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Home Policy Curriculum Computational thinkers use Gove back door for ICT

Computational thinkers use Gove back door for ICT

After building a consensus for the draft ICT programme of study, the project has hit controversy

Essa AcademyThe British Computer Society (BCS) and the Royal Academy of Engineering (RAEng) have gone behind the backs of their education partners in the group producing the draft Programme of Study for the new ICT curriculum – which includes Naace – and made a personal plea to secretary of state for education Michael Gove MP to change the name of the subject from ICT to Computing.

This flies in the face of a previous agreement by the group that a change in name for the subject was not up for discussion because it would require legislation. It is also felt to be unsuitable for a wide-ranging subject that goes way beyond the current debate about programming.

According to the draft programme of study that the BCS and RAEng has just submitted to Michael Gove, Computing is just one strand in the much wider ranging subject of ICT (information and communications technology). As one school leader involved quipped, "It's a bit like calling a car a steering wheel rather than a car. Computing is just a component of ICT."

The secretary of state's decision to hand over development of the Programme of Study for the new ICT curriculum to the BCS and RAEng rather than than the English education community was seen as unusual from the outset (see "Government hands ICT curriculum over to industry"). These two organisations were associated specifically with computer science rather than the broader approach to ICT which includes ICT across all subjects as well as computer science which clearly needed more development.

In fact it was only feedback given at the last public meeting in London to discuss the first draft of the ICT PoS that the DfE was alerted to the fact that ICT ought to be at least mentioned in other curriculum subjects. It's understood that English, for example has no mention of the benefits that technology can bring to writing.

Mistrust where there was once consensus

The decision to try and change the name of the subject at such a late stage, and without a full discussion with partners, is regarded by partners of the BCS and RAEng as underhand. There is now mistrust where once there was consensus.

The two organisations, which are not known for expertise in teaching and learning, had been required to involve a range of education people. The list included Naace, the member organisation made up of advisers, teachers and consultants. Despite them being fairly uneasy bedfellows (educators felt that the BCS and RAEng were making an unjustifiable 'grab' for the curriculum – see footnote) the feedback from the project was generally positive and the draft was generally well received before it underwent final modification after feedback from educators.

The PoS has certainly become more realistic even though the computing element may not yet be deliverable by the current workforce. Gone are the plans to get infants involved with programming and algorithms, but not the uninspiring first vision statement with its stress on "computational thinking" which might not appeal much further than the technology community: "A high-quality ICT education equips pupils to understand and change the world through computational thinking, and provides a sense of empowerment and excitement in developing and using digital technology."

Separate letters to Gove

However, the last-minute bid to change the name of the subject revealed something that the BCS and RAEng had on their agenda all along. The BCS' Bill Mitchell, who has lobbied Michael Gove for the name change, said this week: "The BCS and the Royal Academy of Engineering fully backed the Royal Society report when it was published in January this year, which includes the recommendation that the name ICT should be changed to Computing.

"Bill MitchellBCS has not pursued that recommendation because we had thought it required primary legislation and therefore was out of the question, but very recently we found out this isn’t the case. That means it now appears DfE could choose to change the name of ICT if they wished to without requiring primary legislation. Whether they do wish to is not something I have any knowledge of.

"In light of this, BCS and the Royal Academy of Engineering have each sent separate letters to Michael Gove reminding him that we have always supported the recommendations of the Royal Society report including such a change of name."

Bill Mitchell claimed that had he thought the name change was possible at the outset, he would have raised it with Michael Gove then. However, that is not likely to placate partners who are now experiencing trust issues.

Naace chief executive Mark Chambers feels that Computing is far too limiting for a subject with such broad scope. He said: "I am very much of the position that any consideration of a name change should be subject to the same healthy debate that the drafting of the PoS has been noted for. And I think the wider membership of Naace, would not start that debate with a fixed and blinkered viewpoint but a willingness to engage in a mature, constructive and productive manner that has as its ambition and focus a recognition that what is important is that young people are engaged.

'Lobby group come lately to an enthusiasm for school-level education'

"I’d go so far as to say, the name of this subject area should be a persuasive appellation that by its nature encourages young people to engage with this, in our opinion, vital aspect of the curriculum rather than simply reflects the opinion of a lobby group come lately to an enthusiasm for school-level education.

