“Ofsted Research Review”
The long-awaited Ofsted research review landed on 16th May and although its findings were not surprising, it served as a reminder of what they consider the key issues surrounding Primary Computing. But how will it impact your Primary School?
The National Curriculum for Computing is fairly brief coming in at just two pages long. The report suggests that there are several ways for schools to design their curriculum that could be successful and comprehensive. Equally the report talks about a lack of specialists in schools. The problem here is that some schools, without sufficient expertise, may create a curriculum that would not be considered well-designed by Ofsted under detailed analysis or could lead to ill-informed, subjective guesses about what a “high-quality” curriculum might look like. Although this level of autonomy sounds like a positive for schools a scheme such as the NCCE/DfE programme is probably a better starting point to begin any curriculum planning. If your school’s LTP matches the content and balance of that scheme it would be harder (and frankly inconsistent) to criticise.
There will be no surprises for any subject leader here – knowledge in all of its forms is highlighted as a key cornerstone of any school’s computing provision. It also distinguishes between “declarative” (fact-based knowledge) and “procedural” knowledge (knowledge about how to perform certain cognitive activities). The report is detailed when it talks about both of these areas, but clearly, schools need to make sure they have appropriate documentation containing a clear understanding of the progression of skills, knowledge and vocabulary throughout all key stages in place.
The review also discusses “new and repeated encounters” within any scheme – our assumption here is that they are referring to schools creating a “spiral” curriculum where appropriate skills and knowledge are repeated throughout KS1 and KS2. Remember to revisit your long-term plan regularly to ensure that key concepts are covered and then reviewed by pupils at regular intervals.
The value of a quality Computer science component within the curriculum serves as a reminder to schools to ensure the balance of their coverage is correctly weighted. This review document, and many schemes, seem to prioritise CS over the other strands of the Computing curriculum (namely Digital Literacy and Information Technology). What this balance should be, is something that schools need to make educated guesses about. Most schemes use a combination of coding and computational thinking lessons to cover Computer science, which makes up about 50% of the curriculum time. However, the lack of clarity about this balance in the NC makes these decisions more difficult if schools do not have a specialist on board.
Having proper, informed justification for any decisions around curriculum balance is crucial and needs to be clearly stated in school documentation (within I, I, I statements or a computing policy, for example).
Digital Artefacts – apart from being a phrase that no one other than Ofsted in the known universe uses – refers to anything created digitally such as photographs, films, presentations or word documents. The review encourages schools to go beyond the creation of simple presentations and – realising that children are sophisticated content creators – are looking for schools to use photography, film-making, game design engines etc. to deepen knowledge and learning. This is of course a CPD issue – teachers need training and time to embed these kinds of lessons into their units.
Although the term e-Safety has been out of vogue since 2015 – Ofsted clearly didn’t get the memo so stick to Online Safety in your school as it is a much better representation of the topic – the reality is, that all schools should make Online Safety a huge priority. Find a scheme which covers this topic well (Kapow does a good job) and do not be under the impression that creating a poster on ‘Safer Internet Day’ once a year will in any way suffice. The review also makes a point about not assuming what children may already know and understand about being safe and healthy online, and this is extremely pertinent. Children’s online experiences are hugely varied, so schools must make sure safety messages are regular, consistent and contemporary.
Cross-curricular teaching is given short shrift by the report. This kind of curriculum planning has been something Ofsted has picked at for many years. Clearly, according to Ofsted, unless the cross-curricular lesson contains all of the rigour and detail of a discrete lesson, it is best avoided. Use cross-curricular ideologies to enhance and support learning in Computing and other subjects – but not as a replacement for well-researched specific computing-focussed weekly lessons.
Core vs Foundation
Although not said explicitly, the review wants schools to know that the expectation is that foundation subjects are being given the same thought, and taught with the same depth, as core subjects. Schools need to think about where there may be gaps in their school curriculum. Anecdotally speaking, lower KS2 is often planned better because that’s often where Scratch becomes embedded, and there are a reasonable amount of high-quality resources available for teachers to work from. This becomes less of the case for topics such as Data Handling or Networks (in KS1) or for Y6 pupils, who often have very open-ended, less well-planned “project” work, as the fulcrum of their Computing lessons.
What would schools consider “adequate time” for Computing? The report, unfortunately, does not suggest what that adequate time might be. What does this look like in the context of a packed Primary School timetable? In addition, Computing has issues around timings, thanks to the challenging task of getting all of the equipment out and set up for pupils. The planning must be streamlined, effective and targeted. However, that’s quite the challenge for a subject in which most teachers lack confidence. Schools must be aware of this issue and have a plan for how to make sure curriculum time is being used effectively.
This report makes plenty of points about the general issues within teaching Computing, without necessarily offering any detailed suggestions on how to bridge the gap between where schools find themselves, and what Ofsted would actually like to see. Our advice would be to have detailed planning in place which would show inspectors where you see the school at right now, and where you would like it to be in the short, medium and long term. Reference any pitfalls that might occur along the way – there is no discussion in the report around any technical or hardware issues that can severely impact teaching and learning – but we all know this can rear its head at any time. Audit your staff and put relevant CPD in place.
Rest assured though you are not alone – there are plenty of schools that will be in the same boat – but getting a detailed and clear subject leader plan together will go a long way to building confidence in the future of the subject within your school.