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Simon talks about support networks for teachers

Filmed interview with Simon Humphreys who talks about Computing at School
Computing At School is a group of parents, teachers, academics, researches, industry professionals, anybody that’s got a passion for seeing excellence in computing in our schools. We fundamentally believe every child deserves excellence in their computing education in schools. We started in 2008, very much as a grassroots perhaps some have described it as a ginger movement, but bottom up. So it was teachers themselves saying, I need some help, or I think something needs to be changed here. I want to do more computer science in my classroom. Where can I go to find some help? I’ve got students who want to do computer science at GCSE, but there doesn’t seem to be a GCSE in computer science, as there wasn’t at that point.
Where can we go for help? And certainly the cry was coming up from individual classrooms, where teachers were saying, I feel powerless. What can I do? Well one teacher in their own classroom could probably do very little on a national scale. So it’s about connecting those teachers up with each other, networking them together, get them talking to each other, get them discussing, getting them sharing ideas, getting them sharing ways that they were introducing computer science into their classrooms, and connecting them, building this community of practise. We started back in 2008, there were four of us in a room thinking, there must be something we can do. And now on our forum there’s 8,000 people who have signed up.
And they seem to be signing up at anything between 500 and 800 a month. So the landscape has changed quite significantly. And in those five years, sole role was to support teachers who wanted to see computer science be introduced into the classroom, but then also to work at a high level as advocates for computer science as a discipline and recommending to policymakers that computer science needs to be given more attention in our classrooms. Through a number of interesting announcements, publications, talks, we’ve now arrived at the stage where DFE have listened. They have recognised that computer science is important, that we mustn’t be neglecting that side of a child’s education.
And so from September 2014, the new computing curriculum re-branded from ICT– which itself represents quite a quality of change from what had been taught hitherto– so from September 2014, the new computing curriculum will be introduced. Mandatory for all schools that follow the national curriculum, key stage one all the way through to key stage three and four. And there is a significant element of computer science in there. And it’s beholden on all of us I think, as educators and passionate about seeing this excellence in our classrooms, to do what we can to support each other, be it formally or be it informally. And when CAS started, one of the first things we kicked off were regional hubs.
I, as a teacher of 25 years standing, fundamentally believe that if we going on courses, or wanting support, or wanting to help in our classrooms, well I think teachers teaching teachers is a good principle to be starting off with. I think that I shouldn’t be required to take a day out of my classroom to travel down to London, or Manchester, or Birmingham to get training. It should be on my doorstep, and if necessary on my doorstep when I finished work. Although I might be tired, well where can I go to for a couple of hours, have a cup of coffee, some sandwiches, meet other teachers, and share what we’re doing?
And the third aspect of it is that I think teaches are people people. We deal with people all the time. And I know I’m talking on this video for an online course, and I think online is certainly part of the jigsaw puzzle. I think being able to provide face to face opportunities for teachers to be together is fundamentally important. So following that, the first thing we started were a number of these regional hubs, run by teachers for teachers in their local community after school where they can just gather together and each bring something that they’re doing in their classroom that they’ve found has worked and share that with their colleagues.
So that you come along to a CAS regional hub and you can then take away a lesson plan, a scheme of work, an idea that another teacher has used, maybe even try out something that you wanted to introduce with your year eights next term. Well can I try this out on you as my friends, and peers, and fellow professionals? And they’ve been hugely successful. So we kicked off with one, then two, then three, and there’s now over 80 of these regional hubs running around the country. And I can pretty much guarantee that for anybody who is involved in CAS, you’ll be able to find a regional hub within about 30 minutes travelling time of your place of work.
And I think they are the lifeblood of what we’re trying to do. Distributing the work, sharing our knowledge with each other as an engaging community of practise.
Leading on from the regional hubs, it became clear that the informal networking is good, and it’s successful, and teaches appreciated it, but there’s also an opportunity here, we thought, to up the game a little bit and build on those networks to actually provide more formal professional development opportunities, particularly harnessing the expertise there is in the universities around the country who hold the keys if you like to computer science as a discipline, and also education departments in universities. And so we formed, back in September 2014 with support from the Department of Education, what we call the Network of Excellence, or the Network of Teaching Excellence for computer science. And this is the CPD arm of the computing at school network.
Again, fundamentally driven on the three premises that I talked about earlier. That it needs to be local by and large. It’s teachers teaching teachers and it’s face to face. The opportunity for teachers to come to courses, twilight courses, perhaps whole day courses, run by experienced teaches or run by university faculty members, whoever put their hand in the air and said, I think I’ve got something to give here. I can volunteer my efforts, and I can contribute in this way. One of the main thrusts of the network of excellence is the notion of a master teacher. I’m deeply conscious that the term is an interesting one. It doesn’t quite sum up what was in my mind when we formed the term.
