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Why waste years? Let’s inspire careers!

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Dave Gibbs explains why inspiring students to learn more about computing during KS3 is of great importance, even though the measurable benefits are often not revealed until later key stages.

The quality of the curriculum, and teaching, are vital at KS3 - although the benefit might not be immediately apparent. The NCCE offers a variety of support, helping you to change the perception of computing among 11-14 year olds and to lay the foundation for later success.

With measurable student outcomes a significant factor in school accountability, it’s understandable why KS3 teaching isn’t always at the top of a school’s priorities. Ofsted recognised this in their important report “Key stage 3: the wasted years”. It was noted that, while primary schools were improving, secondary school improvement was slower.

A contributory factor was the variation in effectiveness of the transition from primary school, with the gains made by children in their feeder school not always being built-upon. More able students lacked challenge; low-level disruption impacted learning; achievement did not reach its potential. Some students linked a poor experience in KS3 to a decision not to pursue a subject in option choices – a finding reinforced by other research. Action needed to be taken.

Ofsted have said a lot about KS3 curriculum provision, without explicitly stating how it ‘should be done’. There is no ‘Ofsted curriculum model’. Whether the key stage lasts 2 or 3 years, curriculum quality is more important than duration; Sean Harford, HMI Director of Education, stated “it’s not the years – it’s the mileage”.

Schools with successful inspections have a clear rationale for KS3, and implement the curriculum effectively. This is evidenced through the new Quality of Education inspection measure. Subject ‘deep dives’ probe the curriculum intent, implementation and impact and KS3 is no exception.

Computing for 11-14 year olds is important in its own rite and to support recruitment to 14-16 qualifications for all learners, not just the most able.

KS3 may be the only time in a child’s school career when they receive specialist subject teaching, helping them to develop digital competence that lasts throughout study and into employment. Moreover the early years of secondary school set the culture for learning, across and within subjects. The ASPIRES 2 project at UCL added weight to the view that students in lower-secondary more fully develop the perception of their own strengths and preferences, in tandem with a developing view of the teaching they experience. It is vital they receive effective instruction, from skilled teachers, and that they participate in learning activities that they find relevant and where they can experience success.

Improving perceptions of computing among girls is a priority; they tend to outperform boys if they choose the subject, but all too often opt for alternatives which they see as more relevant or helpful for future careers. The GCSE choice is often constrained, with computer science awkwardly occupying a position among eBacc sciences. In practice it is often pitted against creative options with which it should stand toe-to-toe, in the minds of KS3 students, but often doesn’t.

The KS3 computing curriculum allows the breadth and depth of computer science, digital literacy and information technology to be explored, while allowing much creative freedom to designers of an ambitious curriculum. The most current and relevant of subjects can spark interest among all young people, avid users of technology.

Through enjoyable lessons, students can develop their knowledge, understanding and skills to support their whole life – whether they create digital content or seek to more confidently and safely consume it. They can better understand the importance of digital skills for future careers; come to appreciate that digital competence leads to social mobility and better pay; and plot a route including higher education, where socio-economic divides remain to be closed. Importantly they can develop the view that computing is an appropriate path for them to follow, taught by competent professionals with a passion for the subject.

Every young person has the right to a World-class computing education, and with comprehensive support from the NCCE there’s every reason to forge ahead with an inspiring KS3 offer at your school. The TeachComputing curriculum provides the foundation, featuring units as diverse as mobile app development, online campaigning, data science, and cybersecurity.

We offer professional development to subject leaders and curriculum designers, through to subject specialists and part-time teachers of computing from other subject areas - entirely free for all graduates of the CS Accelerator programme. Our assessment tools help you track and evidence progress without increasing your workload, and local communities of practice provide a forum to exchange ideas and resources with fellow professionals. So don’t waste any time at all!