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A Summary of Ofsted's Computing Research Report for Teachers and Leaders

This is my summary of the research report into effective computing curricula, released by Ofsted on Monday 16th May 2022. The report itself is shorter than some of the others, though there is still lots of helpful information and points for consideration for curriculum leaders and teachers. I would fully encourage you to read the full thing.

I hope my notes provide a useful summary of the main points for both teachers and leaders, and save you some time.

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🧒 Reception and Primary

- It is important for pupils to develop their computing knowledge from an early stage.

- Introductory curriculum need to prepare pupils for both the cognitive and affective dimensions of learning.

- Despite debate about the appropriateness of learning computing in the early years, several studies have shown that young pupils can be successful with the core concepts of computing, including some of the more technical aspects such as programming and robotics.

- A key part of effective teaching is that it is informed by expertise.

- Primary pupils typically have 1 hour per week of computing, although there is variation between schools.

- The main obstacle to teaching computing which primary teachers report is that there is the lack of technical subject knowledge.

🏫 Secondary

- All pupils must be taught computing in KS4, although those who are not studying for a qualification typically receive little timetabled computing education.

- According to the Royal Society, 1 hour per week of computing is insufficient to adequately teach the KS3 curriculum.

- Data suggests that fewer disadvantaged pupils take computer science as a GCSE.

- The number of pupils who enter A-level computing is much lower than the number who study subjects like the sciences.

⚖️ Gender

- There is a gender imbalance between the number of boys and girls studying for a qualification in computing, with fewer girls studying the subject than boys.

- The Royal Society reported that the gender imbalance is the most significant diversity issue in the subject.

- A survey of 350 girls suggested that some reasons for this was their perception of the subject as being boring (>25%) or that they lacked interest (~20%)

- Some research suggests that some girls are less confident than boys in computing, despite outperforming boys in terms of achievement.

- Both girls and boys underperform in computing compared with their performances in other subjects.

👩🏼‍🏫 Workforce

- Teachers’ content knowledge (knowledge of what they teach) and their pedagogical content knowledge (knowledge of how children learn what they are being taught).

- Research consistently suggests that there is a lack of suitably qualified computing teachers to teach the subject.

- Very few primary teachers hold a computer science qualification.

- It is not reasonable to expect primary teachers to hold specialist qualifications in all the subjects they teach.

- Subject-specific CPD should be an important priority for primary schools.

- In secondary schools, fewer than half of computing teachers hold a computing qualification.

- Recruitment of computing teachers has been consistently below target.


- The study is limited as there is a limited number of studies into the nature of high-quality computing education; therefore, some of the findings have been based on Ofsted’s overview of research.

3️⃣ Pillars of Progression

- The three main content areas are: computer science, information technology and digital literacy.

- These are recognised by the Royal Society and are in the aims of the National Curriculum.

- The pillars are interconnected and do not sit separately from each other.

🧠 Declarative Knowledge

- This is sometimes referred to as conceptual knowledge.

- It consists of the facts, rules and principles of the domain as well as the relationships between them.

- It can be understood as ‘knowing that’.

🛣 Procedural Knowledge

- This is knowledge of methods and processes that can be performed.

- It can be understood as ‘knowing how’.

- Teaching the steps of these processes as knowledge helps pupils perform them more skilfully e.g. conducting a search effectively might include knowledge of Boolean terms and how to use keywords strategically.

💻 Computer Science

- This covers knowledge of computers and computation including data, system architecture, algorithms and programming.

- It is the core of computing and underpins the whole subject.

- It provides the foundational knowledge required to understand and interpret the other areas of the computing curriculum.

- Computing curricula should be rich in computer science knowledge.

⌨️ Programming

- This is an important part of the computing curriculum.

- It allows pupils to apply their knowledge of computer science through writing code to solve problems.

- Learning to program is considered to be difficult. This is because pupils are often expected to learn different things at the same time.

- Programming can be understood as learning a body of knowledge which consists of programming languages, tools, styles and standardised solutions to typical programming problems.

- Novice programmers typically have patchy knowledge which limits their understanding of how programming works.

- It is important to build pupils’ schema so that they have strong mental models which they can use to comprehend programs. Many problems faced by novices arise from a lack of organised knowledge.

