Teaching children to code goes live in September


Lessons in computer programming will be adopted by the national curriculum for primary schools in England from September.

Children will start learning to write code when they enter school the age of five, and will not stop until at least 16, when they finish their GCSEs.

By the end of key stage one, students will be expected to create and debug simple programs as well as ‘use technology safely and respectfully’. They will also be taught to understand what algorithms are, how they are implemented as programs on digital devices, and that programs execute by following precise and unambiguous instructions.

By the time they reach key stage 2, pupils will be taught how to design and write programs that accomplish specific goals, including controlling or simulating physical systems. They will also learn how to understand computer networks and use logical reasoning to detect and correct errors in algorithms.

Un entering secondary school, key stage 3 students will be taught about Boolean logic, given an understanding of algorithms that reflect computational thinking and be taught about the different hardware and software components that make up computer systems and how they communicate with one another and other systems.

Key stage 4 is more open, with students teachers and exam boards seemingly given more freedom on the content of the course, and teaching focused on achieving higher levels of study and a professional career.

The 2014 curriculum was announced back in July last year by education secretary Michael Gove, who said: "For the first time children will be learning to programme computers. It will raise standards across the board – and allow our children to compete in the global race."

Since then, the Department for Education and the Computing at School working group (CAS) have been working with a number of organisations which offers free coding classes in programming languages like Python, PHP, JavaScript, and Ruby – to provide resources for teachers and students, and run pilots with schools across England.

While some schools are working hard to get ahead of the game, the vast majority are likely to get quite a shock when the new computing curriculum comes into force in September. Many teachers will have to re-train, and some schools are likely to struggle to provide the computing resources needed to deliver the new curriculum.

Alan Mycroft, professor of computing at the Computer Laboratory, Cambridge University and cofounder and trustee of the Raspberry Pi Foundation (a charity which promotes the study of computer science in schools), said he felt the language of the new draft computing curriculum for key stage 1, which includes phrases like "understand what algorithms are, how they are implemented as programs on digital devices" and "use logical reasoning to predict the behaviour of simple programs" could be intimidating for primary school teachers.

Even some secondary ICT teachers – many of whom do not have a background in computing – are nervous about the changes.

The biggest challenge for most schools over the next six months will be ensuring teachers – who already have heavy workloads – have adequate time for training.

Eddie Copeland, head of digital government at the thinktank Policy Exchange, said that teachers will also need time to embed new knowledge and skills. "It's the equivalent of a modern foreign languages teacher trying to teach French from a phrasebook; eventually they will get really good and develop fluency, but we have got to accept that it's great to be ambitious, even if it takes time to bed in."

Rob Wall, head of education and employment policy at the Confederation of British Industry, said: "There is a bigger question here about what it is we are asking our schools to do.Is it just to pass exams, is it so kids understand how to learn or is it actually so kids are ready for the world of work? I think it's probably all of the above."