"Ofqual says marks for computing coursework should end after widespread malpractice in GCSE"

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As if all the new Computer Science stuff wasn’t stressful and annoying in it’s own right, OFQUAL have come out and claimed they’ve found evidence that teachers/schools/children have been cheating:

Evidence of widespread malpractice with GCSE computer science has prompted Ofqual to propose the practical project component should no longer contribute to pupils’ overall grade from as early as next year.

Several of the team here have personally looked for this ‘leaked material’ but haven’t found what is being claimed.

The exams regulator has said today that it is “no longer possible for exam boards to ensure that grades awarded in the summer will fairly reflect the ability of all students unless changes are made”.

Tasks and detailed solutions to the project, which is a practical assessment of programming skills, have been discussed on online forums and collaborative programming sites this term contrary to exam board rules, Ofqual has said.

And some of these posts – which Ofqual became aware of shortly after September – had been viewed thousands of times.

The project, known as the non-exam assessment, requires pupils to solve a problem, set by their exam board, and evaluate their solutions. The pupil’s report – which includes the program they have written in response to the task – must be their own work and must be completed in 20 hours under tightly-controlled conditions.

It is worth 20 per cent of the computer science GCSE grades being awarded next year.

To put this in to a bit more context, qualification structures have changed at GCSE level to a ‘pot’ system that looks like this:

  • Pot 1: English and Maths

  • Pot 2: Science (Including Computer Science), Humanities, Languages

  • Pot 3: Everything else

Everything in Pot 1 and 2 with the exception of Computer Science have been changed to completely linear courses with multiple exams at the end of a 2 year course (If you do ‘Triple Science’ you’ll be sitting 9 exams and 3 controlled tasks…). Computer Science is the only course left in either of these pots that has a coursework component which changed for this year from two pieces of coursework (Controlled assessments - coursework with super stringent guidelines and controls like no internet access, etc) and one exam to one piece of coursework (Programming project) and two exams (One specifically about programming, one for everything else).

My biggest issue with the Computer Science ‘debate’ is that it is claimed all children should do the course and learn the curricular content but they’ve created an entirely academic pathway for all children to follow with no alternative, casting this image in the back of my mind every time I think about it:

image

And worse still, they’re pushing this restrictive, unrealistic way of promoting Computer Science on to children and schools when, at the point I began training to be an ICT teacher (7 Years ago), 40% of ICT teachers in the UK were non-specialists with a very large proportion of this 40% being Maths teachers. Now they want 100% of those teacher ICT to become Computer Science teachers.

The British Computing Society, which lobbied for the new GCSE, insists that it always argued for a new IT qualification to complement computer science, but that was rejected by ministers.

The organisation says it is unrealistic to expect teachers of ICT to turn into teachers of computer science without significant training and support - and despite initiatives from organisations like Computing At School there has just not been enough funding to usher in this revolution.

I put some of these criticisms to the Department for Education. A spokesman stressed that the new exam had been designed with industry experts to develop the computational skills needed for today’s economy.

He pointed out that the numbers taking it had more than doubled since 2015 and said “we expect that number to continue to rise while ICT GCSE is phased out. We are continuing to work to encourage even greater uptake of computer science, especially among girls.”

Link.

But, the people pushing this whole initiative just can’t see the wood for the trees it seems. Instead of recognising that what they’re offering and proposing just is not attractive to schools or our children, they’re doubling down and blaming schools and teachers for not being receptive enough, resulting in:

54% of English schools do not offer Computer Science GCSE

England meets only 68% of its recruitment target for entries into computing teacher training courses, lower than Physics and Classics

Only 1 in 5 Computer Science GCSE pupils are female

Taken from this report that misses the point by such a margin, that I genuinely wonder how many of it’s authors have ever worked in a school and how much they actually understand about the subject they’re pushing - link.

This report is in response to the figures the BBC published in the above article:

But figures from Ofqual showing entries for the exam rising to 67,800 this year from 61,220 in 2016 have set alarm bells ringing. With 58,600 still taking the ICT exam, the overall number getting a GCSE computing qualification has fallen slightly.

and:

The other big concern is that too few girls are taking up the computer science exam - in 2016 they made up just 20% of entrants, while the figure for ICT has been around 40%.

