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Python is the de facto language in Secondary schools currently. I’m a fan of it myself. I have used it as part of teaching GCSE computing in the past and I like the clean and simple syntax which presents a low barrier to entry for pupils creating simple programs. I actually see a need for it at KS3 as a getting-things-done-easily introductory textual programming language.The trouble is, with recent changes to the GCSE specifications, I’m not convinced about how suitable it remains into KS4.
I have seen a lot of toing and froing on social media recently about the merits of different exam boards and who is going with which specification and why. Unfortunately, I feel that many teachers are misleading themselves and haven’t really considered the full facts before making a decision.
Perhaps they are basing this on their past experiences with older qualifications but it is now time to think again.
If you didn’t know, Computer Science A-level specifications are changing from September 2015. Computing is filtering through the Key Stages all the way to Primary school. It follows that some topics traditionally taught at University level are going to need to be pushed down as well if we are going to stretch the pupils we teach.
One topic that teachers seem cautious of is Functional Programming, (though only for those teaching the AQA specification). It doesn’t appear in the AS specification so it’s likely that most schools will only teach this in Year 13. The details in the specification stretch over 4 pages which some find daunting. I personally prefer that exam boards take this approach rather than omit details that are useful for medium-term planning.
The new GCSE specifications for Computer Science have now been submitted to Ofqual by the four main exam boards, each with their own take on the 80 / 20 coursework (aka non-exam assessment, aka controlled assessment) split.
At first glance they seem to be a step-up from the existing qualifications and that’s understandable based on the demands of the new A-levels and KS1-4 Computing curriculum. Subject content has been shifted down a Key Stage. Where basic programming skills have been taught at KS3 this now finds itself down to KS2. Obviously the new GCSEs have to reflect this and dove-tail into the more challenging A-levels.
The assessment of these qualifications seems to be the main deciding factor as to which board becomes most popular and there are quite a variety of different models to choose from. Comparing these qualifications side-by-side helps understand the differences:
When I look back at all the exam courses I have taught over the last few years it strikes me how much change I have actually seen. From 2004 until now I have delivered: AQA GCSE Spec B ICT, AQA A-level ICT, CLAiT, AiDA & CiDA, Edexcel Applied A-level ICT, OCR A-level ICT, OCR A-level Computing, AQA A-level Computing, Level 2 OCR Nationals, Level 3 OCR Nationals, Edexcel GCSE ICT, AQA ICT Functional Skills and OCR GCSE Computing.