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The history of CS & ICT education

Discussion in 'Computing and ICT' started by cj3, May 13, 2011.

  1. cj3


    I want to write a history of ICT education in UK secondary schools, from the 1980's onwards. I think computers started to appear in schools in the mid 80s. Obviously I have already looked on the web. Do any of you have a strong recollection of how CS and or ICT was taught - I know that ICT didnt become a subject in its own right till the 1990s - and I am OK on what has happened since 2000 - but the 80's and 90's - does anyone know dates, timelines, exam boards, SOWs - anything which might help. I suppose I am trying to show the evolution of the subject - so computer education started off fairly strongly with programming, then programming became a minor part, now it's having a rebirth. I'm trying to flesh out that story. Any info/links much appreciated!
  2. DEmsley

    DEmsley New commenter

    Why start in the 80s?
    BBC Micro launched in 1981 and this was probably the key moment as it had the Government and BBC backing but computing in schools was in place earlier. We had to send away out programs to be run for us and get our printouts returned the following week.
  3. staxis

    staxis New commenter

    I did a Computer Studies O Level in 1982. The whole class had to share two computers and produce progamming projects on them using BASIC. We were the first class in the school to do this qualification. Happy days!
  4. cj3


    I am interested in the 80's onwards because that is the period I am interested in! I want to begin at that point because that seems to be when something approaching a personal computer - whether it be BBC Micro or ZX Spectrum started appearing in schools. I am not interested in the period beforehand - but thanks for the info so far.
  5. autismuk

    autismuk New commenter

    Not quite. My first school started in 1965 using a teletype connected via the phone to a mainframe somewhere :)
    This was unusual. But the town's secondary school did have a Compukit UK101 while I was at the Grammar (late 1970s)
    Primarily taught by maths teachers, very technical computer science. When I started teaching (mid 80s) things like databases, spreadsheets and so on were coming in, though only as a part of computing rather than the whole ICT thing in its own right.
    GCSEs arrived in 1988ish (not sure, there was an interim 16+ year which was near GCSE), which was moving further away from 'science' but was still recognisable as computing.

  6. Beat ya! I did my Computer Studies O level in June 1980, although I actually started it in Sept 1978. I studied it with my A levels as it was not an option when I did my other O levels.
    When we started we did not have any computers at all in the school. We punched programs out onto punched cards and sent them off to the local polytechnic to run on their mainframe. We would get the printouts back the following week. The poly got a bit miffed when someone from my class put their computer in a never ending loop whilst trying to program fractals!
    About half way through the course the school got a computer of its own. It was a Zylog 80 research machine. It had no higher level language and we had to program it using machine code.
    Then a small start up company in the USA called Microsoft (how I wished I had bought shares in them then!) produced a high level language called mini BASIC (Beginners All purpose Symbolic Instruction Code), followed by a fuller version of BASIC. Both of these had to be loaded into the 80 using a cassette tape player.
    It was a long time ago now but I can remember some of the theory included storage formats including bubble memory and a latice memory that involved magnetic hoops with criss cross wires running through them!
  7. gavcradd

    gavcradd New commenter

    Can't help too much with exact details, but some of this might be of some use...

    I started at infants school in 1984 and I don't remember any use of computers in the first few years. By 1986/87, we were having regular trips across to the computer suite for IT lessons which seemed to consist of playing games (mainly Granny's Garden) and typing data into primative databases. We used the RM Link 380z machines and we were each given a 5 1/4" floppy disk which you had to put into the drive, pull the catch down and then press "B" for boot. A few years later (89?), we had one RM Nimbus machine in each classroom and we could type up our school work on the word processing software or draw diagrams on the paint package. We still had to put individual disks in, but they were 3 1/2" now.

    Moving to secondary school in 1991, We had two suites of RM Nimbuses, one running Windows 2 and one running Windows 3.0. We hardly ever went in there though, certainly no timetabled lessons. By GCSE options time in 1994, I chose "Information Systems", a GCSE that is almost identical to the current GCSE ICT qualifications, a bit of coursework to do with using multiple applications together, a simple database project and a theory exam. I got an A*, woo! We never used the Internet or even discussed it.

    At Sixth Form in 1996, I took A Level Computing and loved it, although I only got a B. I remember that one day at the end of the first year (June 1997-ish) they let us play on this thing called the Internet - I remember struggling to find web addresses to visit, eventually finding a web address in my Total Guitar magazine and looking at that for the whole hour.

    Hope a tiny bit of that helps.
  8. cj3


    Thanks all! Very interesting to read your experiences - I too was at secondary school in the 70's - and we did the thing with the hole punch cards - had to wait a week to get them back and it never made sense to me - I think it was taught as Maths...
  9. autismuk

    autismuk New commenter

    Virtually all CS teachers were maths. When I did my PGCE there were very few places that did CS as a first course - I remember going through the book, I think it was seven !
    I think I was the only CS teacher in the country who actually had any qualifications in the subject let alone a degree.