'I have been pleased to report to Naace members the open and positive dialogue that has characterised the workings of the drafting team bought together by BCS/RAEng. As a community we have responded to this, sharing our enthusiasm, knowledge and experience in the full recognition that the existing ICT curriculum needs not only to be reviewed now but reviewed far more frequently than any other aspect of the English curriculum.

"As technologists we should be able to handle this change technically, as educators we can certainly handle it pedagogically and as a mature fellowship we can certainly handle it without being insecure about a title change.

Controversy stirred up by the back-door approach to Michael Gove might not reflect well on the Computing at School organisation in which Bill Mitchell and the BCS are major players. CaS is currently building a "network of excellence" to help schools build their capacity for teaching Computing.

"Our goal is to put the excitement back into Computing at school," says the "About us" section on the Computing at School website. However, the name-change spat is probably not the kind of excitement the organisation's sponsors, Microsoft and Google, had in mind when giving their support, particularly after Michael Gove referred to children being "bored out of their minds being taught how to use Word and Excel by bored teachers" in his speech on ICT at BETT 2012. (Interestingly, the ICT curriculum contained nothing that remotely suggests such classroom practices. Pedestrian use of Office in ICT lessons can only be attributed to certain teachers, advisers and school leaders rather than the curriculum or even Microsoft.)

Technology required for Computing 'is very cheap'

When Michael Gove considers the curriculum name change he might want to return to the Royal Society report so cherished by the BCS and RAEng: "Given the lack of specialist teachers, we recommend that only the teaching of digital literacy is made statutory at this point." It says that enabling all children to learn ICT and Computer Science at school should be a long-term aim, something that should be supported by a Government action plan which is, so far, not in place. And the indications are that the Government feels that Computing is something which can be done cheaply with technology like Scratch and the Raspberry Pi, despite the obvious challenges to the workforce, as the following Hansard record of recent parliamentary exchanges reveals.

For example, schools minister Liz Truss, replying to a question on mobile technology by Barry Sheerman MP. Her response has nothing to do with tablets or laptops, but everything to do with "cheap" technology for Computing, which will surprise educators.

"3. Mr Barry Sheerman (Huddersfield) (Lab/Co-op): What steps he is taking to encourage the use of laptops and tablets in the school learning process. [130871]

"The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Education (Elizabeth Truss): Technology provides a great opportunity to get high-quality teaching materials and experiences from around the world into our classrooms, but it is key to remember that the quality of teaching is paramount in educational achievement. That is why we have given heads the power over their own budgets to decide how best to spend money.

"Mr Sheerman: The Minister will not be surprised to find me disagreeing with her analysis. The fact is that there is a growing digital divide between schools that take technology seriously as a way of learning and those that do not. It is up to this Government, who got rid of the Department’s e-learning unit, to realise that leadership in this respect will take us to an educational system for the future.

"Elizabeth Truss: We are extremely keen as a Government that children do not just use technology but understand how it works because they are able to code and programme from an early age. We are working with leading experts to develop programmes in computing so that children are able to do that. In fact, the technology needed to achieve it is very cheap. A parent or school can get Scratch from Massachusetts Institute of Technology for free and the Raspberry Pi device for under £20. This is not an issue of funding but of teaching and inspiration, and the leadership that we are showing."

MMIT's 'Scratch: favoured by education minister because it's free


More information

BCS is now lobbying for Computer Science to be included in the English Baccalaureate in its new report, "The Case for Computer Science as an Option in the English Baccalaureate", according to an article in SecEd. In that article Bill Mitchell is quoted as saying: “We need computer science to be a significant part of a renewed ICT curriculum that also encompasses digital literacy and information technology"

