Tag Archives: ICT

Today’s “University View” column in the Western Mail

This is the short article I wrote for the University View column in today’s Western Mail:

Technology is arguably the biggest lever on our lives, affecting everything from the way we communicate, do business, shop, travel, access information and are entertained. Our dependence on digital infrastructure is increasing all the time; from the demand for high-bandwidth Internet connectivity through to the devices we carry in our pockets. We truly live in a computational world, glued together by software.

But the real question is: do we direct technology, or do we let ourselves be directed by it and those who have mastered it? “Choose the former,” writes author Douglas Rushkoff, “and you gain access to the control panel of civilisation. Choose the latter, and it could be the last real choice you get to make”; in essence: program or be programmed.

So why do we have an seemingly antiquated perspective of technology education, primarily focusing on developing increasingly transient IT user skills, rather than equipping young people with a deeper understanding of how technology works, on how to solve problems with technology, on programming and computational thinking skills? Why are we not developing a generation of digital creators, empowered to make, break and manipulate their digital world, rather than a generation who are becoming consumers of technology?

This is a question I have been asking repeatedly over the past couple of years. Last year I co-chaired the Welsh Government’s review of the ICT curriculum, in light of significant reform across the rest of the UK. From September, there will be a new compulsory subject called Computing replacing ICT in England from aged five onwards, focusing on computer science, programming and computational thinking: “A high-quality computing education equips pupils to use computational thinking and creativity to understand and change the world.” Precisely so.

We are currently in the midst of a significant review of education in Wales, asking fundamental questions about what education should achieve for young people. Alongside this we have long term policy evolving around skills, identifying the types of skills we require to create a healthy and prosperous society that is economically secure but also agile and adaptable to changing industries and sectors. While I recognise it is important that we take stock of where we are in Wales and identify the most appropriate solutions to some of our educational problems, it seems bizarre that we are delaying on what appears to be a no-brainer: making digital skills and computing education a core part of our curriculum. It is not a question of rushing into solutions, or copying other countries — this is about creating aspirations for our young people, developing future-proof skills and global competitiveness. I am baffled that we still have to justify why they should be core for all. We should turn the question around: can anyone justify why we shouldn’t make computing a core part of the curriculum?

Ultimately it comes down to what we want a future Wales to look like. Do we want to be a knowledge economy, leveraging our culture and being innovative and creative with technology? The Welsh Government have identified a number of priority sectors for economic renewal, alongside significant investment in our science and engineering research base, as well as recognising the broader societal and economic importance of e-infrastructure, connectivity and digital inclusion. All of these are predicated on having a country and citizenry with high-value digital and computational skills. It currently remains to be seen if we can deliver a digital Wales.

 
(N.B. text published in the print copy of the paper may differ slightly due to copy-editing)

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Paper in ACM TOCE: “Restart: The Resurgence of Computer Science in UK Schools”

Further to the previous CAS papers, Neil Brown (University of Kent), Sue Sentance (formerly Anglia Ruskin University, now CAS), Simon Humphreys (CAS/BCS) and I have had a paper accepted into ACM Transactions on Computing Education: Restart: The Resurgence of Computer Science in UK Schools, part of a Special Issue on Computing Education in (K-12) Schools.

The paper will soon be available to download for free via the ACM Author-ize service (or you can download our pre-print); the abstract is as follows:

Computer science in UK schools is undergoing a remarkable transformation. While the changes are not consistent across each of the four devolved nations of the UK (England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland), there are developments in each that are moving the subject to become mandatory for all pupils from age 5 onwards. In this article, we detail how computer science declined in the UK, and the developments that led to its revitalisation: a mixture of industry and interest group lobbying, with a particular focus on the value of the subject to all school pupils, not just those who would study it at degree level. This rapid growth in the subject is not without issues, however: there remain significant forthcoming challenges with its delivery, especially surrounding the issue of training sufficient numbers of teachers. We describe a national network of teaching excellence which is being set up to combat this problem, and look at the other challenges that lie ahead.

 
(see Publications)

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The ICT Steering Group’s Report to the Welsh Government

welshictreportcover

Today, the ICT Steering Group published its review of the ICT curriculum in Wales, at a launch at Box UK’s office in Cardiff attended by Huw Lewis AM, the Welsh Government’s Minister for Education and Skills.

This is the culmination of eight months of discussion, evaluation and consultation, to identify a way forward for ICT in Wales. As co-chair of this review, I am delighted with what we have delivered: a declaration of intent for Wales, to change the profile and perception of a subject of tremendous educational and economic importance to Wales. I truly hope that the Welsh Government adopt the report’s recommendations in full and use this as an opportunity to highlight the importance of computing and digital literacy in a modern, challenging and aspirational national curriculum.

As per today’s written Ministerial Statement:


The report of the ICT Steering Group, published today, poses some very significant questions and explores themes that we must now consider in the context of the wider review of assessment and the National Curriculum…I am very grateful for this report and will respond in full to all these recommendations in due course.

The full report is now available to download (English, Cymraeg).

