Creating a broad and balanced curriculum for tomorrow

Chris Sharples is the Head of ICT at a North Yorkshire comprehensive and a passionate advocate of digital skills for young people.

Following his attendance at a recent roundtable we hosted on the digital divide in education, here he gives his conclusions and recommendations for the new curriculum, which he says should include computer science, but not to be taken over by it.

“At the Year 9 options evening recently held, I explained the skills I think that employers value. I then highlighted the ones that my students have developed the most over the last few years – helping each other; being confident; being creative; being problem solvers; and being resilient in the face of difficulties. Ex-students have returned and told me that ICT skills, time management and learning to work independently have been crucial for when they have gone into higher education and into employment. Unlike Michael Gove, I don’t recognise our current ICT curriculum as being ‘boring’ or ‘clearly inadequate’. I think that the newly created curriculum is very academic based and has quite a limited examination methodology dictating what is and isn’t measured. It’s frustrating.

I think there’s so much more we can do both inside and outside the curriculum parameters.

We need a broad and balanced computing curriculum to continue to offer pathways for our students into a spread of IT industries. Before now, not nearly enough has been done nationally to use computing to prepare students for work. The new computing curriculum must meet the needs of the current child and the future working adult that we’re teaching – such is the interesting mix of practical and creative skills that the subject contains. I’m talking about a computing and not a computer science curriculum here – the two words are used interchangeably and I see this as a mistake.

The Computing curriculum in September 2014 is defined as a combination of three elements: computer science, information technology and digital literacy.

I really believe my students need all three elements in the new curriculum, and it will be interesting to see how exam boards respond. Purely focusing too much on one element of those three won’t prepare students for work. It also isn’t fair to those who are digitally savvy but not technically minded.

There’s so much more that can be done to keep this interest going. For the last three years we have been developing students as Digital Leaders, supporting teachers and other students to improve learning with digital technologies in our school. These opportunities and skills are outside the current examinable curriculum.

I will continue to develop young peoples’ skills through our Digital Leader programme. For example, this week one of my Digital Leaders was the first to convert a Digital Leader’s badge into an Open Badge. This is a measure of skills and competencies, linked to online evidence, which a Digital Leader can take with them wherever they go after leaving school.

All of us, including parents, need clear explanations as to the pathways into ICT related jobs in the future. We need to make more use of websites such as Big Ambition, which has case studies of real people in real digital careers.

We need more opportunities for teachers to mix with industry colleagues; especially if we haven’t been in industry ourselves. One of my teacher colleagues who worked previously at board level for a large supermarket chain suggested we should look at teacher work experience as well as student work experience. With the opportunities we have to connect online, we should be looking to combine our personal learning networks.

We need a balance to how we integrate ICT into the curriculum, both as computing and how it is used in other areas. Do we really want to remove communication and collaboration from the debate when social media is changing the world? And how do we help young people become confident and competent learners to work safely in such a world if we do not engage with it in school?”

Chris was a lead speaker at the recent Stone Group debate on the current national e-skills shortage, held in London.