Successful approaches to the computing curriculum

Written by: Suzanne O'Connell | Published:
Image: Adobe Stock

When the new computing curriculum was introduced there was concern about the capacity of primary schools to deliver it. Suzanne O’Connell speaks to two schools, both possessing Naace’s ICT Mark, about how they prepare their pupils to be IT literate in the 21st century

Keldmarsh Primary School

Keldmarsh Primary School is in the East Riding of Yorkshire and has 212 pupils. In October 2017 it was inspected by Ofsted who judged it to be outstanding. Inspectors described the curriculum as being “imaginative and engaging” and the fast pace at which the school has moved forward was attributed to the close teamwork of the headteacher and deputy headteacher.

Chrissie Shiels is deputy headteacher and responsible for computing at the school. She was always interested in computing as a subject and its co-ordination was allocated to her when she first joined the school.

“At the time I arrived there were 16 computers in a computer suite and that was it,” Ms Shiels explained. “There was a lot to do, setting up networks and improving the quality of learning.”

Keldmarsh has had the ICT Mark now for seven years. For Ms Shiels, a big advantage in applying for the award was the opportunity it provided to self-review: “It helps you to identify where the gaps are. We are now applying for the e-safety mark too. In a similar way, this begins with an audit, taking stock of where you are and what you need to do next.”

Tackling the computing curriculum

Ms Shiels believes that the changes from ICT to the computing curriculum were very much needed: “Children need to learn algorithms. We don’t even know what jobs will exist for them when they enter the workforce. They need this kind of knowledge,” she told Headteacher Update.

Having said that, the children at Keldmarsh are also given lessons in computing skills including using Word and PowerPoint: “We have found that many of our children no longer have a computer at home. They don’t know how to use these programs so we still set aside time to teach them.”

When the new curriculum was introduced in 2014, Ms Shiels and the rest of the staff set about the process of transforming what they taught to match the new requirements and to create something that would engage and inspire.

They found the Knowsley City Learning Centre computing scheme of work useful and set about integrating this into their themes, which usually last around a term.

“We recognise how important it is that the children see a purpose to their computing,” Ms Shiels continued. “This is why we moved off timetable for the computer suite. Now teachers can book it when they need to complete a task that children see as having relevance and an end-product.”

One particularly important feature of each computing theme is that the pupils are consulted at the beginning about what exactly they would like to learn. Their contribution at this point helps to secure their engagement and enthusiasm.

Class teachers are responsible for delivering all aspects of the school’s computing curriculum. Ms Shiels recognises that this can be an area where staff lack confidence and she has preferred to target training individually: “Staff have now moved on in their skills,” she said. “It’s important that we give support where it is needed.”

Providing the software and the hardware

There are now 30 computers in Keldmarsh Primary along with 30 iPads. The use of these is supported by Ms Shiels herself but also by a technician who is employed by their local secondary school. The technician visits Keldmarsh for half-a-day a week during which any on-going technical difficulties can be addressed: “However, there are still times when I’m needed at short notice,” Ms Shiels added.

It was beneficial that one of Keldmarsh’s governors had ICT responsibility at a secondary school. This was a very useful link and has enabled Ms Shiels to seek advice and guidance from them about good software and hardware: “We also take part in trials on occasion, which gives us opportunity to find out if different products are right for us or not,” she explained.

Furthermore, the school business manager, Di Bostock, is a key person in ensuring that Ms Shiels stays in budget and helps her to manage the money that is made available.

It is all part of the school’s ethos of looking after its investment. Regular clean-ups are carried out to make sure that any programmes that are no longer needed are removed from equipment.

Digital Leaders

An important feature of the school’s ICT provision is its Digital Leaders. These are children from years 5 and 6 who take on the additional responsibility of organising extra-curricular computing clubs. They are regarded as computing experts and can provide assistance across the school.

To get the job, they must apply and be interviewed in year 5 and are given the opportunity of continuing the role into year 6: “I am there only in body during the club session times,” Ms Shiels explained. “They decide what the content of the clubs will be and organise the activities.”

This level of responsibility isn’t only confined to the clubs. During Internet Safety Week the Digital Leaders drafted the timetable and planned activities for each class: “Staff aren’t afraid to use our Digital Leaders to model activities during lessons. They have been selected partly on their ability to work with adults.”

Building staff and pupil confidence as proficient users of IT is one of the central principles of the school’s approach. Sharing ideas and taking advice from one another has created an environment where technology and change is welcomed rather than feared.

Our Lady’s RC Primary School

Delivering the ICT curriculum has not always been something that primary schools have felt comfortable in doing. With the introduction of the computing curriculum many schools felt even more anxious about the subject. In some cases the model adopted was that of buying in external support.

Jamie Edmondson teaches computing for two-days-a-week at Our Lady’s RC Primary School in Manchester. He is also the school’s computing subject leader, a Computing At Schools (CAS) Master Teacher and a member of the Consultants Network for Education Computing and Technology (formerly known as the Naace Delivery Partner Network).

Mr Edmondson has managed to find a middle ground between delivering his subject specialism and maintaining a commitment to cross-curricular teaching. Since he began working at Our Lady’s in 2014 the school hasn’t had to worry about meeting its computing obligations. Something which many smaller schools find quite a challenge.

The curriculum

Mr Edmondson has created his own project-based, cross-curricular scheme of work for computing and the “creative user of technology” strand ensures that pupils develop the key 21st century digital literacy skills needed to succeed in later life.

“The curriculum ensures that the computer science aspects of the new national curriculum are covered,” Mr Edmondson explained, “but I also ensure that pupils have opportunities to develop key IT skills by engaging them in real life challenges using computer technology, such as designing their own websites and creating apps.”

The school’s blog has proved to be very popular. After each unit project, pupils upload their finished work themselves to the school blog. Having this audience for their work gives them a real sense of purpose and motivates them to produce a high standard. They know that it will be viewed by others and possibly commented on too (see further information for the link).

“I work closely with the teachers and they keep me informed about what topics they are teaching,” Mr Edmondson explained. “The curriculum that I have created enables us to adapt lesson content quite easily so that it sits with the rest of the curriculum being taught while also delivering the necessary skills.”

After school too

Mr Edmondson works according to a service level agreement that includes an after-school coding club for one day a week.

He explained: “This caters for a mixture of age groups, but mostly years 4, 5 and 6. The children have a say in the projects that they want to do but the main aim is to further extend their computing experiences.

“It introduces them to concepts not covered within my scheme of work, such as physical computing using the BBC Microbits and Raspberry Pis.”

The Digital Leaders at the school help with the club and during the rest of the week when Mr Edmondson isn’t there. They have responsibility within school for developing and improving the way that technology is used.

Engaging with other schools

Mr Edmondson’s credentials mean that he works with other local schools as well to help them develop their own computing curricula. This includes Our Lady’s being a lead school in the Computing At School Network of Excellence. Mr Edmondson provides training as part of the Computing At School North West hub and on average he arranges five or six CPD training events over the course of the year.

All of this means that for the staff and children at Our Lady’s RC Primary, computing is not something to be feared. Instead it is a central part of the school’s provision and one that is thoroughly enjoyed by its pupils.

  • Suzanne O’Connell is a freelance education writer and a former primary school headteacher.

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