Headline Recommendations

  1. A new subject named Computing should be created to replace Information and Communications Technology (ICT) from Foundation Phase onwards. This new subject will disaggregate into two main areas: Computer Science (CS); and Information Technology (IT).
  2. Computing should be integrated into the curriculum as the fourth science, served by a mandatory Programme of Study, and receive the same status as the other three sciences.
  3. A Statutory Digital Literacy (DL) Framework should be implemented to work alongside the Literacy and Numeracy Framework from Foundation Phase through to post-16 education.
  4. Perceptions of Computing education pathways should be changed to recognise the key societal roles of computing and technology, as well as promote the importance and diversity of IT careers.
  5. The revised Computing curriculum should encourage creativity, allow thematic working and develop real world problem-solving. It should be flexible enough to continually evolve to remain current, adopting an Agile ideology and approach to ensure this.
  6. A range of engaging and academically rigorous pathways and bilingual qualifications for Computing and Digital Literacy should be devised, encouraging interest and opportunities for deeper learning.
  7. Engagement and collaboration between education and industry should be an integral part of the curriculum to embed current practices and skills.
  8. Pathways for Initial Teacher Training (ITT) in Computing should be created to encourage the best talent into the profession. All entrants to the teaching profession should have the skills to deliver the Digital Literacy Framework (DLF).
  9. A programme of training and professional development to enable the new Computing curriculum should be accessible to new and existing teachers.
  10. A National Technology Framework should be devised to create an effective technology infrastructure for education. Welsh Government, local authorities, industry and learning providers should be responsible for its effective implementation and strategic development.
  11. Effective monitoring arrangements should be created for Computing and the Digital Literacy Framework. Estyn should consider relevant changes to the Common Inspection Framework in light of all of these recommendations.
  12. An appropriate body or properly constituted group should oversee the implementation of these recommendations. Its remit would need to be broad enough to encompass this crucial governance role, utilising appropriate expertise and representing key stakeholders.
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Delivering a Digital Wales

Next week I will be speaking at Digital 2013, a headline Welsh Government event highlighting the importance of the ICT sector in Wales. In preparation for the event, I was interviewed to discuss the “Digital 2013 Opportunity“, especially with the ongoing ICT review in Wales, as well as broader science, technology and innovation policy:

 

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CAS paper at SIGCSE’13: “Bringing Computer Science Back Into Schools: Lessons From The UK”

Further to the previous CAS papers, Neil Brown (University of Kent) presented a paper entitled: Bringing Computer Science Back Into Schools: Lessons From The UK at SIGCSE’13, the 44th ACM Technical Symposium on Computer Science Education, in Denver in March.

The paper is available to download for free via the ACM Author-ize service below; you can also listen to Neil’s voice-over of the presentation slides. The abstract is as follows:


Computer science in UK schools is a subject in decline: the ratio of Computing to Maths A-Level students (i.e. ages 16–18) has fallen from 1:2 in 2003 to 1:20 in 2011 and in 2012. In 2011 and again in 2012, the ratio for female students was 1:100, with less than 300 female students taking Computing A-Level in the whole of the UK each year. Similar problems have been observed in the USA and other countries, despite the increased need for computer science skills caused by IT growth in industry and society. In the UK, the Computing At School (CAS) group was formed to try to improve the state of computer science in schools. Using a combination of grassroots teacher activities and policy lobbying at a national level, CAS has been able to rapidly gain traction in the fight for computer science in schools. We examine the reasons for this success, the challenges and dangers that lie ahead, and suggest how the experience of CAS in the UK can benefit other similar organisations, such as the CSTA in the USA.

 

ACM DL Author-ize service

Neil C. C. Brown, Michael Kölling, Tom Crick, Simon Peyton Jones, Simon Humphreys, Sue Sentance
SIGCSE ’13 Proceeding of the 44th ACM Technical Symposium on Computer Science Education, 2013


(see Publications)

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Consultation on the Review of ICT and Computer Science Education in Wales

DfES ICT consultation

Computer science touches upon all three of my education priorities: literacy, numeracy and bridging the gap. It equips learners with the problem-solving skills so important in life and work.

The value of computational thinking, problem-solving skills and information literacy is huge, across all subjects in the curriculum. I therefore believe that every child should have the opportunity to learn concepts and principles from computer science.

Indeed, computing is a high priority area for growth in Wales. The future supply and demand for science, technology and mathematics graduates is essential if Wales is to compete in the global economy.

It is therefore vitally important that every child in Wales has the opportunity to study computer science.

Leighton Andrews AM, Minister for Education and Skills (June 2012)

As co-chair of the Welsh Government’s ICT Steering Group, announced in January to consider the future of ICT and computer science in Welsh schools, we are currently inviting stakeholder views as part of a wider open consultation.

Please participate by completing the official online survey (available in English and Welsh) by Friday 10th May 2013.

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Interview with ITWales

I was interviewed last month by ITWales, to talk about computer science education, CAS Wales, the Technocamps project and the future skills and expertise required to underpin the digital economy in Wales.


(full interview here)

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We’ve sold Computer Science, now we have to sell what it means to be a Computer Scientist…

Last week was an exceptional week for computer science education in the UK: Google donating 15,000 Raspberry Pis to UK schoolchildren, Microsoft calling for computer science to be taught from primary school, the Department for Education including computer science in the EBacc as the “fourth science” and UCAS 2013 entry statistics showing the highest increase in total applications for Computer Sciences (up 12.3%). This follows on from the launch of the CAS Network of Computer Science Teaching Excellence in September, the publication in November of the draft ICT Programme of Study for England and the announcement in January of a review of the ICT curriculum in Wales, reporting back in June.