Comments (13)
13 Tuesday, 25 December 2012 22:22
Bruce Nightingale
What constitutes 'ICT' is much debated following the RS publication Shut Down , or restart? The views of many academics and IT professionals have been articulated clearly and coherently partly, IMHO, because they are grounded in subject definitions that have global understanding - the HE QAA subject definitions.
Ofsted frequently comments on the limited range of experiences that many young people are exposed to in school. The widespread absence of Computing activity in both ICT  and D&T - of a type found on page 17 of the QAA body of knowledge is considered problematic by many people. The acronym ICT is problematic because it lacks an agreed definition within academia and industry. 
The nature of what occurs in our classrooms has been subject to scrutiny by the Royal Society - Shutdown, or restart?  This and Livingstone's report have, and are, generating debate about what constitutes teaching and learning experiences within our schools. It's still inadequate. CAS has been active as a guerilla/lobby group in promoting Computing as an academic pathway vis GCSE/GCE and laterly the eBacc. This has resulted in NAACE and ITTE responding, rather than leading the debate.
At  the moment CAS has not engaged (wholsomely) with the debate regards Technical Baccalaureates. With Adonis, Milliband and Baker actively promoting Technical Baccalaureates. Skills Minister Matthew Hancock said that the Government plans to revolutionise vocational education with skills-based qualifications, extended maths, a project and work experience. 
Teenagers will be able to choose vocational courses approved for the government’s Tech Bacc from 2014. Its aim is to raise the quality of vocational education for pupils from 16 to 18 in school sixth forms but particularly in colleges of further education. Only a limited number of vocational qualifications would be allowed to count towards a Tech Bacc - BTEC qualifications such as these -
Who will teach the Computing theory of such courses? Who has the skills to deliver the practical vendor training? What are the implications for modern apprenticeships? Will new entrants to Computing PGCE courses have the subject knowledge necessary to teach a level 2 14-16 course such as these? If not, I for one, would be very concerned. I carry the scars/memories of the IT Diploma. Mr Hancock works in both Mr Gove’s Department for Education and with Vince Cable in the Department for Business.
12 Tuesday, 18 December 2012 10:27
Martin Owen
I remember a launch (Dec 14, 2000) of an EU report on IT industry-related higher education that was the product of international IT companies (Cisco, IBM, Siemans, BT), European Universities and other interested parties (eg BCS) to look at the spectrum of needs of outputs from Unis up to M level.
The main output was a message of core + diversity. The diversity was required for obvious reasons - what you need as a UX designer is not the same as an OS engineer and not the same as a system specifier.  The needs of the IT industry (not that that should be the determinant of school education) is much more diverse than a shortage of programming talent. The same must be true at earlier stages. The knowledge gained from a good D&T education in adressing "needs" would be a good contribution to the industry's overall needds (cf Jonny Ive). Michelle Sellinger was an important actor in the process. I will continue to look for the published documents online.
11 Wednesday, 12 December 2012 14:54
Crispin Weston
In the interests of trying to shed a little more light on the desirability of Computer Science as a degree, I thought this extract from the Independent ( sounded about right: "Although you may find reports of high unemployment amongst new computer science graduates, your prospects will vary greatly according to the course and institution you study at. For example, this year’s Good University Guide, compiled by The Times, points out that graduate unemployment is highest among new computer science graduates, at 17 per cent. However, data from Unistats, a website run by UCAS, shows that graduate employment rates for those studying the broader computer science degrees at top universities are typically above 95 percent – higher than students studying most other subjects at the same institutions."
I don't think it's so much about a sharp divide, "computer science" vs "computer studies" as I suggested in my previous comment, but a more general point that the quality and nature of computer-related courses varies widely and it is a profession in which mediocrity is worse than useless - nobody wants to have to maintain a whole lot of buggy code written by a new graduate. 
On the other hand I think it is also the case that we are not talking about a ultra-academic super-elite. It is a straightforward, reasonably well-paid career that is accessible to anyone with decent levels of maths. The same article makes the point that previous coding experience is not required (though might be useful, I suspect, in allowing the applicant to see whether it is something that they really like, and maybe to develop real "child prodigy" flair). Crispin.
10 Tuesday, 11 December 2012 23:14
Crispin Weston