  10. SageDerby

    SageDerby New commenter

    I cannot guarantee that this is 100% accurate but here goes.I taught 'O'- level Computer Studies from 1983 until its demise when GCSE came in. The course, if I remember correctly, had one exam on which were covered things like algorithm traces, logic gates, operating systems, two's complement. In terms of logic gates, students were expected to be able to simplify circuits and to recognise/draw a circuit for a half-adder. The algorithms they were expected to trace harder than I have seen on recent AS papers. The students also had to write 5 programs. One showing use of a loop, one with arrays, one with selection one with use of a subroutine (anyone remember the GOSUB command?) and I can't remember what the other one was.When GCSEs came in the programming content was significantly reduced but the usefulness of what the students produced increased. They were allowed to use packages and were expected to import/export data between packages. I seem to remember doing lots of mail-merges in something called WordWise which was a word-processor for the BBC provided on a chip. Students also had to do documentation including an analysis and design.As for A-level - I taught JMB Computer Studies from 1984 - 1988. Back then the coursework was worth 20% of the course. Students were expected to write a program, test it and provide a user guide and maintenance guide - no analysis and design stage.There were 2 exams - both 3 hours long. Paper 1 had a section with about 10-15 short questions (all compulsory) and another section where students chose 3 out of 5 alternatives. Paper 2 they had to do 5 out of 8 questions.Some of the topics were: Boolean algebra and logic gates, tracing and writing algorithms, assembly language programming (they were expected to trace quite long bits of code and produce code), types of operating system (especially how interrupts and priorities were used), computer architecture and the fetch-execute cycle, number bases, floating point numbers/arithmetic - including adding and multiplying floating point numbers, calculating file sizes which included calculating the length of magnetic tape a file would take up (in feet and inches!), how compilers worked, etc.The A-level changed its name to Computing in 1989 and I think that may have been when the coursework went up to either 30% or 40% and they had to start doing an Analysis and Design.A few new things were added to the syllabus like networks and data structures. In 1993 the exam board merged with others to become NEAB. In 1995 exam came the start of the decline. Logic gates, Boolean algebra, Floating point numbers/arithmetic and assembly language go and in comes BNF and syntax diagrams (good) and spreadsheets (why?) but, thankfully the students still had to produce coursework which involved substantial amounts of programming.In 1997 AS was introduced so the exams went modular. The coursework was split into two parts - a sort of draft/trial run in L6 which was extended for the full A-level. The modules covered roughly the same material as the previous syllabus.Then we got the curriculum 2000 syllabus when the exam board changed to AQA. This seemed to move even more towards ICT. When it first started it was possible to produce a Computing coursework without doing very much programming at all. Anything remotely difficult/interesting was removed from the AS syllabus but A2 syllabus was better. I hope this helps. If you want copies of papers let me know and I will scan them in and upload them.
  11. becktonboy

    becktonboy New commenter

    I was working in a secondary school in 1983 when I saw my first microcomputer - a BBC A I think, which a physics teacher had set up in a little room and invited selcted GCE pupils to come and play with at lunchtimes. I left soon afterwards and in 1985 started working in primary schools. 1 was in the old ILEA and had 2 RM 480Z (upgrade from 380Z) machines on trolleys, with 5.25in disk drives, which cost the same as the computers, wheeled from class to class. A lot of LAs had bought computers but had not a clue what to do with them. Progressive LAs like the ILEA and Newham in London set up IT centres, bought in programs with licences allowing them to distribute software to schools and offering training and support with funding purchases of machines. The RM Nimbus was introduced in about 1986, running DOS, as opposed to the 480Z's CPM, I even used a double disk drive Nimbus fior disk copying. A school office I was in had Windows 2.nn and the twin disk drives made the furious disk swapping almost bearable, it came on about 8 disks which had to be swapped when carrying out many operations. Only times I ever saw a genuine Drive B: apart from the Amstrad 512 PC.
    Nimbus network came along round about 1989, pretty much the same time as the National Curriculum for IT ( a green folder if memory serves) and the wonderful Acorn Archimedes (the Betamax of educational computers). RM LAs tended to stick with RM machines but they moved on from the Nimbus, which I think had Motorola chips, and switched to the Intel/IBM/PC form we now know and love in the early 90's.
    Organising the deployment of these in-school computers, usually less than 1 per class until networks came along, getting hold of and making copies of software, handling repairs etc all needed someone to do it and the primary IT Coordinator started to appear. Usually a man (not always) with a pre-existing interest in home computers (in my case teaching my own kids to use a Spectrum 128).
    An interesting feature of the first NC was the attempt to include IT in as many subjects as it could be squeezed into. Unfortunately the various development groups didn't talk to each other much and the level of attainment using databases in say Maths could be different to work of the same difficulty in History, Geography, IT or Science.
    In class computers were rarely used by individuals, paired and group work in rotas were the order of the day to try and maximise the exposure children got. Many teachers couldn't be bothered to acquire the skills or devote the considerable amounts of time needed to organise or even to load a program - not insignificant when they were recorded on cassette tape. The use of some software loaded onto firmware in the Beebs (B and 128) were a terrific boon. I could go on and on ......
    Couple of links:
  12. becktonboy

