teachers in the secondary-school world that I inhabited focused on taking the best of what we could and doing interesting things in lessons. We knew that the vast spectrum of our subject appealed in different ways to different students. We had those who enjoyed web or graphic design; we had those who wanted to push the envelope and so we differentiated with scripting and VBA, offering extra-curricular lessons on Visual Basic. We had students learning Logo through dance and video editing with the MTV Boom project. Our team was a heady mix of IT-related professionals, complementing each other and providing quality and variety.

We guided students through KS3 to KS5 and beyond, highlighting the areas that we thought they showed aptitude and potential for and watched with pride as they went off to Computer Science, or IT, or any of the other computer-related courses that they’d had a taster of whilst in our care. As ICT teachers, we loved what we did and we were proud of our students and ourselves.

That pride came from a secure place, let me tell you. Subject inspections from HMI, Maths and Computing Specialism from SSAT, the ICT Mark from Naace, outstanding results year after year. I can still recall the HMI saying to me (then HoD) that my department went above and beyond the National Curriculum and that the consistency of our teaching led to the outstanding outcomes we achieved. We were specialists; we knew our stuff.

And then came January 11th, 2012. Michael Gove announced at BETT that the ICT curriculum was to be replaced by ‘rigorous Computer Science’. Waves of shock rippled throughout our profession. We were relegated to being mere office application pushers, ‘harmful’, part of ‘the blob’. The heavy-duty dismantling happened swiftly after that: disapplication and then deletion.

I was already in senior leadership by that point and less involved on the ground as the changes were implemented. By 2014 I was studying for my doctorate and looking at how ICT and Computing teachers were faring in the implementation of the Computing curriculum – what were they experiencing? How were they managing to plan lessons? What did it mean to plan a programming lesson only a few steps ahead of the students? There were many examples of resilient teachers pushing through and, as they had always done in the days of rapid software change, self-teaching so that they could continue to do their jobs. Any ICT teacher who has faced an unannounced software version change over the summer holidays will know what it’s like to scrabble about to update teaching materials!

At times, my Computing social media network seems to be trapped in the same battle. It’s a little like Animal Farm at the moment, as we look back and wonder how the commandments we worked to are remembered so differently: so bad when they started out reasonably well, or at least could be moulded into something better by skilful teachers.

Influenced as I am by all of this, I’m speaking at the BETT Show 2020 on 23rd January, so please register for BETT and also for my separate talk and research safari on the topic of digital opportunities for EdTech professional development.