So it appears we’ve sold the rigorous academic discipline of computer science; but not to simply increase the supply of programmers for the IT industry or to get more people to study computer science at university — the rationale has always been based upon computer science being of wider educational value to everyone, in the same way as we value physics and mathematics. But after a discussion with Pete Yeomans (@ethinking) at the CAS fringe event at Bett 2013 last week, it appears that we are now facing a more subtle and refined challenge:

This is the real (marketing?) challenge: to truly change the wider perception of the discipline, we now have to sell what it really means to be a computer scientist, how to think like a computer scientist and the universal potential of this mindset.

And everyone needs to understand and value this.

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Welsh Government announces ICT Steering Group

Further to the Review of ICT announced in November, a written statement was released today by Leighton Andrews AM, the Welsh Government’s Minister for Education and Skills:


On 19 November, I chaired a seminar to consider the future of computer science and ICT in schools in Wales. The seminar was attended by representatives from a range of key stakeholders including schools, the National Digital Learning Council, Further Education, Higher Education, awarding organisations, industry and the media.

Following a lively and engaging discussion, there were a number of key themes that emerged that I am keen to consider further, they include:

  • ‘ICT’ in schools needs to be re-branded, re-engineered and made relevant to now and to the future;
  • Digital literacy is the start and not the end point — learners need to be taught to create as well as to consume;
  • Computer science should be introduced at primary school and developed over the course of the curriculum so that learners can progress into a career pathway in the sector.
  • Skills, such as creative problem-solving, should be reflected in the curriculum; and,
  • Revised qualifications need to be developed in partnership with schools, Higher Education and industry.

I have established a Steering Group to take forward consideration of the future of computer science and ICT in schools. The group will consider the key findings of the seminar, develop proposals in relation to their implementation, and provide a report on the way forward.

The membership of the Steering Group is comprised of representatives from a cross-section of key stakeholders and includes:

  • Co-Chair: Stuart Arthur (Box UK)
  • Co-Chair: Dr Tom Crick (Cardiff Metropolitan University)
  • Co-Chair: Janet Hayward (Cadoxton Primary School, Vale of Glamorgan)
  • Professor Khalid Al-Begain (University of Glamorgan)
  • Chris Britten (Ashgrove Special School, Vale of Glamorgan)
  • Lucy Bunce (Y Pant Comprehensive School, Rhondda Cynon Taff)
  • Gareth Edmondson (Ysgol Gyfun Gŵyr, Swansea)
  • Mark Feeney (e-skills UK)
  • Charlie Godfrey (Fujitsu)
  • Magi Gould (Bangor University)
  • Mark John (Vision Thing Communications)
  • Ben Lidgey (Monitise)
  • Hannah Mathias (St David’s College, Cardiff)
  • Professor Faron Moller (Swansea University)
  • Gareth Morlais (BBC Wales)
  • Simon Pridham (Casllwchwr Primary School, Swansea)
  • Maldwyn Pryse (Estyn)
  • Glyn Rogers (Ysgol Gyfun Gwynllyw, Pontypool)

The group will report to me by July 2013 and provide recommendations on the way forward.

The recommendations will inform the wider review of assessment and the National Curriculum in Wales, which I announced on 1 October. Any necessary changes will be considered as part of any revisions to the National Curriculum in Wales.

This is a hugely positive step by the Welsh Government, especially in light on the wider review of assessment and the National Curriculum in Wales (as well as the recently published 14-19 Review of Qualifications); it also complements the activities of the National Digital Learning Council. I am very much looking forward to co-chairing this review and developing a modern, rigorous and challenging ICT curriculum for Wales.

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Paper at WiPSCE’12: “Grand Challenges for the UK: Upskilling Teachers to Teach Computer Science Within the Secondary Curriculum”

Further to the CAS paper presented at Koli Calling 2011 in Finland in November 2011, Sue Sentance (Anglia Ruskin University) presented a paper entitled: Grand Challenges for the UK: Upskilling Teachers to Teach Computer Science Within the Secondary Curriculum at WiPSCE’12, the 7th International Workshop in Primary and Secondary Computing Education, in Hamburg in November.

The paper is available to download for free via the ACM Author-ize service below; the abstract is as follows:


Recent changes in UK education policy with respect to ICT and Computer Science (CS) have meant that more teachers need the skills and knowledge to teach CS in schools. This paper reports on work in progress in the UK researching models of continuing professional development (CPD) for such teachers. We work with many teachers who either do not have an appropriate academic background to teach Computer Science, or who do and have not utilised it in the classroom due to the curriculum in place for the last fifteen years. In this paper we outline how educational policy changes are affecting teachers in the area of ICT and Computer Science; we describe a range of models of CPD and discuss the role that local and national initiatives can play in developing a hybrid model of transformational CPD, briefly reporting on our initial findings to date.

ACM DL Author-ize service

Sue Sentance, Mark Dorling, Adam McNicol, Tom Crick
WiPSCE ’12 Proceedings of the 7th Workshop in Primary and Secondary Computing Education, 2012


(see Publications)

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The Times: “Program or Be Programmed”

A lot of computer science in The Times today: a full-page article on page 3 entitled Play the game, but write the software too (£), a four-page pullout on learning how to code, as well as the following leader (£) on page 2:

Program or be Programmed

The best time to start learning the language of computer code is now

void draw() {
    background(255);
    stroke(0,0,0);
    line(0,0,60,hour());
    line(0,0,120,minute());
    stroke(255,0,0);
    line(0,0,180,second());
}

The world divides into a majority of people for whom the preceding four lines are meaningless and a minority for whom it is clear at once that, given the right breaks between them, these lines will create on your computer screen a simple clock.