    becktonboy New commenter

    Pretty much agree with you on RM's lock down strategy, autism, although I'm sure I did run 'PC Compatible' software on a Nimbus when I wanted to.
    That is definitely the school's fault. And yes, abysmal.
  13. autismuk

    autismuk New commenter

    I looked it up. Geeky :)
    It seems that the answer is 'yes and no'. It looks (AFAICS) that by default, no (i.e. only DOS compatible) but you could run a program that made it a bit more PC compatible, but not entirely.
    In a limited way as well. The display system is different, so you either had RM software or it ran in a part emulated mode as a double speed CGA IBM PC/XT.
    There were later 286/386 based machines which were call RM Nimbus PC-386 (286) which were just ordinary PC clones.
    I've never used one for any length of time. Any RM salesman who rang me up got lectured (if I wasn't busy), and I wouldn't have considered a school with the kit. The machines weren't bad for their day, but I disliked the dishonesty.
  14. becktonboy

    becktonboy New commenter

    .... and I think those were the ones I was using. It's all a long time ago ..... I too could go on at length about dishonesty but the world of computer technology and its self promotion is so riddled with it there hardly seems any point.
  15. madcat

    madcat Occasional commenter

    Don't forget things like
    Prestel - still very much alive and well in the early 80s
    ...and Commadore PETs - My teacher training college (warwick) in the early 80s had a computer room full of PETs and i wrote my PGSE project on one -a graphical echo sounding simulation -at that time
    ...and don't underestimate the influence of the ILEA computer service from the early 70s nor the BBC initiatives form the 80s
  16. becktonboy

    becktonboy New commenter

    I worked in some ILEA schools and ILECC was really good, I did Nimbus network management trainng with them and it was one of my best ever INSET experiences.
  17. madcat

    madcat Occasional commenter

    First off , it wasn't called IT .
    i taught CSE Computer Studies from about 1982 using Peter Bishop's Comprehensive Computer Studies
    In my case most lessons were paper based,- drawing flow charts; writing CESIL machine code; simulating search algorithms with data on bits of card; sometimes watching film strips/slides with recorded commentary on cassette or with a script you could read out
    With turns taken at the solitary PET (then BBC) it wasn't until a good few years later that we had something resembling a computer room
    - gosh, I hadn't realised just how dated all of this sounds, definitely time I retired
  18. "ICT" as a subject came into being as a result of the 1997 Stevenson Report. I should have thought any history of CS and ICT education should dwell heavily upon that report. Link below:
  19. becktonboy

    becktonboy New commenter

    In the first incarnation of the Primary NC it was called IT.
    I did lessons on databases using the Nimbus, with pre-prepared datafiles, word processing using AllWrite, spreadsheet work with Grass and graphics with PaintSpa. Smile maths ran on it along with a few adventure games.
    The Beeb had Pendown for writing and both systems had a load of games: Anita Straker's were terrific. I also remember a control program called Crash which was pretty cool for the time. I wish Ergo had survived, it was a deductive number sequencing program with increasing complexity. I even wrote a couple of programs in BASIC for both systems.
  20. autismuk

    autismuk New commenter

    It so happens I have a few of my very old worksheets on the shelf next to me. Why I've kept them I don't know :) I have kept the travelling expenses for Mid-Glamorgan for some reason.... probably a bit late to claim.
    Most of it was my own homebrew stuff.
    I've also got a typed out copy of the MEG GCSE 87/8 Syllabus and the very rough breakdowns. If you want a copy of this let me know.
    - using a Word Processor (homebrew Wordstar compatible)
    - simple CAD program
    - Logo (BBC)
    - Control stuff - this was a kettle (temp sensor, button, sounder). Also I had traffic lights and so on. Also had a turtle.
    - BBC Basic e.g. doing simple adventure games of the type 'Press 1 to do this' like the choose your path books, simple arcade games
    - Use of various input devices.
    - Using Your Computer et al - things that had an audio commentary to a program running on the BBCs. Anyone else remember this ?
    - Hacking game for doing teletext/prestel/BBSs (wot internet ?)
    - simple DTP and Paint
    - logic gates - had a simple designer with switches and outputs
    - databases - flatfile only, it's a BBC :)
    - basic spreadsheet stuff, ditto. No powerpoint or web design, happy days.
    - case study which in this case was the DVLC. I rewrote Resource's software cos it was rubbish.
    - input/output devices - we had one mouse (AMX) :) and also had one of those five finger things, a music keyboard I built, joysticks and other wierd things I scrounged.
    - also studied stock control
    - notes say "Do the Magnus Connection pack". I have no idea what this was and googling returns nothing !
    - very simple assembler programming. A levels did COMAL. Had one Pascal Compiler.
    - study of the CPU, ALU, RAM , ROM, OSes etc.
    - multitasking and multiprocessing. My all time favourite activity, a game of space invaders where every screen object on the invaders side (ships, bullets) was a programmable task. Huge fun, really for A-Level but I let the GCSE lot play with it a bit :)
    - lots of other stuff I've forgotten in the intervening 25 years :)
    - simple animation - had something which line animated (there's a program which doesn this, forgotten the name) and something which animated teletext :)


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