Bob and Merlin - Thanks for the replies - its good to talk.   I would be very happy to respond to your statistics, Bob, if you could quote your source.   Merlin says that the BCS reported that "Computer Studies" had poor progression rates after HE - but "Computer Studies" is very different from "Computer Science". Part of the argument of the Royal Society is precisely about the damaging effect of this "terminological confusion" (page 7) and general lack of definition of what course titles mean. Talking about the 14-19 qualifications, the Royal Society report states that:   "At the moment, there is an unwieldy catalogue of often poorly understood qualifications which are mostly variations on IT literacy. This does not help young people who may ultimately pursue an IT career (because neither universities nor employers value them in terms of progression), nor does it provide evidence of IT literacy in a way that is recognised by employers". (page 50)   Although the RS passage is about 14-19 and not about HE (which is out of scope) it seems at least plausible that this proliferation of "soft" qualifications exists at HE, just as it does at 14-19.   
A second part of the problem, according to the Royal Society, are the drop-out rates on Computer Science courses, on which they say this:   "Overall, the first year attrition in Computer Science is indeed higher than in other subjects, which gives some credence to the notion that undergraduates arrive with misguided expectations about what Computer Science ‘is’". (Page 108)   So the argument is that poor progression rates are caused by noddy courses, either at secondary or at tertiary level, and that this problem is in turn caused by the same "terminological confusion" that Merlin's comment seems to illustrate. I would be completely gobsmacked if Bob could produce figures which showed poor progression rates from courses that produced well qualified Computer Scientists, which is industry is crying out for and what the RS-proposed reforms aim to provide.   On the "ICT brand" question, the argument put forward by the Royal Society and myself is not really about "brand damage" at all. Brand damage can be repaired. It is about another sort of "terminological confusion" - the confusion between the *teaching* of technology and the *use* of technology to improve learning. I am not myself really interested in the teaching bit per se - I am interested in the *use* bit. The problem is that the attempt to use technology to improve education over the last 10 years has been dominated by the view that by teaching students so-called "21st century skills", you will convert them into creative, independent learners. This was never remotely plausible and it just hasn't worked.  
I had a very good talk about this today with Terry Freedman at a Nesta talk in London. "But" replied Terry, "ICT was never conceived to be about improving learning - it was always meant to be a curriculum subject". Maybe Terry is right. But Paul Heinrich has just put out a call on behalf of NAACE on the ITCRN network calling for papers for their Spring conference:  "The main themes of this issue are the innovative and effective use of ICT in the wider curriculum and especially the use of ICT to raise standards in English, Maths and Science in all phases and in the other EBC subjects in secondary schools."   And anyone who has been to any TeachMeets or listened to Stephen Heppell or participated in the discussion boards knows that this is how the term "ICT" is routinely used - not to refer to the teaching of a curriculum subject - but the pursuit of an ineffective means of improving (and meddling in the teaching and assessment of) other subjects.   That is why we need a new terminology which makes these distinctions clear. Brand damage can be repaired but terminological confusion is very hard to straighten out.
9 Tuesday, 11 December 2012 08:21
Merlin John
Good point Bob. At the London feedback meeting organised by BCS/RAEng mention was made of the fact that degrees in computer studies are not effective in helping graduates gain employment yet people are unquestioningly wanting to send more young people along this route without any suggestion that universities should consider their own performance too.
It's also significant that grassroots approaches like Apps for Good and #Mozfest! are gaining traction and felt to be inclusive, but Government interventions are not.
There's also irony in the BCS being given a lead role for reworking the ICT curriculum when it has been closely linked to the European Computer Driving Licence (ECDL). This is the qualification associated with uncritical use of Microsoft Office in the curriculum, a move certainly not initiated by the National Curriculum itself.
We are told by political leaders that it's time to trust schools and teachers. But when it comes to the curriculum they have to use the world and his dog head the queue of stakeholders. There may be consensus that the draft ICT PoS has been rescued from being unsustainably 'geek', but two questions remain:Can most schools teach Computing without investment in professional development?Would the PoS look much different had the project been led by educators?
8 Monday, 10 December 2012 20:09
Bob Harrison
There has been much talk about damaged brands  and "serious arguments against the term ICT" by Crispin, others and indeed the Royal Society report. Given that the UCAS points required for Computer Science degrees are among the lowest in HE, the employablity/progression rates for Computer Science graduates are among the lowest in HE and the applications for Computer Science degrees are plummeting, perhaps it is not "ICT" which is the damaged brand but Computer Science? Perhaps Is it a case of "Physician heal thyself"? Or am I gulity of "non-computational thinking"? Is it any surprise that a report largely commissioned by those very university Computer Science departments should end up with a report entitled "Shut down or restart"? Perhaps it is time for a bit of self reflection from the CS lobby?    
