A national computing science education programme has received glowing reviews from teachers after its first year of activity.
The Scottish Teachers Advancing Computing Science project, or STACS, has been engaged in ‘teaching the teachers’ to deliver better quality computing science education in classrooms.
It was designed to arrest the decline in the number of students taking the subject at secondary level and to address concerns the current curriculum offer was “boring“.
The Scottish Government-backed programme, founded in 2022, has since attempted to use a core team of 12 highly-motivated computing science teachers to help ‘upskill’ their peers.
As a result, teachers have reported back that the upskilling pilot – comprising ‘relevant content’ around programming languages such as Python and Java – has been a resounding success.
One teacher, Tanya Howden, said: “The Advanced Higher Upskilling course was a huge confidence boost for me. I’m not currently teaching Advanced Higher and the idea of delivering that course felt so intimidating when I’m still early in my teaching career but these sessions have been a great refresher for me on the content.
“The sessions were carefully planned out and the leaders were so supportive and patient when answering questions. I really liked that there was an emphasis on the areas that students made mistakes. As part of the course, we are all creating resources that can be used when delivering Advanced Higher and can get hands on like this and start creating resources has been great experience for me to help me with building up my knowledge and confidence at this level.
“It’s also so useful to know that I can go back and watch the live recordings anytime if I wanted to review a certain section.”
STACS, led by computing science teachers Toni Scullion and Brendan McCart, was developed in response to recommendations in the Scottish Government’s Scottish Technology Ecosystem Review in 2020.
The review, authored by the Scottish Government’s chief entrepreneur Mark Logan, made the case that the provision of high-quality computing science education at all levels is key to supporting the growth of the Scottish tech industry.
Based at the University of Glasgow’s Centre for Computing Science Education, STACS is supported by a reference group comprised of 12 computing science teachers and educational leaders in the computing science community across Scotland.
Over the last 12 months, STACS developed a website that is a central hub for all things computing science at schools. STACS created more than 200 hours of high quality, ‘pick-up-and-play’ engaging lessons for the first three years of secondary school that embeds best practice pedagogy, or teaching practice, and research around delivering computing science.
STACS has also launched a national upskilling pilot programme for teachers developed with the Principal Assessor for Advanced Higher computing science and based on the SQA’s annual report on exam performance. Their work identified areas most challenging in the current curriculum for pupils, delivering six hours of professional development over three months that helped teachers deepen their understanding, connect with experienced teachers and share new approaches to teaching those topics.
The team also helped to connect companies in the tech industry with schools, and ran a knowledge sharing network event celebrating the new teachers coming into the profession, enabling them to network with experienced computing science teachers and learn from each other.
Toni Scullion, co-lead of STACS, said: “STACS acknowledges that all schools are individual, and teachers know their school environment and pupils best. STACS believes in teacher autonomy and works to empower teachers by providing them with the necessary tools and resources, relevant assistance and support for their individual needs or needs of their department to enhance computing science education at their schools.”
“STACS is about working with the computing science community. We are proud of what we have achieved in the first 12 months. This initiative recognises the importance of computing science as a subject in schools and the integral part it plays in Scotland’s ambition for a Digital Nation. Computing science in education has a key role in helping to engage, nurture and inspire the next generation of talent and that journey starts in the classroom.”
Brendan McCart added: “We’ve made a lot of progress over our first year, and we’ve been really encouraged by the overwhelmingly positive feedback we’ve received from teachers so far.
“We will be working with the STACS reference group and feedback we have receive from teachers to help shape the direction of STACS for the next 12 months.
“We’ll also be delivering a second upskilling programme that will focus on other concepts that cross over national qualification levels and are highlighted in SQA course reports. We’re looking forward to building on this year’s successes into 2024.”
Professor Quintin Cutts, of the University of Glasgow’s Centre for Computing Science Education, is an advisor to STACS.
He said: “Computing science education is invaluable because it offers young people the chance to learn a new way to think – to consider problems from different angles, to explore ideas, and to develop satisfying solutions which they can see in action.
“Those skills can set young people up for a fulfilling and important career in the tech sector, but they are also eminently transferrable to all sorts of lines of work. Expanding and improving computing science education creates pupils better prepared for good jobs.
“I’m delighted by the progress the STACS team have made since they started work and I’m excited to see what they deliver for teachers and pupils in the months to come.”
Jenny Gilruth, cabinet secretary for education and skills, said: “Computer science plays an increasingly important role in education and in Scotland’s ambition to be a digital nation. The Scottish Government’s support for Scottish Teachers Advancing Computing Science (STACS) will help to remove barriers and support teachers in increasing the uptake of Computing Science and closing the gender gap at a national level.
“Involving all students, but especially young women, is key to ensuring everyone has equal access to the incredible, and growing, power of computer technology.
“The work that STACS has done over the last year is already making a difference to the support for Computing Science teachers across Scotland and I look forward to seeing continued progress on this vitally important issue.”