ICT PoS consultation 1

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Towards a new ICT Programme of study for the National Curriculum in England: update and primer for discussion

BCS, the Chartered Institute for IT, and Royal Academy of Engineering, Sept 2012 Background

The Department for Education (DfE) has asked the BCS and Royal Academy of Engineering to coordinate the drafting of a new Programme of Study for ICT. We are coordinators in this, not writers, and are grateful to a small group of volunteer teachers, subject leads, academics and industrialists who are preparing a draft for submission to DfE in late October. However, we are conscious of the need to take into account the widest possible set of views at the earliest opportunity and therefore seek your help and guidance. This is very much a preliminary opportunity for input - there will be a second opportunity to comment on a full draft POS in November (see our press release ), and a third opportunity in the Spring of 2013.

Please respond to {name removed - if you want to comment then please do so on the discussion panel} by Monday 8th October. (This does not give you long but we are working to a very compressed timetable, and there will be other opportunities as outlined above.)

Themes that have emerged

Looking back over the last 12 months, there have been extraordinary contributions to the field of computing in schools made by Livingstone & Hope (Next Gen), Computing at School (CAS), Behind the Screen, Royal Society (Shut down or restart) and many others. We have been keen to build on areas of consensus from that work, whilst focusing down to a very short Programme of Study. So far, our view is that:

-> The overall programme of study must be called ICT. There is no wiggle room here; changing it requires primary legislation.

-> The programme of study must match the structure of those for other subjects and so must be:

  • Very short: one A4 page to express the purpose of the subject and aims of the programme of study, and one page to give a programme for each of Key Stages 1-4.
  • It must express ambition and excitement.
  • It must state clearly that pupils should be taught both the fundamental principles of how computation works, and how to use digital systems.
  • We propose to use the terms ‘Computer Science’, ‘Information Technology’ and ‘Digital Literacy’ as recommended by the Royal Society report ‘Shut down or restart’, and say that all three should be visible from KS1 onwards. However, we feel the need and freedom to broaden the definitions of the latter two somewhat.

-> We are not so clear about what to do at KS4. The Secretary of State has said that ICT will be statutory at KS4. But suppose a student is doing a GCSE in Computer Science, say, or Information Technology. Does that somewhat-specialised GCSE fulfil the statutory requirement? We strongly believe that it should. But it leaves us with the difficulty of how to express the POS for KS4. And what if a student does not take an ICT-related KS4 qualification at all? Should he or she be forced to take a token course just to fulfil the letter of the law? This is the situation at present at KS4, and it has directly contributed to pass criticisms of ICT.

How you can help

Below we give a one-page overview of the subject and the aims of the programme of study, to give you a sense of our thinking so far. It would be helpful if you could give us, in writing, your thoughts on:

-> Your thoughts on the Key Stage 4 issue above

-> Any other strategic issues you think are important.

-> Your personal vision of what success looks like; if you were to step into an ICT lesson in 2016, what would you hope to see? How would that vary from Key Stage 1 (5-7 year olds) to Key Stages 2 (8-11), 3 (11-13) and 4 (14-16)?

-> Any thoughts you have on the text below. The more specific your comment, the more helpful it would be phrase it in concrete terms.

The purpose of ICT

A high-quality ICT education teaches students how to understand the world through computational thinking, and provides a sense of empowerment and excitement in using and developing digital technology. ICT includes:

-> Computer Science (CS) is the subject discipline that studies how computer systems work, how they are constructed and programmed, and the fundamental principles of information and computation, in both artificial and natural information processing systems.

-> Information Technology (IT) covers the use and application of computer systems including the Internet, to develop technological solutions purposefully and creatively.

-> Digital Literacy (DL) provides a critical understanding of technology’s impact on society and the individual, including privacy, responsible use, legal and ethical issues

ICT is important educationally. It equips young people to understand and play an active role in the digital world, rather than being mere passive consumers of an opaque and mysterious technology. More broadly, it provides a new lens through which to understand, model, and predict both natural and artificial systems.

ICT is has great economic and societal value, both to the individual pupil, and to the nation. ICT has enormous power to make the world a better place, and knowledge of ICT is the key to exercising and controlling that power. ICT has wider benefits. It teaches thinking skills and precision. It encourages innovation, creativity, collaboration, and resourcefulness: pupils apply underlying principles to understand real-world systems, and to create purposeful artefacts. This combination of principles, practice, and invention makes ICT an intensely creative subject, suffused with excitement, both visceral (‘it works!’) and intellectual (‘that is so beautiful’).

Aims and Principles

Aims. The National Curriculum for ICT should ensure that all pupils

-> Can learn, critically evaluate and apply information technologies (including new or unfamiliar ones) confidently, responsibly, collaboratively and effectively to solve problems and work creatively.

-> Understand the fundamental principles of Computer Science, including algorithms, data representation, and communication protocols.

-> Learn to see problems in computational terms, and have repeated practical experience of using programming to solve them.

-> Are aware of the societal changes opportunities, challenges and risks caused by digital technology.

Opportunity and progression.

From KS1 to KS3 the school curriculum should include all three strands (CS, IT, and DL), though these may be taught together especially in the earlier years. From KS4 onwards students should have the opportunity specialise in CS, IT, or some combination, depending on their preferences, leading to distinct KS4 qualifications, some leading to an A level.


ICT in the classroom should be suffused with a sense of excitement, creativity, and ambition. If not, something is wrong.

The use of technology in other subjects is very important, but does not form part of this Programme of Study. It should properly figure in the programmes for those subjects.