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CAS, the National Curriculum, GCSEs - imploding?

Discussion in 'Computing and ICT' started by i4004, Jan 17, 2016.

  1. i4004

    i4004 New commenter

    I am just wondering if anyone has any inside information on just what is going on with the-powers-that-be ICT/ Computing Science at present? Perhaps in CAS, OFQUAL, NAACE exam boards etc.

    It is just that it appears to me that some well intentioned person or people have shifted the A level curriculum CS into KS4 and KS3 and then walked away leaving the mother of all messes behind.

    I have been teaching the Edexcel GCSE in Computing Science and thought, well, this is bit steep - assembly language, HTML/CSS, SQL, Python and the rest in 5 terms, from scratch but maybe its possible - only to see that the revised 2016 specification chops out everything from that list except the Python, leaving them in A level where they belong. Ah, so that was a mistake then! They went too far in their first GCSE CS offering and have now come back down to earth.

    And then I start to study the Ks3 curriculum and see that the CAS guide for teachers (2014, Simon Peyton-Jones) is telling us that understanding binary, compilers and interpreters and a touch of assembly language programming is what is required! Hey, just a moment, that has just been taken out of Ks4 by my exam board - won't the kids feel hard done by if they have to wait to A level to pick up where they left off in Year 9?

    So, was this all drawn up by a Maths Teacher who imagines that we teach the kids the subject 6 times a week, in ability sets and that perhaps the lower ability sets might be happy to colour in a diagram showing the CPU components rather than explain the fetch-decode-execute cycle?

    Is this whole thing a bubble of dreams that is imploding or am I sadly delinquent in thinking that the people who are drafting this stuff are not familiar with the same strain of humans that I have met/meet in the classroom? Yes, I have one or two nerdy geeks who absorb this in seconds but that is far from mainstream.

    I am the first to welcome a return to the technical side of things - where I started teaching the subject back in the 1980s - but steady on, this all looks like it is going mad.

    Any thoughts?
  2. JaquesJaquesLiverot

    JaquesJaquesLiverot Established commenter

    My thoughts are that the current GCSEs are too easy - if you follow the National Curriculum at KS3 then there's almost no theory left to do in years 10 and 11.

    Historically the GCSEs are also currently too easy - CSE (similar to Foundation GCSE if you don't remember them) Computer Studies papers from the 80s included floating point binary and were very similar to current A level papers. I did far more programming for my O level Computer Studies coursework than students do now for their controlled assessment, and it was only worth 10% of the final mark - I created an arcade-style game as one of the three tasks.

    Also, compared with other subjects Computing GCSE might be too easy - certainly when you look at what you'd need to do to get an A* compared with what's on a Maths Higher paper.

    Computing is in a tricky transition phase because the impact of the new National Curriculum has yet to filter through from primary - when it's more mature and students have been learning these things since reception, then the level of the GCSE will need to be much higher. Even in a couple of years' time, students should have been studying Computing for the whole of KS3 - if you're in an academy that's choosing to ignore Computing at KS3 then your students will (and should) struggle.

    That said, I'm not sure that KS3 students (or indeed anyone, these days) needs to know about assembly language. If performance is an issue, stop using an interpreted language (i.e. Python) and switch to a compiled one first.
    wanet likes this.
  3. tonyuk

    tonyuk Occasional commenter

    I feel a small giggle coming on.....So we will all be okay when primary teachers teach computing....well that didn't happen for ICT so is it really going to happen for Computing I think not. This is going to be a mess!
  4. i4004

    i4004 New commenter

    Too easy? Indeed, that was my point - the ks3, as it is written, leaves nothing for ks4.

    And yes, I taught O levels so I know what they are. They were designed for the top layer of ability while the CSEs covered the rest. So, no surprises, if you want everyone to pass GCSEs at C then they have to be easier than the O levels were - as the processing power of the population has not changed.

    My broader point is that there appears to be some Canutism in putting assembly language into Ks3. You can command it to happen but it will not happen. In a minority subject, with maybe an hour a week, with a broad range of expectations, from media studies to spreadsheets, data handling to programming, you are going to find it hard to achieve what is being listed without putting off the mainstream with a load of stuff that is way over their heads.

    I am reminded of the old NC control strand. It was always there but was rarely taught as it was not within the reach of the many arm-twisted ICT teachers. By the letter of the law few schools should have been reporting levels above 3 as they were not addressing it. Yet you can be sure that most were reporting levels 4 and 5 simply by ignoring it. (And how many Year 7 pupils come in to secondary able to put a simple formula into a spreadsheet - after how many years of it being expected? One or two at best.)

    It really does appear to me that someone with much computing experience but without sound/extensive classroom experience has been let loose with a piece of paper on which they have written down the enlightenment that they have gained from their degree course/commercial experience etc. as being 'what everyone should know' by the age of 14. Well, laudable as that is, in the real world of education, you do what can be done rather than what should be done.

    Yes, there is perhaps a need for de-comprehensification, so that the able can go further, but that is not going to happen any time soon. Well, having written that, there is such a recognition in Maths with plenty of sets, plenty of lessons, and a higher and lower tier to the papers. However, the powers that be making the mistake of thinking that everyone should be able to reach the high standard of a 1980s O level (a qualification for the elite) is to engage in a folly that would have been avoided with a little more knowledge of the parameters of the population/culture that we live in. You have to think in terms of CSE level for most.
  5. i4004

    i4004 New commenter

    Ha, I had just written the same as you were writing that! See my comment about formulae in spreadsheets.

    If the new concept is :
    1. Not knowing what you don't know
    2. Finding out what you don't know
    3. Getting familiar with it by doing exercises
    4. Mastering the subject

    then it would appear that the people drafting the curriculum are stuck at stage 1 when it comes to understanding the teaching of this subject. And I say that as a teacher of over 30 years who has taught in every sector.
  6. neddyfonk

    neddyfonk Lead commenter

    Beyond Maths and Reading the academics in charge of how children learn stuff are getting increasingly weird. Computing History is full of great stuff that follows on from basic maths that helps set the scene for the basics of logic/binary. Even the fundamentals of object orientated thinking can be addressed early on by getting pupils to consider properties of real-life objects such as a ball and describe its properties of colour, size, material, how high it bounces and what games it is suitable for. I admire the attempt to get pupils to do scientific investigations in primary but they have little to build on to reach a conclusion about why (for example) woodlice prefer dark, damp places to live.
    Not so much a reply - more of a comment...

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