Scotland’s professional teaching standards and registration body has signalled a willingness to engage with the tech sector following the release of a report that has called for a more prominent role for computing science in secondary education.
The General Teaching Council for Scotland (GTCS) said it would be happy to take part in a debate about how the curriculum could be reshaped in line with recommendations contained within the Logan report commissioned by the Scottish Government and published last week.
One of the 34 recommendations made by former Skyscanner Chief Operating Officer (COO) Mark Logan is to elevate computing science as a subject at secondary school level; the tech entrepreneur has advised that the subject be taught in year one with the ‘same focus as maths and physics’ as opposed to an ‘option’ in year three year under the current system.
Dr Pauline Stephen, Director of Education, Registration and Professional Learning at GTC Scotland (GTCS) said that she welcomed the report but any proposal to increase the role for computing science at secondary level should be part of a wider discussion on curriculum reform.
She said: “I think the more fundamental question rather than how we review the place of computing science in the curriculum, is how the curriculum is designed. There was a national debate 17 years ago and out of that popped Curriculum for Excellence.
“Arguably with the experience we’ve had in lockdown and with children learning in different ways and a whole variety of views about the success of that, there is now an opportunity to have a fundamental conversation about what the curriculum is for.”
She added: “If we’re going to revisit what that’s about it’s more than just an economic driver isn’t it? I think there’s a question about curriculum design and where does the place of digital pedagogy and computing science sit in there.”
Asked whether she would be open to dialogue with the tech sector in relation to the Logan recommendations, Dr Stephen added: “Absolutely, this is the kind of conversation we need to have and not everyone will agree on everything, and that’s ok. These are the kinds of debates we need to have. Education, what’s it for? And how do we do it? And I think now is the time.”
However, she cautioned that there is always a balancing act to be struck when competing groups of people seek to advance their own agenda – whether it be to enhance the provision of modern languages, or the arts, in the curriculum, adding: “From a teacher’s point of view it begins to feel as though subjects are shoehorned into this overall thing that we call the curriculum – I think there’s probably a better way of doing it.”
There are currently two reviews underway of education in Scotland; the first by Professor Mark Priestley of Stirling University is an independent review into the handling of this year’s Scottish school exam results. The second is by the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD), which will review the curriculum. Dr Stephen said the Logan report should sit in the broader context of that work.
She also drew attention to a number of alternative routes into initial teacher education (ITE), some of which focus on encouraging those in STEM-related careers to consider a career in teaching, and some of which have combined ITE and probation periods to streamline the process.
As one example, she credited the University of Dundee for providing ‘very innovative programmes’ that allow those changing careers to undertake their initial teacher education and their probationary year in one year.
She added: “Most people who leave careers give up salary for a year but this allows them to retain some level of salary.”
But she acknowledged that it was difficult to attract people with STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering & Mathematics) qualifications into teaching careers and one of the issues going forward would be to encourage enough computing science students to consider a career later on in teaching. She also highlighted the fact that the Logan report doesn’t address how computing science – or computational learning – is carried out at primary school level.
She said: “What’s missing from the report are some examples of where computing science is working well in primary and secondary schools, where that work is happening, where teachers understand it and kids are getting a really good learning experience.
“The education system is complicated where power is in the system for making decisions is dispersed. So you have central government, local government….the unions, different bodies that have all got different spheres of influence. But I would be saying if we were not able to have these conversations now when will we? We’ve had this most unique experience, shared experience, in our lives and our children and pupils have experienced that and their education has been impacted in all manner of ways as a result of that. If we can’t have it now, as we’re talking about educational renewal, then when are we going to have it?”
According to Dr Stephen there are 1,544 computing science teachers at secondary school level on the GTCS register (there are around 340-plus secondary schools in Scotland) and we will follow-up in a later article which assesses what the benchmark numbers should be if the Logan report recommendations are accepted by government.