For the majority, the world of software is a built world that, like a city, helps us to organise and to consume. But it has been built by others. For the minority, software is merely a curtain that can be pulled aside to reveal a wild world of confusion, trial and error, but also of potentially unlimited creative and commercial potential. It is time for Britain’s schoolchildren to be granted access to this world.

For a brief period in the 1980s, British schools and universities punched far above their weight in the production of graduates who spoke the language of computers. This was partly a legacy of Britain’s pioneering role in the fundamentals of computer science and partly thanks to the BBC Micro, which appeared in most schools in the country but required a basic understanding of code for even its most basic functions.

The Micro generation went on to dominate the creative side of the computer gaming industry, but mainly in other countries. Since then Britain’s top three universities for computer science — Oxford, Cambridge and Imperial College, London — have kept their rankings in a global top 20 predictably dominated by the United States. But for a wasted generation, computer science in schools has languished at the expense of something else entirely.

As Michael Gove lamented in a speech in January, the national curriculum’s vision of Information and Communications Technology (ICT) had atrophied to little more than a primer in the use of Microsoft Word and PowerPoint. What pupils got, if they could stay awake, were simple skills that conferred little competitive advantage and in most cases could anyway be self-taught. What they needed was a rigorous but rewarding grounding in code as a foreign language.

At the Education Secretary’s invitation, industry has produced a blueprint for a new computer science curriculum. It would start early. By the end of primary school, pupils would be able to build an app for a mobile phone. By 16 they would be able to write a program to solve a Sudoku puzzle. By 18, if they took computer science at A-Level, they would be able to write the code to guide a van along the shortest route between two points on a digitised map.

Under this scheme, coding would start at 7. Its advocates say this would produce, eventually, the number of computer-literate graduates that British employers need; equip all pupils with the ability to compartmentalise and sequence their thinking as coding requires; and reflect the new reality that no rounded education is complete without an introduction to programming.

It is a compelling case. Some schools may respond that they cannot possibly have enough qualified teachers ready for a curriculum by 2014, when the successor to ICT is due. That is no reason to push back the deadline. It is a reason to speed up the necessary training. That clock on your computer screen is ticking.

While it has been widely reported that industry have taken the lead on developing the new ICT Programme of Study in England, this is not quite correct. It has been coordinated by the BCS and the Royal Academy of Engineering on behalf of the Department for Education, with input from key stakeholders across education, academia, government and industry. They may have been indirectly referring to Computer Science: A Curriculum for Schools, the CAS curriculum which has been endorsed by industry and the examination boards.

N.B. The Times also cleverly demonstrated that programming is non-trivial, by inserting a couple of typos in the code fragment at the start of the article…

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Review of ICT in Wales

A written statement released today by Leighton Andrews AM, the Welsh Government’s Minister for Education and Skills:

The ICT sector in Wales is a driving force in both economic development and wider social change and it encourages productivity and competiveness across the economy. The sector in Wales is global and dynamic and includes a wide range of companies from blue-chip corporates through to innovative small and medium-sized enterprises across IT services, software, telecommunications and electronics.

In this context, I am determined to ensure that learners progressing through our education system have the skills required to work in and contribute to the sector.

There has been a significant decline in the number of learners taking the GCSE ICT course in Wales and I am aware that some employers have expressed concern over what is being taught in schools, that young people are being ‘switched off’ careers in the sector, and that they lack the necessary skills. There is a risk that the current curriculum is failing to provide young people with relevant skills.

On 1 October 2012, I announced a review of assessment and the National Curriculum in Wales. The review aims to streamline and simplify assessment arrangements and consider the National Curriculum core and other foundation subjects at each stage, to ensure that our expectations of content and skills developments are suitably robust.

As part of this wider review, the time is right to consider the future of computer science and ICT in schools in Wales. I will begin this process by chairing a seminar on 19 November, which will bring together some of the key players in Wales to discuss the future of ICT in schools.

I have invited representatives from the National Digital Learning Council, Further Education, Higher Education, and industry to contribute to what I hope will be a lively and informative debate on the best way forward and how to ensure that Wales is well placed to play a leading role in the global economy of the future.

I have been invited to this meeting on the 19th, so I hope to have more information in a couple of weeks.

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Programming is the start not the end: let’s develop computational thinking and problem solving skills

(N.B. This is the original unedited version of an article published online today in The Telegraph)

I wholeheartedly support the high-profile initiatives to get more children programming, especially as part of the rethinking of the ICT curriculum in UK schools. The publication of the Royal Society’s report Shut down or restart? in January highlighted the unsatisfactory state of ICT education in the UK, recommending that every child should have the opportunity to study the rigorous academic discipline of computer science. With the disapplication of the existing ICT Programmes of Study and the development of a new programme of study as part of the National Curriculum Review in England, we are at an exciting crossroads, with a real opportunity to make computing and technology a key focus of our education system. But if there’s one lesson we should take away from the problems of the past 15 years it is that we must not focus on transient and superficial technology skills. Computer science is not programming (and vice versa) and we should be wary of teaching programming just for the sake of teaching programming, without thinking about why we want to get kids to program.

publicclassfoopenis2

When Michael Bloomberg, Mayor of New York City, tweeted in January that he was going to learn how to program, there were strong opinions expressed implying that programming is not for everyone. This is untrue. One of the reasons that programming is increasingly perceived to be a 21st century literacy in our technology-dependent society is because it is ultimately empowering, developing the ability to manipulate and control your digital world. But the key message is that learning how to program is not the endpoint, but part of the journey of equipping children with the necessary digital skills to solve problems. Our high-level aim should be to develop technology-independent skills and techniques, such as data literacy and computational thinking.

