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The 2013 Primary Computing Curriculum rebooted

Being able to directly engage with families for the first time since becoming the subject lead for Computing during the near week-long series of after-school Curriculum Meetings for parents and carers at the amazing school I work for has inspired me to take to the keyboard and follow up on some of the issues identified around the Primary Computing Curriculum.

Allen T
Still from CNN Business feature, July 2022 (last visited 22 October 2022)

Curriculum Design

I qualified in 2012 so was on the cusp of the version of the National Curriculum published in 2013:

2013 National Curriculum in Computing

The 2013 version of the Computing Curriculum was broadly welcomed by the Computing and Computer Science teaching community as an opportunity to enrich the subject from essentially being able to use ‘Office’ based software and keyboard skills to one which was more scientific and technical.  The 2013 Computing Curriculum also saw an increase in emphasis on Computer Programming or Coding from Early Years upwards.  This was given a boost by the offer of BBC micro:bits to every secondary school in 2014 which coincided with the release of the Raspberry Pi.  There were concerns that taking a more scientific and technical approach to the subject may alienate some students from pursuing the subject at GCSE and beyond.  However, as the 2022 Examination Boards reported, Computer Science has been since 2020, one of those secondary school subjects which has rapidly risen in popularity.  As the lyrics sung by the  beautifully harmonious Ladysmith Black Mambazo go “…the strongest trees have the deepest roots…”

At the introduction of the 2013 curriculum for Computing, a joint report by Computing at School and the National Association of Advisers for Computers in Education (NAACE) identified that the Primary Computing Curriculum be organised into three clear strands or blocks which experienced teachers such as Twitter: @ICT_MrP as well as Twitter: @OfstedNews continue to advocate:

Primary Computing as a trio of topics
Adapted from the Computing Curriculum webinar from the Ofsted East of England Region presented by Marc White (source: uploaded, October 2021.  Last visited: 28 March 2022)

While this model neatly fits the three-term primary school calendar, I take issue with this structure.  Having Digital Citizenship and Data Science as part of what has been described as Digital Literacy in my view negates their importance.  Given the ubiquity of technology and how it has intertwined into all of our lives from the moment any of us are born and even beyond our physical time on Earth means learning about staying safe online and the increasingly subsuming concept of ‘big data’ is critical.  Given technological advances and the ever-evolving challenges of threats and risks in cyberspace, it is essential in my view to expand or enlarge the Primary Computing curriculum so that both Digital Citizenship and Data Science are explicitly taught and given their own sequences of lessons.  This is how the curriculum at the schools I have been working with since September 2021 has organised the Primary Computing curriculum:

Primary Computing as blocks
source: last visited: 23 October 2022

Curriculum Content

It was both encouraging and inspiring to be part of the near week-long series of after-school curriculum meetings for families since it revealed a curiosity and a need for, as the Deputy Headteachers at my school explained, to be able to article what teaching and learning looks like in school.  Social media has been a wonderful means of sharing those nuggets from the school day like this:

Taking the National Curriculum as the starting point, their aims have been robustly scrutinised and mapped to the set or framework of “I can…” statements for the Primary Computing Curriculum distributed by the National STEM Learning Centre.  These statements, originally produced by the e-Learning and Information Management team at Somerset County Council were written as “end-of-year expectations” to support assessment from reception to year 6.  Applying this competency-based approach means that anyone should be able to see the skills and knowledge being covered in every lesson.

Computer Programming targets from the Primary Computing National Curriculum for schools in England since 2014 (source: adapted by @TsuiAllen on Twitter)

Computing Competencies

Speaking with families too about this competency framework approach made me realise the need of being able to explain or evidence the reason for the approach described or choice of framework.  Firstly, the National STEM Learning Centre is one of the three organisations, with the Raspberry Pi Foundation and BCS, Chartered Institute for IT which in 2018 formed the Department for Education funded National Centre for Computing Education.  The framework statements have also been meticulously compared with those used or published by the US-based Computer Science Teachers Association (CSTA) as well as the International Society for Technology in Education (ISTE).  Taking such an internationally aware approach, aligned to digital literacy skills previously agreed by UNESCO means Computing is taught to globally recognised standards enabling the families I am pleased and proud to work with to potentially exceed National Curriculum expectations.

Student Voice and the Digital Leadership Team

Basing teaching and learning around a global or internationally recognised set of standards does not allow for complacency.  Given the nature of the subject, technological advancement means it is absolutely necessary to annually review Computing Curriculum content.  The children at the school are therefore given the opportunity every half term to reflect on their learning experiences and invited to feedback on the curriculum through the online surveys which are expected to be completed every half term.  By way of specific example, at the time of writing (October 2022), many of the children have expressed interest in learning how to create their own animated Computer Generated Images (CGI) to incorporate into a video or computer game format which will be taught during the spring and summer terms.

Progression and Assessment

The main talking point which many parents focused on through the series of after-school curriculum meetings held just before the 2022 October Half Term was how or will the children and their families know what they are individually capable of and what essentially their learning trajectory looks like.  Once again, technology has come to aid teachers with sharing such information by being able to RAG rate what Computing at School have described as ‘learner endpoints’ like this:

Essential Minimum Expectations for Computing. Statements taken from Target Tracker pupil progress tracking system by Juniper Education (list compiled by @TsuiAllen on Twitter)

There are however two key points to consider when grouping learner end points into ‘age-related’ bands, particularly in the context of Computing.  Firstly, the fact that technological advancement and the ubiquity with which devices have been or are available for families to access means that children as young as four are able to clearly demonstrate their capabilities of achieving those standards which might be considered significantly above their age-related expectations.  This, of course, is a very positive trend and could, if sustained, enable the computing curriculum being taught in the future be standards that are two years above current ‘age-related’ expectations.  The other point of note is that the learner end points in Computing are not linear.  This is to say that aside, from perhaps the exception of, programming or coding, learning outcomes in Computing do necessarily have a set path compared to English or Maths where there is a clearer hierarchical order of knowledge of understanding which must be secured before progressing onto the next stage.  What the parental engagement revealed is being able to evidence what has been achieved and being able to identify what the ‘next steps’ might be for individual learners.

Beyond Skills and Knowledge

It is also insufficient that Computing, or any learning for that matter, be simply focused on skills and knowledge.  Since Spring 2022, the children I work with have been expected to self and peer-review their learning in the context of the Computer Science Skills Circle:

Computer Science Circle of Skills
Computer Science Circle of Skills (source: @TsuiAllen from Twitter)

In applying this approach, learners are encouraged to identify which of the qualities they think they have achieved through a lesson or sequence of lessons.  Most children are expected to be able to identify with up to three of the attributes.  Some of the learners should be able to identify with as many as six of the attributes.  Those exceptional learners will be expected to be able to clearly and consistently demonstrate all nine of the qualities.  Ultimately, teaching and learning in Computing should be about the transformation of all learners from being passive consumers of technology into proactive content creators.

Digital Literacy

To enable the children to focus on their Digital Literacy skills, the set of computing standards have been short-listed into these ten skills which it might be suggested every child must achieve as an essential minimum expectation in order to be safe and secure digital citizens of the future.

Ten Essential Minimum Expectations for Digital Literacy (source: @TsuiAllen Twitter for @WillowBrookGST)

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The author

Allen Tsui is the subject lead for Computing at Willow Brook Primary School Academy in North East London where he has held the role since Summer 2020. Allen has also been a Digital Schoolhouse Leader since Summer 2023.

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