UK’s new school curriculum

15 July 2013
School ICT curriculum

Successive governments' failure to implement an appropriate curriculum has led to a perceived decline in interest in ICT.

Faraday Challenge winning team.

Students from Priory School, Lewes, UK: Faraday Challenge winners.

IET principal policy advisors Alan Berry and Stephanie Fernandes look at the relevance of a new school curriculum in a 21st century technology-based society.

As part of the UK government’s efforts to drive up standards in education, the Department for Education (DfE) recently launched a consultation on the new curriculum. The National Curriculum Framework document is available to download on the DfE website and comprises approximately 200 pages spanning all subjects through Key Stages 1 to 4.

The IET Policy Department, with help from members of the Education, Communications and IT Policy Panels, has made a joint response specifically around the subjects of ICT and Design and Technology (D&T), also commenting on subjects that support STEM subjects such as maths. One of the strengths the IET always promotes to government organisations is the breadth and depth of expertise that IET members can bring, something other organisations are not able to match.

ICT

The acronym, as most will know, stands for Information and Communications Technology. Unfortunately there has been much confusion in education as to what this should cover. The result, a lot of parents and members would agree, has been a disaster, culminating in students becoming disenchanted with the subject as well as failing to have the opportunity to really learn about computing, communications, how they work and their importance in supporting our lives.

The IET, along with other professional bodies, has stressed to government that, in order for the UK to compete in the global markets with new and innovative products, it is vital that students have the opportunity to gain an insight into computing or computer science, as some prefer to call it. One aspect the IET has raised is the importance of communications systems, and how they support the connections to the services we rely on every day.

D&T

As any technician or engineer knows, Design and Technology is a vital element for anyone who builds, designs or maintains systems and equipment. For this reason the IET stressed to the DfE the importance of the subject and the Institution’s disappointment that the proposed curriculum is not ambitious enough. It is felt to have too much emphasis on maintenance and repair, and not enough on the cutting edge, high-level design work which provides the groundwork for further study in engineering that only a minority of schools undertake within D&T. In addition, the IET believes Food Technology and associated skills are life skills that everyone should acquire and for that reason are not appropriate for inclusion in the D&T curriculum.

Shortage of skilled staff

The IET has also highlighted additional road blocks that will prevent progress in teaching the new curriculum for both ICT and D&T. These are primarily as a result of the lack of suitably qualified and experienced teaching staff in ICT and D&T. This has been further compounded by the failure of schools to gain knowledge and experience of open-source resources, most of which are freely available and represent enormous opportunities.

This criticism is not aimed at schools, but the failure of the UK government over the past 20 years in maintaining a curriculum relevant to today’s technology-based society.

The complete IET response can be found at www.theiet.org/policy/submissions/s956.cfm

In the pipeline

A number of IET policies associated with ICT have either been completed or are currently in progress, outlined as follows:

Home Affairs Committee – E-Crime
The Home Affairs Committee approached the IET Information Technology Policy Panel to provide oral evidence to the committee. Evidence was presented regarding the threats posed by cyber-based criminals along with the question ‘Are we winning the war against cyber crime?’. Other threats have also risen significantly as society has adopted greater use of applications such as email and social media etc. The IET stressed that more effort needs to be directed in writing better-quality software. Full session is at www.parliament.uk/business/ committees/committees-a-z/commonsselect/ home-affairs-committee

Energy and Climate Change Select
Committee – Smart Meters
The IET has contributed a significant amount of effort advising government departments on aspects around energy. An IET working group comprising experts from the IT, Communications and the Energy Policy Panels has provided expert guidance specifically on the issue of smart meters, the devices Department of Energy and Climate Change is planning to make available to consumers. The IT Policy Panel provided evidence around system design readiness, data and system security. Full session is at www.parliament.uk/ business/committees/committees-a-z/ commons-select/energy-and-climate-changecommittee

Science and Technology Committee – Digital
by Default
Another oral evidence session with the IET was represented by Dr Martyn Thomas, IET IT Policy Panel, on the decision by government to move services to web-based portals. Topics included ensuring the quality of software used and how this might be better designed and built to improve reliability and security. The importance of code analysis in software engineering was emphasised, stressing that testing on its own is not guaranteed to identify vulnerabilities. Full session is at www.parliament.uk/business/ committees/committees-a-z/commonsselect/ science-and-technology-committee

IET support

The IET’s Education 5-19 department provides a range of initiatives designed to support the curriculum.

IET Faraday
The IET Faraday website is aimed at secondary school teachers and has been re-launched to include a new set of multimedia teaching resources. The resources are linked to the science, maths and design and technology curricula and help teachers to give lessons a real-life engineering context.

Faraday Challenge Days
Schools around the UK have taken part in Faraday Challenge Days since September, giving their 12 to 13 year olds a full-day, hands-on engineering experience. This year students had to devise a way to convey messages between two mountain villages cut off by a natural disaster. This culminated in a national final at Savoy Place where a team from Priory School, Lewes, in East Sussex, UK, pictured above, beat off competition to win the title.

CPD for teachers
The IET has worked with the Design and Technology Association to fund courses aimed at up-skilling D&T teachers enabling them to deliver a modern D&T curriculum. Richard Green, chief executive of the Design and Technology Association commenting on the importance of this work, said, “Digital technologies help young people design better solutions to the problems they are working on. Training teachers is an essential aspect of professional development in a rapidly changing subject such as Design and Technology. The support of the IET has been invaluable.”

Related forum discussions
forum comment To start a discussion topic about this article, please log in or register.