But, no, this is because teachers and schools wont engage in this initiative, and nothing to do with what the teachers on the ground are seeing for themselves:

Drew Buddie, who is head of computing at a school near London, has always argued that ICT was unfairly maligned and was far more creative than its critics assumed.

Now, he says, “it is clear that many 14-to-17-year-old students, particularly girls, are not attracted to such a specific and narrow course.”

“The current GCSE in computer science has replaced the opportunities for creativity that existed in ICT with set programming tasks that have very few solutions,” he adds.

What a mess. Even worse for little old me is the collapse of everything I built at my place when the old head wanted to move our department out of Pot 3 (where two out of three of our courses sit) and in to Pot 2 with Science, switching all children to pure Computer Science lessons effectively neutering me as department head and killing the model I’d built which brands us as ‘Computing’ and offers three streams right from Year 7:

  • Computer Science - An academic course built for children who are better suited to controlled assessments and examination based courses, generally higher ability or more ‘switched on’ children. Traditionally the uptake for this has been 20 children.

  • Digital Media - Game design, Web/App design, Photoshop. Three pieces of coursework and one written exam. Built for most children and gives them a creative outlet for their Computing-based interests

  • Digital Literacy - Basically ICT up and down. Built for anyone but mostly opted for by our weaker children who want to do Computing but are too intimidated by Computer Science and aren’t hooked by Digital Media.

What do we have now? Everyone does Computer Science in the foundation years and then they opt for either Computer Science (Which has a vetting and stringent selection process I have not and do not agree with which limits who can even opt for it based on a progress indicator from when they join in Year 7 - cream of the crop? You’re in, basically) and Digital Media which suffers because we have to do less interesting and creative teaching to make up the time we’ve lost on the foundation stuff in the earlier years.

But guess what? The number of children taking up Digital Media is consistently between 45 and 60 every year compared to 20/25 for Computer Science, so the school took to trying to justify their investment in Computer Science by forcibly creating new Computer Science groups with children who had either been mislead about the course or weren’t actually given the option, just opted in without their consent.

What a wonderful profession I work in, eh?

That’s bizarre. If for no other reason than programming is all about using other people’s solutions intelligently. Building a functional program in any industrial capacity is creating a patchwork of other people’s solutions, coding only what you need to and ensuring that it all plays together to complete the task you need.

If you want to have a piece of coursework that can’t be copied, I suppose you’d have to have individual tasks and exam board provided test classes to ensure they operate as desired - all with some kind of procedural generation element to produce the number of tests necessary. At least then you would prove the student could read their own code to make the necessary changes for their own unique challenge, rather than just copy and pasting wholesale from somebody else. Still, that would be a hassle that I doubt the exam boards would be comfortable attempting.

i suppose computer science is one thing, in the way english language is, but you need english literature to explore what you can do with it. Much like physics is the science of everything, and everything else is what you can do with it.

My school was pretty small and only taught IT at GCSE and A level, so when i started a computer science degree in scotland i was ahead on maths and way behind on actual computer science. If there had been any other path at high school, whether it was creative or academic, i would probably have gone with that. Maybe then i’d not have wasted however many years earning a degree i have little to no interest in; i also took two years of ai, some linguistics, some sociology, and philosophy courses pertaning to science and technology, none of which my degree represents, and all of which i found more interesting and engaging than CS.

BCS are a sham; i am ashamed i took a course accredited by them rather than IEEE (the modules are almost identical, but you had to choose between BEng or BSc). Getting specialist CS teachers might be tough; it’s taught as a career path to coding (which sucks if that’s not your thing, like me) which is probably seen as a more lucrative career than teaching by graduates, and BCS seem to have been wholly supportive of that for a long time.

i spent my formative years listening to my parents complaints about the state of our education system; i really do feel for you. Do you want to come and teach me? I may be old but i can still behave childishly, and foster a child-like sense of wonder.

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