👾 Programming Misconceptions

  • - Pupils typically lack a mental model of how a program works – the notional machine they are trying to control or run.

  • - Pupils should be taught knowledge which supports their understanding of what the code they write will do.

👨🏻‍💻 Programming Language

- There is no prescription of language choice in the National Curriculum except that two should be taught in KS3 of which at least one should be textual.

- Block-based programming – such as Scratch – are commonly used in primary schools and can be useful to teach programming.

- Sometimes these languages can encourage pupils to develop habits which are not always helpful with their future learning.

- Two habits have been identified (by small-scale research from 2011) to be at odds with the accepted practices of computer science:

o These languages encourage a bottom up approach to programming – they start from the blocks rather than the wider design of the algorithm.

o They can lead to a fine-grained approach to programming which does not use accepted programming constructs.

- These habits can be problematic as pupils can transfer them to other programming languages.

- Block-based languages can support young pupils with difficulties with syntax although they do not necessarily help pupils with conceptual and semantic difficulties.

- If schools use block-based languages, they need to consider how the curriculum can be designed to mitigate these potential issues.

- Research suggests that the choice of programming language is important and should be carefully considered.

👩🏽‍💻 Computational Thinking

- Computational thinking is when pupils solve problems in computing.

- The ability to solve problems in computing is the goal of this, rather than the possibility of these problem solving ‘skills’ being transferred to other domains.

- Using the definition of computational thinking as an ‘approach to solving problems in a way that can be implemented with a computer’ can be helpful when designing a curriculum.

- Elements of computational thinking which should be included in the curriculum consist of:

o Logic and logical thinking

o Algorithm and algorithmic thinking

o Patterns and pattern recognition

o Abstraction and generalisation

o Evaluation

o Automation

- Developing this knowledge comes from a large store of domain-specific knowledge and does not come from teaching generic ‘skills’.

- Computational thinking can be taught when the curriculum is structured with well-defined content and instruction, suitable activities, and suitable assessment.

🖥 Information Technology

- Information Technology provides the contexts for how computers are used in society.

- The review considers two content areas of IT: digital artefacts and computing contexts.

🎮 Digital Artefacts

- These are digital objects which are created by humans. They can be created through a range of media such as text, image, video and sound.

- Declarative and procedural knowledge allow pupils to create digital artefacts.

- Examples of this knowledge include:

o Commonly used formulae in spreadsheets

o Using layers and masking in image editing

o Principles of design

- Pupils need to be taught to make judgements on trustworthiness and use recognised design elements, designing with usability in mind. Specific subject knowledge underpins these abilities.

- Both sufficient curriculum time and repeated encounters allows pupils the opportunities to secure this knowledge in a range of contexts.

🖱 Computing Contexts

- Teaching children how computing is used purposefully is ‘empowering knowledge’.

- This knowledge consists of the history of computing and explains how it is used in the modern world.

- Pupils should be taught how computers have contributed to our past achievements and how technologies can transform lives.

- Pupils build knowledge in this area by being taught about different contexts across the curriculum, as well as revisiting these contexts and adding new knowledge to their existing schema. This provides both the breadth and the depth.

🦺 Digital Literacy

- This is defined by the National Centre for Computing Education as the ‘skills and knowledge required to be an effective, safe and discerning user of a range of computer systems’.

- It is important not to assume that children are digital natives: they are not experts in the use of digital devices, despite many having substantial access to them.

- A range of indicators should be used to determine pupils’ knowledge.

- Effective use of computing devices depends on pupils being taught how to use them.

- E-Safety needs to include appropriate content which builds on what has been taught before: careful sequencing of this content is important.

🧬 Curriculum Sequencing

- The curriculum is the progression model meaning that the basic facts and central concepts require a structured approach which needs careful consideration.

- It is not feasible to teach all possible knowledge in a curriculum.

- The knowledge which has been selected determines the structure and sequencing of the curriculum.

- Much of the knowledge in computing is composite, meaning that it is a combination of lots of individual pieces – or components – of knowledge. Much is also procedural. This means that the components need to be taught in an appropriate sequence to enable pupils to learn the composite knowledge effectively.

