Should ICT remain on the National Curriculum?

I coordinated Naace’s response to the first round of the National Curriculum consultation call for evidence. The full response is online at http://www.naace.co.uk/1526, but our response to Q19, which specifically addressed the future of ICT as a National Curriculum subject was as follows:

In future, do you think information and communication technology should continue to be a National Curriculum subject?

Given how integral digital technology has become to so many aspects of life it is essential that all pupils should be entitled to develop their understanding of information technology, including both digital literacy and computational thinking whilst at primary and secondary school.

ICT is a complex although nevertheless well-defined subject in its own right, and whilst its delivery is often through practical work sometimes crossing boundaries with other subject disciplines, the body of knowledge which it contains must be recognised as an essential component of a modern education and does not properly form part of any other National Curriculum subject, nor should this body of knowledge be confused with the use of ICT skills or systems in learning or teaching the content of other subjects, just as English retains its identity as a subject in addition to being the medium of instruction and learning across the curriculum.

The inclusion of ICT as a compulsory subject at all stages of the National Curriculum, over and beyond the role of digital technologies in supporting, extending and enriching learning and teaching across the curriculum is necessitated by the following factors, amongst others.

  • Given the extent to which pupils make use of digital technology in their studies and personal lives, and the extent to which they are likely to use them in adult life, they should be taught the fundamental principles and concepts underpinning IT: it is insufficient to know how to use these systems: pupils should understand how such systems operate, the processes which are followed in their construction, and something of the theory which underpins computer programs and complex information systems.
  • An all round, liberal education in the 3rd millennium must include an understanding of digital technology including computing: this has become as important as poetry and algebra, and probably more useful than either.
  • Such an understanding of digital technology and computing provides access to further academic study and rewarding career paths, providing an enhancing social mobility. The development of such understanding cannot be left to chance.
  • An understanding of digital technology and computing extending beyond operator skills, results in:
    • greater autonomy and empowerment as users of technology;
    • an awareness of the development and role of information systems in modern society;
    • better informed decision making in personal and professional contexts; and
    • safer, more responsible use of information systems.
  • The theory of digital systems and computational thinking have academic rigour and are of increasing importance in other demanding domains of economic significance including STEM subjects and social sciences.
  • The economic benefits of a digitally literate workforce with a deep  understanding of computational thinking are significant, and a growing stream of individuals capable of high quality creative work in digital media, software and hardware is vital for the future success of UK industry and the economy as a whole. Our competitors understand that digital technologies are critical components of industry and commerce and recognise in their school curricula that learners must be taught to use and develop these technologies safely and effectively.

Naace has some concern that the present title of the subject, ‘Information and Communication Technology’ may be seen by many solely in terms of digital literacy skills rather than the underpinning conceptual understanding proper to the subject, and would ask the Department to consider renaming the subject as ‘Information Technology and Computing’.

Whilst Naace is very supportive of the view that pedagogic decisions should be made at school level and the devolution of as much curricular decision making to this level, the purpose of minimum entitlement that is central to the National Curriculum seems to demand that at least some statutory specification of a minimal Programme of Study be made.

Naace would be pleased to work with the Department in developing such a Programme of Study, perhaps structuring this to emphasise the concepts and principles on which an understanding of computing and digital technology rests.

It is Naace’s view that Government’s role should be confined to the specification of a minimum curricular entitlement for the subject, including a minimal programme of study describing the concepts and principles which are essential to the study of the subject at school level.

Non-statutory guidance or expansions of such programmes of study might then be developed by those most directly engaged in their implementation at school or LA level, by subject associations, learned societies, industry and commercial organisations.