Computational thinking is a way of solving problems, designing systems and understanding human behavior that draws on concepts fundamental to computer science. Computational thinking includes a range of mental tools that reflect the breadth of the field of computer science. Computational thinking means creating and making use of different levels of abstraction, to understand and solve problems more effectively; it means thinking algorithmically and with the ability to apply mathematical concepts to develop more efficient, fair, and secure solutions; it means understanding the consequences of scale, not only for reasons of efficiency but also for economic and social reasons. And this is why it is important to teach computer science in schools: we need to embed principles and theory to develop a deeper conceptual understanding of how technology works and how it can be leveraged to solve problems. There is a quote commonly misattributed to Edsger Dijkstra: “Computer science is no more about computers than astronomy is about telescopes.” — this is where computational thinking fits in, abstracting away the technology.

Hence, there is an important balance to strike between focusing on developing practical programming skills (i.e. being able to write code for a specific task) and embedding a deeper understanding of languages and constructs: principles of programming. We know technology changes quickly, so we need to make sure that when “Technology X” appears, we have transferable knowledge and a deeper conceptual understanding of how it works and how it can be used.

But there are significant challenges ahead in changing the status quo and enthusing and engaging children in schools. Programming is a creative endeavour and offers a tangible way for children to express themselves by hacking, making and sharing. We now have the hooks to use in schools e.g. Raspberry Pi, Arduino, .NET Gadgeteer, LEGO Mindstorms, etc, offering opportunities for embedding computing across the curriculum. But we also have to recognise the importance of developing this deeper conceptual understanding, the problem solving and analytical skills, as well as knowledge of the underpinning theoretical foundations of computing.

So let’s change the focus from just writing code to developing the crucial thinking skills and the ability to solve problems. To quote Jeannette M. Wing, Professor of Computer Science at Carnegie Mellon University: “Computational thinking is a fundamental skill for everyone, not just for computer scientists. To reading, writing and arithmetic, we should add computational thinking to every child’s analytical ability.

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Welsh Government’s National Digital Learning Council

In September 2011, Leighton Andrews AM, the Welsh Government’s Minister for Education and Skills, set up an external task and finish group to consider “which digital classroom delivery aspects should be adopted to
transform learning and teaching
” for those aged 3–19. The Digital Classroom Teaching Task and Finish Group report (Find it, make it, use it, share it: learning in digital Wales) was published in March, with ten headline recommendations. Prior to the Minister giving a keynote talk at the 2012 CAS Wales/Technocamps conference in June, a Written Statement was released outlining the plan of action to improve performance in Wales’ schools through the use of digital technology; namely:

  • The launch of a new bilingual learning platform for Wales, called Hwb, which will provide a platform for learners and teachers to share resources, knowledge and experience across the whole of Wales.
  • The creation of a National Digital Collection which will include a repository for thousands of curriculum and good practice resources for teachers and learners to upload, share and use.
  • Encouraging the use of iTunes U to showcase the best educational resources and activities in Wales.
  • The sponsorship of an annual National Digital Event to raise the profile of digital technology in education and of Welsh achievements in this field.
  • Additional professional development for teachers and other education staff to support the teaching of computer science and IT, building on the new enthusiasm around the development of products such as the Raspberry Pi and .NET Gadgeteer to encourage young people into future studies and careers in computing.
  • The establishment of Digital Leaders, who will be drawn from the best practitioners using digital technology in Wales.
  • The creation of a new National Digital Learning Council to provide expert guidance on the use of digital technology in teaching and learning in Wales.

With regards to the National Digital Learning Council (as per the Minister’s Written Statement):

I am establishing a National Digital Learning Council to provide expert and strategic guidance on the use of digital technology in teaching and learning in Wales. The remit of the Council will be to guide the implementation of the learning in digital Wales programme and to promote and support the use of digital resources and technologies by learners and teachers. The Council will work closely with the School Practitioner Panel which I announced in March 2012.

The Council will start work in September 2012. The membership of the Council will be drawn from schools, further education and the skills sector in Wales. In order to ensure that there is a strong learner voice in the Council, I have also agreed that a pool of associate members will be established, comprised of learners from primary schools, secondary schools and further education colleges.

In addition, the work of the Council will be supported by a number of professional advisors from higher education and industry.