- Novices can find computing hard to learn due to its richness of abstract concepts.

- Semantic waves can be used to sequence curriculum. This starts by introducing the abstract term and language, and then using everyday language and contexts to exemplify the concept, before returning to using the technical vocabulary once the pupils’ understanding has been developed.

- The bulk of the research has focused on semantic waves in a single lesson, but it is suggested that they could be used over different timescales.

- Due to the hierarchical nature of many aspects of computing, pupils’ prior knowledge must be taken into account when planning teaching and selecting activities.

🏫 Cross-Curricular Computing

- There are some weaknesses in teaching elements of the computing curriculum through other subjects.

- A computing curriculum is more likely to be effective if taught as a discrete subject.

👨🏻‍🏫 Pedagogy

- Elements of computing subject content have an intrinsically high cognitive load – which can make them harder to teach and learn.

- Teachers should consider pupils’ level of expertise when deciding on teaching approaches.

- Many school-level pupils lack sufficient knowledge to be able to learn in an unguided way.

🍳 Worked Examples

- Computing is a subject which has lots of problems for pupils to solve.

- Worked examples provide scaffolding for pupils to help them solve these problems.

- Worked examples are less useful for pupils with more prior knowledge.

- Labelling worked examples with subgoals can also be effective. These break down complex problems into smaller steps or components.

- Subgoals can help pupils see past the surface level of programs and can allow teachers to place focus on abstract knowledge.

- Subgoals can reduce cognitive load.

🔌 Unplugged Activities

- These show children the ideas of computer science without using computers.

- Teachers should pay careful attention to how any activity contributes towards achieving the curriculum goals.

- Unplugged activities may introduce misconceptions.

- They may also be more useful when introducing new knowledge.

📖 Storytelling

- Psychologists refer to stories as ‘psychologically privileged’: their structure enables them to be remembered effectively.

- Some stories can be useful to illustrate concepts in computing.

- If stories or analogies are used, they should be linked back to the specific computing concept they represent.

📚 Textbooks

- High-quality textbooks can be supportive to both teachers and pupils, especially if there is a gap in teacher subject knowledge.

✅ Assessment

- Assessment should determine whether pupils can remember what they have been taught and can apply this knowledge as intended.

- Assessment should be based on specific criteria rather than generic competency.

- There is not currently a strong understanding of formative assessment in computing which focuses on the building blocks of knowledge.

- Regular testing can have a positive effect on learning: it can encourage pupils to study more and can reduce their anxiety about tests in general.

- Multiple choice questions can be effective as long as they are well-designed. Poorly designed MCQs can have negative effects on learning such as reinforcing misconceptions.

- Assessment should be focused on component knowledge from the intended curriculum.

- Parsons problems can be useful to enable pupils to learn syntactic constructs and maintain a high level of engagement.

- Adaptive problems – those which change based on pupils’ repsonses – can increase pupils’ success in solving problems as well as reducing frustration.

- Distractors (in Parsons problems) can be useful to help identify misconceptions but must be carefully considered.

🧠 Teacher Subject Knowledge

- There are large disparities in the amount of CPD undertaken by teachers – some teachers receive no CPD at all.

- Subject knowledge was the most common challenge for teachers in teaching the curriculum.

- Training courses in computing are not always effective or wholly sufficient – teachers still need to build their pedagogical content knowledge.

- It is really important for subject leaders to provide sufficient subject-specific professional development. This will enable teaches to design and teach a high-quality curriculum.

⏰ Timetabling

- The typical time given to computing is insufficient to teach the National Curriculum content.

- Reducing time increases teacher workload who need to meet the same requirements of the curriculum within a smaller time frame or deliver a diminished curriculum.

💻 Infrastructure

- Teachers may be required to use specialist software and hardware in order to provide an ambitious computing curriculum. Using this equipment can often be at odds with maintain network security and performance in schools. This creates a tension which needs to be addressed.

- It is important to manage risk appropriately so that the controls in place do not unnecessarily restrict the enacted curriculum.

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A Summary of Ofsted's Computing Research Report
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1 Comment

John Willis
John Willis
Jun 05, 2022

Super useful. I’m looking through this in the coming week. No real surprises to me though. Thanks for the summary. Really helpful.

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