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"Dull" IT lessons to be axed this autumn?

Teachers to get free reign to make IT lessons shine, under gov't proposal...
Written by Nick Heath, Contributor on

Teachers to get free reign to make IT lessons shine, under gov't proposal...

The IT curriculum in England's schools will be scrapped from September under government proposals to end "dull and demotivating" IT teaching.

Education secretary Michael Gove said the existing IT curriculum has not prepared children for the digital workplace. "Millions have left school over the past decade without even the basics they need for a decent job," he said.

As well as failing to meet the needs of business, Gove said the current IT curriculum's focus on office IT skills has "bored" students and resulted in a decline in the number of students choosing to study IT-related subjects.

"The best degrees in computer science are among the most rigorous and respected qualifications in the world... and prepare students for immensely rewarding careers and world-changing innovations. But you'd never know that from the current ICT curriculum," he said at the BETT show for education technology taking place today in London.

"This is why we are withdrawing it from September. Technology in schools will no longer be micromanaged by Whitehall."

The announcement follows a recent report by Ofsted which found that weak IT teaching in England results in thousands of children leaving school without the skills they need to pursue a career in technology.

IT curriculum could  be scrapped in September

The IT curriculum in England's schools could be scrapped from September 2012Photo: Shutterstock

Under Gove's proposals to scrap the IT curriculum, teachers would be able to choose "what" and "how" they teach IT in English schools. It would not, however, be possible for schools to abandon IT teaching altogether. This would remain compulsory and Gove said Ofsted would check the quality of teaching.

The changes - which would apply to primary and secondary schools - would also mean schools will not have to test children on, or be bound to hit, educational attainment targets in IT.

This freedom for teachers to set their own teaching agenda on IT would run until September 2014. The shape of IT teaching after that point would be set by a review of the National Curriculum which is currently taking place.

Beyond office IT skills

Doing away with the constraints of the old IT curriculum will provide an opportunity for teachers to move away from the current curriculum's focus on teaching office skills, such as creating a Word document, in favour of teaching skills such as programming, Gove said.

"Imagine the dramatic change which could be possible in just a few years, once we remove the roadblock of the existing ICT curriculum," he said.

"Instead of children bored out of their minds being taught how to use Word and Excel by bored teachers, we could have 11-year-olds able to write simple 2D computer animations using an MIT tool called Scratch. By 16, they could have an understanding of formal logic previously covered only in university courses and be writing their own apps for smartphones."

To help schools devise new programmes of study, specialist groups such as BCS, the Chartered Institute of IT, will publish detailed ICT curricula.

The proposed changes to the curriculum, which will go out to wider consultation next week, won broad support from the technology industry. Karen Price, CEO of e-skills UK said in a statement: "The door is now wide open to create a new and relevant curriculum that will inspire students and ensure that the UK can retain its position at the forefront of technology.

"IT drives productivity in every sector and is the engine for growth across the whole economy. That is why we are working with leading employers through our Behind the Screen project to create a new GCSE in IT."

Simon Humphreys, the BCS co-ordinator of computing at school, said in a statement: "Gove's announcement today is just the start of a very exciting new period in the education of our children and one that we've been working towards for a number of years."

The education secretary also talked of the need to develop new computer science GCSE courses.

A new computer science GCSE, prepared by exam body OCR, with a greater focus on programming than the existing ICT GCSE, is now available for schools in England to offer, and Gove said he wants to see universities and businesses get involved in creating "new high-quality computer science GCSEs".

Gove added that if a suitably rigorous computer science GCSE was devised then he would consider making it part of the new English Baccalaureate.

He also pledged that the Department for Education will focus on improving initial teacher training and continual professional development for teachers in educational technology. The recent Ofsted report found the teaching of IT at more than half of secondary schools is no better than satisfactory. It also found there is a limited number of teachers with the ability to teach key topics, such as programming.

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