This post is stemmed from my April 16-20th reflective journal as I feel it’s quite interesting but not really relevant to post in a reflective journal which should be all about my work and the progress that I am making with that.
I visited the UEA on April 18th 2018 to talk to Norfolk A level/T level/BTEC computer science teachers about encouraging their further education (aged 16-18) students to consider doing a BSc degree at NUA. I told them exactly what each course entailed and how they related to art and computer science subjects at A level. I think I did a good sales pitch so I hope that in the coming years we will see more and more students join the BSc courses as we work as hard as we can to promote them and make sure that local and regional schools are aware of them. I am attending an event at Chelmsford College next week to do a similar kind of thing and I am for two days in Birmingham in June to talk about BSc courses at a UCAS day. I’m truly passionate about NUA and its new BSc courses and will do anything to help the university promote the courses to get the next generation onboard. The creative industries are turning more creative, I’ve seen it first-hand: graphic design students are getting more interested in tech and how they can utilise it. These courses at NUA are the future.
It was also interesting hearing teachers’ views on yet more new controversial education policy, specifically the deprecation of the ICT syllabus and the introduction of T levels. For those who are unaware, T levels have been very recently introduced by the government to help produce a generation of students who can code and have technical knowledge for the ever-growing quaternary employment sector which the UK lags behind in. The quaternary sector is the sector of employment that specialises in research, technical design, technology and things like that. The BSc courses at NUA are the kind of degree course that a student with a T level would ideally go on to do – essentially T levels replace the existing A level computer science qualifications that have existed since 2008 or 2009. The government hopes to have 8,000 new computer sciences trained by 2022 to teach T level subjects even suggesting that art teachers might be retrained to teach T levels. This is an interesting prospect as generally creative and technical minds do not mix and people tend to be either creative or technical – however that could be disputed given that NUA we have ‘creative science’ courses for people who are both, so perhaps some art teachers could be retrained. I know that the government knows that a) they want more people with creative science capabilities (to help fill a skills deficit that the UK currently faces) and b) they want to cut down on arts funding for mainstream (5-16 year olds) education – this is possibly why the government is interested in offering retraining for art teachers. My opinion is that a great teacher not only knows how to present, support, listen, but they also have to care – and you so have to care! If you don’t care about the subject you teach you will not naturally be able to present enthusiastically, do the required subject research, present experience or most important, be able to provide support to those students who do care. This is why I am against forced retraining (forcing staff to retrain will make them bitter enough as it is – nobody wants to accept the fact that their job is now redundant) and would only support a voluntary retraining scheme.
Teachers at the meeting were expressing a concern that whilst the exams and the students exist for T levels, the teaching material and resources are not mature enough to actually teach the course. The mark schemes for specimen T level papers have already been heavily criticised for being too strict on the use of keywords in answers (similar to the present A level computer science papers) and some teachers have even said ‘the people who wrote the mark scheme have no idea what they’re talking about’. Due to the fact that the qualification is nowhere near mature yet and very few students in the country are sitting the exams in 2018 or 2019, the exam boards (namely AQA) has not yet asked a publisher to put a textbook together – so essentially there are no resources to teach this course at the present time. AQA can’t justify paying a publisher and hiring copy writers to publish a textbook that will be obsolete by 2022 as the course changes over the next 4 years and that very few students are sitting. Teachers who are trying to teach T levels right now felt that this was unacceptable, however on this (very rare!) occasion I feel that I have to side with the exam board and think that these teachers have jumped into trying to teach a new subject that a little bit of research will tell you is in its very early stages of life. I think it is a little irresponsible to try and teach a qualification that is not mature with the appropriate resources yet as student’s futures hang on this ‘work-in-progress’ course. This is a classic symptom of ‘early-adopter syndrome’, however it is probably one of most suicidal forms of it as getting this wrong will negatively impact students’ lives.
More information about T levels can be found here.
Also on the agenda was a discussion about the deprecation of the ICT syllabus at Key Stages 3 and 4. Currently, an ICT subject is compulsory at KS3 and 4 whether that the Office skills-based ICT course or the more technical and programming-based computer science course. The government plans to deprecate ICT at either KS3 or 4 level – or both. It is already off the list for most KS5 (A level) subjects at sixth forms that carry computer science. My personal opinion is that whilst I was not a massive fan of the ICT curriculum at KS3 or 4 whilst I was a student, computer science is not for everybody. Everybody needs to know the skills taught in ICT to be able to function and work in the modern world, but not everybody needs to know how a CPU works or how to code in order to function and work in the modern world. Having been through A level computer science and hearing that more recent GCSE computer science syllabuses or just as difficult, if not more difficult than the 2009 spec OCR A level computer science I did, I know it is not for everybody. I understand deprecating ICT at KS5, but it should still be mandatory for KS3 and 4 students to do an ICT-based subject else the UK will begin to see another big skills deficit in this field. At home, very students will be learning how to properly use Microsoft Office, so we can’t rely on home education and general knowledge to bridge this gap.
And here I am again, writing about education
Does this mean that I should work in a school again? Be a teacher? After all, I guess I kind of look like a teacher in the feature image for this article? The feature image was taken in November 2015 when I was 18 and running Student Digital Leaders at Wymondham High Academy.
I’m still extremely interested and actually rather passionate in educational policy and ‘edtech’ (educational technology). I can see myself leaving university and having a fantastic career in the UX and/or technology industry for a few decades whilst I am still young and playing a young man’s game in a young man’s job market, but once I am ‘too old’ (read: about 50! Crazy, but the tech industry loves fresh blood!) becoming a teacher and passing on my knowledge, passion and industry experiences to students. As I set out in this post about my thoughts on e-Learning and edtech, no matter where I am, what I’m doing in my life or who I am working for, I’ll always take an interest in education. Maybe I am just destined to eventually end up back in the education sector, even if I do work in UX first.
I went back to Wymondham High Academy on Friday 20th to catch up with my Digital Leader team and learn about their upcoming ‘Pi In The Sky’ project which was a project that I completed with them back in July 2016. The idea is to send a Raspberry-Pi or two into near-space to record the flight and also to record flight data such as the temperature, altitude and flight time which is all recorded on a BBC Micro:bit. The things I do at university are really cool but I love being involved with projects like these and a little like what I got involved with at the recent Techathon event held in Norwich for 8-16 year olds.