In the Learning in Digital Wales Update in Issue 305 of the Welsh Government’s Dysg eNewsletter (Monday 10th September), the members of the Council were announced:

  • Chair: Janet Hayward (Headteacher, Cadoxton Primary School, Vale of Glamorgan)
  • Dr Tom Crick (Senior Lecturer in Computer Science, Cardiff Metropolitan University and Chair in Wales, Computing At School)
  • Robert Newsome OBE (Headteacher, Dyffryn Taf School, Carmarthenshire)
  • Sue Burnett (University of Glamorgan)
  • Maldwyn Pryse (Estyn)
  • Geraint James (ADEW ICT, Director of Education, Conwy)
  • Simon Pridham (Headteacher, Casllwchwr Primary School, Swansea)
  • Hannah Mathias (St David’s Catholic College, Cardiff)
  • Peter Sishton (Director for Wales, e-skills UK)
  • Chris Britten (Headteacher, Ashgrove Special School, Vale of Glamorgan)

Supported by the following expert advisors:

  • Professor Stephen Molyneux (Apple Education)
  • Professor Gary Beauchamp (Cardiff Metropolitan University)
  • Professor Iram Siraj-Blatchford (University of London)
  • Professor Faron Moller (Swansea University)

A team of eight Digital Leaders will start in January 2013, acting as online champions of digital technology in teaching and learning:

  • Jane Altham-Watkins (Cardiff Education Advisory Service)
  • Martin Austin (Ysgol Sant Elfod, Abergele)
  • Alex Clewett (Flint High School, Flint)
  • Matthew Geary (NGfL Cymru)
  • Sonia McLaughlin (Vale of Glamorgan Council)
  • Dilwyn Owen (Ysgol Gyfun Bro Morgannwg, Barry)
  • Glyn Rogers (Ysgol Gyfun Gwynllyw, Pontypool)
  • Peter Thomas (St John Baptist CIW High School, Aberdare)

The first meeting of the National Digital Learning Council is tomorrow in Llandrindnod Wells; I look forward to serving on the Council (with a priority focus for me being CPD funding for ICT teachers to teach computer science) and blogging about its activities over the next few months.

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£3m investment in Computer Science and Digital Literacy in Wales

Computer science touches upon all three of my education priorities: literacy, numeracy and bridging the gap. It equips learners with the problem-solving skills so important in life and work.

The value of computational thinking, problem-solving skills and information literacy is huge, across all subjects in the curriculum. I therefore believe that every child should have the opportunity to learn concepts and principles from computer science.

Indeed, computing is a high priority area for growth in Wales. The future supply and demand for science, technology and mathematics graduates is essential if Wales is to compete in the global economy.

It is therefore vitally important that every child in Wales has the opportunity to study computer science between the ages of 11-16.

Leighton Andrews AM

This is how Leighton Andrews AM, the Welsh Government’s Minister for Education and Skills, opened his keynote speech at the 2012 CAS Wales/Technocamps Conference at Swansea University on Friday 22nd June. It was a clear declaration by the Welsh Government of the importance and wide utility of computer science education. Building on last year’s successful inaugural conference, the 2nd CAS Wales/Technocamps Conference had the bold tagline of “Delivering Computer Science for Wales“.

The Minister’s speech touched upon a number of key issues, highlighting computer science as a key underpinning STEM discipline, recognising the value of learning how to program, as well as the wider educational impact of computational thinking, problem-solving skills and information literacy across all subjects in the curriculum. He also agreed with the findings of the Royal Society’s report Shut down or restart?, recognising the three distinct strands of computer science, information technology and digital literacy. As part of a broad and balanced curriculum, the Minister reiterated that there should be flexibility in the programmes of study to let teachers deliver a tailored curriculum that best meets the needs of their learners:

I have asked my officials to look at the current ICT Programme of Study at Key Stages 2 and 3 and explore opportunities where computer science may be incorporated within the curriculum.

And more importantly, in response to the headline recommendations of the Digital Classroom Teaching Task and Finish Group to improve digital learning in Wales:


I am pleased to announce today an additional £3m of funding over the next three years to support a range of measures to improve computer science, digital literacy and ICT in schools and colleges across Wales.

While it remains to be seen quite how this money will breaks down, this is a clear Ministerial commitment to promoting and supporting the teaching of computer science in Wales (further to my letter to all state-maintained secondary schools and colleges in Wales in April). There is also a clear imperative for investing in CPD to upskill ICT teachers across Wales to teach computer science:


I believe that provision for continuing professional development for teachers is critical here. The Welsh Government will work closely with delivery partners such as Computing At School and Technocamps to ensure that this CPD programme is well-coordinated and has a significant impact on learner outcomes in digital literacy, ICT and computer science.

The Minister also applauded the work of CAS Wales and Technocamps:

I would encourage headteachers to ensure that their school is engaged with Technocamps. I am also keen to promote the Computing At School initiative by encouraging ICT teachers across Wales to take advantage of this excellent free service.

2012 CAS Wales/Technocamps conference group

(from L-R) Stuart Toomey (Project Manager, Technocamps), Professor Ian Cluckie (Pro-Vice Chancellor, Swansea University), Leighton Andrews AM (Minister for Education and Skills, Welsh Government), Dr Tom Crick (Chair, CAS Wales), Maggie Philbin (CEO, TeenTech), Professor Faron Moller (Director, Technocamps) and Professor Simon Peyton Jones (Chair, CAS)

A huge thanks to all of the keynote speakers and workshop leaders who made the 2012 conference a success, especially Technocamps and Swansea University. Check out the Storify of the conference and the Bring & Brag event, as well as images from the day.

This is a significant milestone in government support for computer science education in Wales (UK?), but it all depends on how we progress from here. Will 2012 be the year of computer science in Wales?

