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Dr John Spencer began his teaching career in 1981 armed with a Sinclair ZX81, thereby demonstrating two things at once: Firstly he was in at the very start of ICT in the classroom and secondly he is a sucker for duff technology. Thereafter he taught joining a start-up open source company as their Head of Education in 2002. Now John is bringing his iconoclastic disposition and tendency to throw a spanner in the works to blogging.

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Computer Science in schools (postponed again)

In, Out, shake it all about, and nothing changes

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Two weeks ago we heard that Michael Gove had added computer science to the EBac.

The EBac of course was the new certificate of education which was to replace GCSEs.

The EBac made English, science, maths, a modern language and (tada!) computing compulsory. GCSEs in other subjects like geography, graphics, media, drama and PE would remain but would be outside the core. Having computing in the core was a triumph to many who believed that our national skills in this area were now woeful.

A week later the EBac was dropped and GCSE for all was back. ‘Never mind’ we said, the much needed reforms to GCSE and GCE remain...and these are just as important. For the record they were:

  1. A massive reduction in coursework.

  2. Abolition of modular exams and retakes at GCSE and GCE

  3. Scrapping the ICT syllabus and introduction of computer coding*

  4. A toughening of the factual demands of syllabuses.

*in true GCSE tradition there will be now be 17 GCSE ICT routes, only some of which will have computing included alongside the traditional ‘how to use MS Office’.

A few days later Ofqual (a government standards quango) announced that it will block the remaining reforms since schools feel that it is all being a bit rushed.

Ok, stand down everyone, emergency over: status b****y quo.

As someone who worked for years to get open source software into schools I am used to ‘breakthroughs’ that never happen. ‘This year, this will be the year it changes’ went the refrain...

until the big boys have a word with their chums and all bets are off.

Anyone in free software knows all about the statusquo; well it’s even harder in education to change anything. The world of professional educationalists, cosiedup exam boards and curriculum publishers is a very powerful hegemony. Too powerful even for Mick it seems.

Which is a shame. I may take issue from time to time with Mr Gove but he is genuinely committed to social mobility through education. He was attempting to create an elite qualification and the significance of this needs to be understood. The EBac would have been rather hard so not everyone would obtain this award as such is the nature of an elite qualification.

But elitism is not fashionable with the edupolitburo especially when dealing with the education of the proletariat. Elitism is a bit, well, bourgeois, we plebs must have equality. Of course in our parallel society elitism is very fashionable...for the children of the feepaying bourgeois that is.

Enough of the pseudo Marxist rhetoric but my point here is that once, long ago, the unassailable privileged education of the better off was challenged by the commoner through the grammar school and the O level system The likes of me could go ‘toe to toe’ with Jonny Posh and beat his Latin, French and Chemistry or whatever. The grammar school syllabus was designed to compete with whatever the elite had...and better it.

Now a bright state educated child is likely to have citizenship, graphics and ICT to put against Jonny’s double maths french and spanish. The EBac (computing included,) was designed to level the playing field again in that it would separate the common sheep from the common goats and provide some competition for the privileged elite.

Barely 18 months ago Eric Schmidt caused deep pain when he pointed out that we were once quite good at computers. The reaction was swift, MS Office GCSE was scrapped overnight, the Raspberry Pi was promoted and the sunny uplands of regeneration were in view. Now at the start of 2013, bit by bit ,the status quo has been selfimposed by a sclerotic edupolitburo of vested interests.

I think if he were alive today Marx would be scratching his head in wonder.


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