7 Sunday, 09 December 2012 17:53
John Hobson
The draft curriculum that has been circulated indicated a division between Digital Literacy, ICT and CS. On the crude asumption that each would have about a third of the curriculum, then ICT is no more a relevant term than Computing. The temptation to come up with a new acroymn (DIC) is to be avoided however.
6 Sunday, 09 December 2012 15:33
Chris Shepherd
Frankly, I don't really care what the subject is called. After 30 years as an electronics engineer and now training as an ICT (or whatever) teacher I just hope that the baby is not thrown out with the bath water as we modify the curriculum. Teaching CS is good but we still need to teach students how to use software applications as well. Far more pupils are going to need those skills than are ever going to become programmers.
5 Sunday, 09 December 2012 10:08
Theo Kuechel
I think we can go on changing names, ad infinitum, but that in itself changes nothing. One can understand CAS, BCS and RAE wanting to push for renaming (rebranding) ICT, it would then give them a disproportionate stake and influence over a curriculum in which, after all, they are not the key stakeholders. The rhetoric of the ‘damaged brand’ is a straw man designed to achieve a fait accompli.
I don’t think anyone would argue against a rethink of the ICT curriculum, indeed the minimalist nature of the PoS, (if you remove the surrounding waffle and the inconsistent or misdirected use of language), opens up real opportunities for an implementation that is relevant and aware of possible futures – but let’s be clear, this is NOT rebranding.
Like it or not ICT is an internationally recognised acronym and is the default for the educational use of computing and information technology in education, by many, including the European Union, UNESCO and the World Bank. ICT is used as a flag to attract research papers and delegates to international conferences and for those reasons I think we should resist the knee-jerk calls, and carry on using ICT. I believe we need to maintain a sense of (global) perspective and context, and not go down a one-way alley to accommodate the transient, either: 'here today,  gone tomorrow', politicians, or self-serving ideologies.
4 Sunday, 09 December 2012 09:57
Nick Jackson
Call me a conspiracy theorist, but I have little doubt that the intention was there all along to bin everything the purists see as not Computer Science and that is one HUGE mistake. Here is what I said a long time ago on that very subject: You can also look through the rest of that blog and see many examples of damn good ICT education. 
3 Saturday, 08 December 2012 12:00
Mike mcsharry
Is there any documentation showing any payment to any organisationson for this "review"? I feel that the 2 organisations may have been give a "chaps, here's my required output, please pay lip service to those Naace chappies. But your findings are going to be... And when those findings agree with my ideas, we'll need to find someone. Someone we can heap lots of our yummie government loot on. Now, who would be the best folks to give all the loot to?"
Is there anywhere that offers degree courses on cynicism?
Yours faithfully
A tax payer
2 Saturday, 08 December 2012 11:23
Crispin Weston
Serious arguments have been made against the term "ICT", not only by myself ( but also by the Royal Society (, especially pages 8 and 16). The "education partners", most of whom have an interest in maintaining the status quo as far as possible, consistently refuse to respond to those arguments (see comments at, lack of response to my comment "Get real" at and my post at This should not be about slipping back into a warm bath of consensus - it should be about getting to the right outcome through robust, rational, evidence based debate. If educational stakeholders fail to engage in such a debate, then they cannot complain if find their opinions being ignored. In my view, the problems with the draft of the PoS dated 22 October run much deeper than the name of the subject (see my post The definition of terms is the *first* thing to get sorted out, not the last. If (as I very much hope) we can get rid of the term "ICT", I suspect that there will be much then to revisit in the current draft of the PoS.
1 Friday, 07 December 2012 18:42
Brian Lockwood
The thing about computing is that it happens to be one of the many fields of study that uses computers. The relationship of Computer Science  to ICT is much the same as the relationship of Maths to ICT. The fact that ICT teachers will, to some extent, be teaching Computer Science is largely an accident of History and the fact that the teachers that levered computers into schools in the first place were very often or perhaps, almost always, Maths or Science teachers. The whole agenda of BSC and for that matter CAS is that Computer Science stands by itself as a field of study and there is very wide support for the view that it is grossly under developed in schools. Whether there is a curriculum for ICT (or in my opinion any National Curriculum at all) is a separate matter. Declaration of Interest. A working member of CAS.

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