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Shut down or restart? The way forward for computing in UK schools

Yesterday, the Royal Society published Shut down or restart? The way forward for computing in UK schools; it follows on from the publication of Nesta’s Next Gen. report last year and Michael Gove’s speech at Bett this week.

This report is the outcome of a project initiated in August 2010 by the Royal Society, with support from the Royal Academy of Engineering, and is published 30 years to the month after the launch of the BBC Micro. It was prompted by a high degree of concern, expressed by school teachers, academics and other members of the computing community (including learned societies, professional bodies, universities, and industry), about the design, delivery and provision of ICT and computing education in UK schools. The project, led by Professor Steve Furber (see interview) and an advisory group, has been informed by evidence gathered from individuals and organisations with an interest in computing.

The outcomes of the report are clear: the current delivery of computing education in many UK schools is highly unsatisfactory. Although existing curricula for ICT are broad and allow scope for teachers to inspire pupils and help them develop interests in Computing, many pupils are not inspired by what they are taught and gain nothing beyond basic digital literacy skills.

The headline recommendations from the report are as follows (see full report):

  • Recommendation 1: The term ICT as a brand should be reviewed and the possibility considered of disaggregating this into clearly defined areas such as digital literacy, Information Technology and Computer Science. There is an analogy here with how English is structured at school, with reading and writing (basic literacy), English Language (how the language works) and English Literature (how it is used). The term `ICT’ should no longer be used as it has attracted too many negative connotations.
  • Recommendation 2: The government should set targets for the number of Computer Science and Information Technology specialist teachers, and monitor recruitment against these targets in order to allow all schools to deliver a rigorous curriculum. This should include providing training bursaries to attract suitably qualified graduates into teaching — for which industry funding could be sought. Education Scotland should ensure that the declared entitlement of all learners to third-level outcomes in Computing Science is implemented in all schools for all learners using appropriately qualified teachers.
  • Recommendation 3: Government departments with responsibility for Education in the UK should seek industry support to extend existing funding in this area, and should ensure that there is coordination of CPD provision for Computer Science and Information Technology teachers that deepens subject knowledge and subject-specific pedagogy. Government should set a minimum level of provision for subject-specific CPD for Computing teachers, should seek support from business and industry to make that provision, and should ensure that the provision is well coordinated and deepens subject knowledge and subject specific pedagogy.
  • Recommendation 4: School infrastructure service providers, working with others, should prepare a set of off-the-shelf strategies for balancing network security against the need to enable good teaching and learning in Computer Science and Information Technology, and should encourage schools to discuss and adopt them with their service providers. Such a “Guide to Best Practice” should be used by schools and local authorities as part of any tendering process for outsourced service provision.
  • Recommendation 5: Suitable technical resources should be available in all schools to support the teaching of Computer Science and Information technology. These could include pupil-friendly programming environments such as Scratch, educational microcontroller kits such as PICAXE and Arduino, and robot kits such as Lego MindStorms.
  • Recommendation 6: The Department for Education should remedy the current situation, where good schools are dis-incentivised from teaching Computer Science, by reforming and rebranding the current ICT curriculum in England. Schemes of work should be established for ages 5-14 across the range of Computing aspects, e.g. digital literacy (the analogue to being able to read and write), Information Technology, and Computer Science. These should be constructed to be implementable in a variety of ways, including a cross-curricular approach for digital literacy at primary and early secondary school. Schools may prefer not to impose a timetable or separately staff these elements at this age, but the existence of separately defined learning experiences will ensure that each strand is always properly developed — unlike at present. A timetable distinction should then be in place from the age of 14, allowing pupils to make a well-informed choice to study for recognised qualifications in Information Technology and/or Computer Science. Given the lack of specialist teachers, we recommend that only the teaching of digital literacy is made statutory at this point. However, the long-term aim should be to move to a situation where there are sufficient specialist teachers to enable all young people to study Information Technology and Computer Science at school. Accordingly, the Government should put in place an action plan to achieve this. The schools inspectorates should monitor the implementation of this change to ensure that the problems of the current curriculum are not replicated.
  • Recommendation 7: In order to redress the imbalance between academic and vocational qualifications in this area — and to ensure that all qualifications are of value to those who take them — the departments for education across the UK should encourage Awarding Organisations to review their current provision and develop Key Stage 4 (KS4) qualifications in Computer Science in consultation with the UK Forum, universities and employers. Awarding Organisations across the UK should review and revise the titles and content of all new and existing qualifications in this area to match the disaggregation described above (e.g. Computer Science, Information Technology and digital literacy).
  • Recommendation 8: The UK Forum should advise Awarding Organisations on appropriate assessment methods for qualifications in digital literacy, Information Technology and Computer Science.
  • Recommendation 9: The UK Forum should put in place a framework to support non-formal learning in Computer Science and to support teachers. Considerations include after-school clubs, school speakers and mentoring for teachers in developing their subject knowledge. Bodies such as STEMNET will have a role to play in implementing this. To inform the focus of investment in non-formal learning in Computing, the UK Forum should also look at establishing a rigorous evidence base for the effectiveness and value of various Computer Science E&E activities. Affordability will also be a relevant consideration.
  • Recommendation 10: Awarding Organisations should consult with the UK Forum and HE departments to develop rigorous Level 3 academic qualifications in Computer Science.
  • Recommendation 11: The Computing community should establish a lasting UK Forum for joint working and coordination between the many Computing bodies, in order to progress the recommendations within this report. The Forum should provide regular progress reports on the implementation of the recommendations.