It was much the terms the DFE were looking to move to as they began to remove advanced skills teachers, or excellence skills teachers, excellent teachers towards master teachers. So it’s not very agenda friendly, and it also doesn’t come across as this idea, I want it to be peers connecting with peers. It’s not a master dispensing pills of wisdom to apprentices, but it’s about finding those teachers who have been teaching the A level, they have got a computer science background, laterally, they’ve been teaching the GCSE and feel, I’ve got something I can offer my colleagues in this area. I’ve got the experience.
So we have some funding through the DFE to release them out of the classroom for half a day a week to work on this role, to act as the local consultant, the local go-to person for teachers in the classroom. And all the master teachers– we’ve appointed 70 thus far. Our goal is to appoint 400 over the course of two years. It’s a five year rolling programme. So we’re hoping at the end of five years we’ll have 600 master teachers across primary and secondary, and their application points on a rolling programme every term going through.
And it’s been fascinating to see how the work the master teachers have done, how that’s been received, how they themselves have gained in their own professional development and their own learning and career development, and the teachers who are attending those courses are pleased they’ve established a contact. And if they then have further issues, they know they’ve got this person they can go to for help and advice beyond just pitching up to a course. I’m fundamentally of the view that we don’t really want people to fly in, do the course, and then disappear again. It’s about establishing a network, establishing this community of practise. We have the regional hubs for the informal networking.
We have the network of excellence for formal delivery of CPD, but in each community there are these go-to people that teachers can phone up, they can email, they can go to their courses. There is somebody there that they can get help and support from. In addition to the offline work that we do, to say I fundamentally believe in– inevitably, we have the technology. Teachers are accessing the web. They are accessing the internet. We are finding resources being published in a whole variety of different ways. And we started a couple of years ago an online community for exactly that purpose.
Moving away from an old distribution list that we used to have in the early days of when CAS was starting, to a proper online community. It’s completely free to join. We don’t charge anybody anything. And what we do ask on the online community is that you identify yourself. It’s what I think is fundamentally important in a professional network. You sign on. I’m signed on as Simon Humphries. You can talk to me there on the community. You can see my post. You can see my picture for what it’s worth. I don’t really want people signing on as Mickey Blue-eyes and we can’t actually find out who they are. It’s a professional embodied network.
So you sign up, we do ask for you email address. We ask for your name. Really helpful if people could then provide their location, because it’s about building this community network, this community of practitioners. So you can see well, who else in CAS is in my town, is in my street. That’s ever so important. And there are a number of conventional online forums there on a variety of subjects. You can talk about what’s happening is secondary education, what’s happening in primary education. You can talk about how you can get your school network running. The volume of traffic on there is large. It’s interesting, it’s diverse topics.
My favourite forum there, I forget exactly what it’s called, but the idea is no question is to stupid, is the form. I really want that to be such an important part of our role, as we have in our classroom. We want our students to put their hand up and say, I don’t understand what you’re talking about at the minute. We want the teachers to stand up on our forum and say, I really don’t know where to start. Can you help me? And they will be treated there with respect, and they will get answers that will then be helping them in a supportive fashion.
From those that are just beginning their journey into this new curriculum, and we’re delighted that involved in our community are some, as others have described, it’s the rock stars of computer science at the moment. And they’re willing to contribute and share their expertise as well. So we have the whole gamut of experience and background there to help and support. In addition we run a resource repository. So there’s now at this time of filming, something like 1,100 different resources, lesson plans, worksheets, ideas. The teachers have contributed, and we want teachers just to put up stuff. It doesn’t have to be complete. They don’t have to feel as if it’s absolutely polished.
It’s something that worked for you, and you just want to share it with the wider community. And then other teachers can take that, improve on it perhaps, adapted it, re-purpose it, post it back. But it’s very much a place where teachers can come and collaborate on what they’re teaching in the classroom, their worksheets, their ideas, their resources. All the events are published there as well. So the events the volunteers are running, the events that are happening as part of the network of excellence, through the master teachers, that is all there as well. And certainly one thing I would, inevitably I suppose, recommend to everybody is join CAS. It is free, but you would then be accessing this wider network.
And what you can gain through that online forum is of great value, I believe. And then hopefully out of that, if you only come across CAS through the online world first, well then explore what’s going on in the hubs. If you’ve come across to one of the hubs and you found us through your offline world, then join CAS and connect to that community there because we want you to be contributing, participating, and helping each other and learning from each other as we begin to support teachers going forward.

In this film, Simon talks about how teachers can go about furthering their professional development in computing. Think about your own professional development needs in this area and consider the options he talks about – what do you need to do next?

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