In summary: the UK has a proud history of contributions to Computing and especially to the discipline of Computer Science, but current terminology, curricula and qualifications are holding us back from being a nation of technology creators. Whilst a lot has been achieved in establishing a digitally literate population, our aspirations should not stop there. There are many barriers to progress, and a joined up approach is required. This report sets out a positive way forward for the community.

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Expert Panel report on the National Curriculum review

Yesterday, the Expert Panel for the National Curriculum review released its report: “The Framework for the National Curriculum“, alongside a written ministerial statement by Michael Gove.

I have a huge interest in the outcomes of the National Curriculum review in England, primarily through my work with Computing At School (CAS), but also its impact on education policy in Wales. With the BCS Academy of Computing (the learned society dedicated to advancing computing as an academic discipline), CAS submitted a response to the call for evidence in April 2011; one of the main aims was to highlight to the Department for Education that computer science is a rigorous academic subject distinct from digital literacy and for it to be considered separately from ICT in the National Curriculum review. This letter to Michael Gove in June 2011 from the BCS and high-profile tech industry leaders further reinforced the strategic national importance of computer science to industry and the UK economy.

Here are two key snippets from the Expert Panel’s report (page 24):

Despite their importance in balanced educational provision, we are not entirely persuaded of claims that design and technology, information and communication technology and citizenship have sufficient disciplinary coherence to be stated as discrete and separate National Curriculum ‘subjects’.

We recommend that…Information and communication technology is reclassified as part of the Basic Curriculum and requirements should be established so that it permeates all National Curriculum subjects. We have also noted the arguments, made by some respondents to the Call for Evidence, that there should be more widespread teaching of computer science in secondary schools. We recommend that this proposition is properly considered.

This has come a week after a rather damning Ofsted report on ICT in schools, which says that only one third of secondary schools achieve ‘Good’ or better at teaching ICT. There is clearly still a lot of work to be done to ensure that we are developing the appropriate level of computational skills in schools (irrespective of what the subject is called), but this statement from the Expert Panel is certainly a positive step (although “We recommend that this proposition is properly considered.” is a bizarre turn of phrase, with little commitment). I am also concerned that embeddding ICT across the curriculum has been attempted before, with little success.

Let’s see what the Royal Society’s report says in January.

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Technology and innovation in Wales

In October, Iain Gray (CEO of the Technology Strategy Board), ahead of a visit to Wales, compiled a list of 50 high-technology and innovation-led businesses and organisation across North and South Wales; I made a Storify of the tweets before I found his blog post.

The Welsh Government has identified six nine priority sectors in which to support industry-led investment as part of Economic Renewal: A New Direction:

  • Creative Industries
  • Information, Communication and Technology (ICT)
  • Energy and Environment
  • Advanced Materials and Manufacturing
  • Life Sciences
  • Financial and Professional Services
  • Food and Farming
  • Construction
  • Tourism

The list correlates to the first five of these priority sectors — it is in no particular order, and there are, of course, many businesses not included. Nevertheless, it is interesting to see the diverse range of innovation and high-value R&D in Wales across these five sectors, highlighting that there is a strong underpinning research base from Welsh universities, along with investment from both government and industry (but clearly more is needed). I have particular interest in the composition of this list due to the importance of the ICT sector (with its associated key priorities): I sit on the Welsh Government’s Strategy Group for the Digital Wales Research Hub, which aims to develop organisational and funding strategies to complement the RCUK Digital Economy Programme. The Hub will bring together industry, universities and funding bodies to facilitate the delivery of open, innovative and collaborative R&D related to the Digital Economy; creation of the Hub is a cornerstone of the Welsh Government’s Delivering a Digital Wales agenda.

More information about the Digital Wales Research Hub to follow in early 2012!

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Microsoft UK Partners in Learning Forum 2011

mspilfuk2011

On Thursday 24th November, I will be speaking at the 2011 Microsoft UK Partners in Learning Forum, a free one-day conference for teachers and educators at Microsoft HQ, Thames Valley Park in Reading. This year, the workshops and keynotes are all STEM-focused and address the theme of “Teach more, learn more, inspire more“. As with last year’s event held in Manchester, they will also be announcing this year’s Microsoft UK Partners in Learning Teacher Awards.

This year’s keynotes are Ian Livingstone (of Games Workshop and Eidos fame, as well as co-author of the recent NESTA Next Gen. report on the video games and visual effects industry), Alex Bellos (author of the popular science book Alex’s Adventures in Numberland) and Ollie Bray (the National Adviser for Emerging Technologies at Education Scotland).

I am leading one of the featured workshop sessions on how we need to develop and encourage the next generation of technology innovators in the UK. I will be discussing the work of the Computing at School (CAS) working group, as well as highlighting the importance of computing from both an educational and economic perspective. Since many of the other workshops are more hands-on (such as using the Kinect SDK, building gadgets with .NET Gadgeteer and using Skype in the classroom), I intend to stimulate discussion in my session by drawing attention to some of the problems with the current state of ICT education in the UK (and how we can try and resolve them), as well as how computing is a core STEM discipline.

There are still a few places remaining, including the informal TeachMeet the night before. I hope to see you there!

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