back to article GCSE computer science should be exam only, says Ofqual

Students starting GCSE computer science in 2020 may be assessed by exams only, amid concerns about schools' IT kit, burdens on teachers and malpractice in non-exam tests. The education watchdog Ofqual made the proposals in a consultation published yesterday. It said that all assessments – including programming skills – for …

"the teachers had blank faces when I asked them some machine code questions"

I had the same problem. At O level I was expected to write a simple BASIC program on a Commodore PET that showed I knew how to use GOTO and GOSUB commands. Instead I wrote a picture editor and printer driver in machine code - my teacher had no idea of the complexity of the task and I got a bare pass.

At A level I wrote a machine code version of Conway's game of life, instead of a BASIC program that did stock control. The teacher had no idea what I was doing. I got lower marks than all the people on the course that I helped to implement the merge sort that was required to get a top grade.

0
0
Silver badge

the downvotes are coming along as it is an elitist comment. Not every student who takes a subject is entirely up to the task. Computer science needs a lot of maths and a fairly abstract mind. This doeant mean a student should be discouraged from learning.

Not all students are bright and some will never amount to high grades, this doesnt mean you should give up on them. I had one student who got a 4 last year - they were over the moon and so was I as the value added was +1. However, on attain 8 this 4 was given as a bad result even though value added was a major positive. Stats are simply that, stats.

As above, physics on 80% plus simply shows anyone who cannot potentially achieve an A will be taken out and put into single science or double science. Good for stats but possibly bad for student A level entry. All in the name of school stats. I bet the value added on that physics would be net 0 or possibly minor negative.

2
0

I didn't downvote, but I agree. You're suffering from selection bias: "I was good when young, I am now 'good' (so far as I know), therefore to get as good as me you need to follow same path I did".

I was rubbish at IT when at GCSE age, I was rubbish at a lot of 'subjects'. My IT course consisted of learning how Mail Merge in MS Word worked. I failed completely because what was the point in that? Much more fun to muck about and play games.

I had discipline problems at that age, was more interested in sport and girls and it wasn't until I finished my GCSE's that I was aware I was academic at all (no family history in that area). I went on to a numerate degree (physics), during which time I learned that computers were actually useful. I am now gainfully employed and as far as I can tell I'm pretty good. I am currently paid to sweep in, fix other people's crap code and have a whole host of opinions on why other people are 'not as good as me'. I am not so arrogant to assume that everyone needs to follow my path, and you can't blame children for their circumstances or interests at that age.

1
0
Anonymous Coward

The best coders are like gifted maths students, way ahead when they are still wearing a nappy.

I work inhouse at a company without any other IT staff in what is mostly an operations role, but has included some basic development to resolve problems that aren't fixable via off the shelf software. I wrote a quite substantial bit of code at one point, and after many, many changes I discovered a problem with it which I couldn't figure out.

I asked for some help, not having any other IT staff I asked for anybody with a math background, especially in algebra. This turned up one ~80 something year old lady who did algebra at school who hasn't been retired because she'd be bored and lonely at home on her own. She missed her calling as a teacher, and is utter death on even minor mistakes. Despite not even knowing how to use a computer, she successfully debugged the code, and highlighted all of my mistakes (including things error correction in the compiler had quietly dealt with). She then actually simplified a section with a more elegant way of resolving the problem, and wrote some code to deliver some extra functionality people had asked about.

And yeah, when I say didn't know how to use a computer? I mean it. She had the entire codebase printed on paper. And when I say highlighted mistakes I do mean with a highlighter, or underlined with red pen. And when I say she "wrote code", yes, I do mean with a pen. She still won't use a computer.

Lessons that should be learned from this IMO: Somebody proficient in advanced math can also write code pretty easily and more attention should probably be paid to teaching students math concepts than rote memorization of the times table. Secondly, if a not quite senile 80 year old woman can write perfect code on paper, then i'm not entirely clear about why it should be impossible that students be tested this way.

1
0
Anonymous Coward

Bananarama

@MrBanana; So, let me get this straight. You were asked to write some trivial program using GOTO and GOSUB- which I've no doubt you could have done in five minutes- but "instead" (of providing what was asked for) you wrote a printer driver.

And you *knew* that the merge sort "was required to get a top grade", yet for some reason, while you chose to help others do that, you didn't include that in your own submission. Then complained that you didn't get the top grade?!!

It sounds like you were intent on showing off how clever you were, felt that the requested work was beneath you but expected to be credited for your obvious genius anyway. Whether or not you were smarter than the teacher is beside the point- you didn't get the marks because you didn't do what was asked for! Duh.

I can understand someone who's fifteen having that mentality, but to be complaining about it the better part of forty years later rather than having grown up and recognised what an arrogant twerp you were is... not flattering.

5
0
Silver badge

You shouldn't be asking IT staff for programming help, you should be asking programmers for programming help. You should be asking IT staff for IT help, such as changing the printer cartridge.

As expected, commentators have swept themselves into the whirlpool of confusing "IT" and "programming". "IT" == "driving a car". "Programming" == "*CREATING* a car".

0
0
Silver badge
Unhappy

There are no teachers

So the "teachers" that have to "teach" the Comp Sci course do it from text books, and videos. They are forced to cheat in the exam as the pupils are not actually taught anything meaningful in the classroom.

It would be possible to go on a recruitment drive for CompSci teachers (there's enough software engineers out there who don't pass the age test for most jobs). But solving the problem (instead of hiding it) costs actual money.

5
0
Silver badge
Facepalm

Re: There are no teachers

quote

It would be possible to go on a recruitment drive for CompSci teachers (there's enough software engineers out there who don't pass the age test for most jobs). But solving the problem (instead of hiding it) costs actual money.

And more than likely , dont have exactly the right piece of paper to show the education department's HR people

"But I've been programming for 30 yrs everything from flight control software to mentoring the web-dev team"

"Sorry.... you need certificate 456252-TX-665c section 5 to teach basic programing....no certificate, no chance of an interview"

2
0
Gold badge

Re: There are no teachers

"But I've been programming for 30 yrs everything from flight control software to mentoring the web-dev team"

Depending on how well you've been mentoring that dev team, you may have the necessary skills to become a teacher. The 30 years of flight control software, however, count for very little because this is a teaching post, not a development post.

At school level, particularly at GCSE, the skills you are learning aren't really enough to do the job. That's true of all the STEM subjects and almost certainly all the others, too. Therefore, what we need to put in front of children are good teachers with sufficient specialist knowledge to know which bits are more important and which are just padding out the syllabus. (In every subject, there's always a bit of each.)

Think back to your own school days and remember the difference between the best and worst teachers. Then ask yourself, was it really just because he or she know the subject backwards? Could they not have been an equally good teacher in probably half a dozen of more subjects? Certainly my own experience answers an emphatic "Yes" to this question.

1
0
Silver badge

Re: There are no teachers

plus computer science is only an option for years 10 up. You also have to teach yrs 7 to 9 with all the other topics ranging from online PREVENT, government mandated topics, typing practice, basic coding to students who juat want to play sport and arent going to pass english (true stereotypes) . Possibly ECDL to computet illiterates (and staff).

Teaching IT means you also teach borderline maths groups at year 7 and 8 too, expect the odd other IT lesson come your way.

All this under the constant scruiny of attain 8.

I have a BEng and found teaching a big transition in the early days.

1
0
Silver badge

Re: There are no teachers

Perzaktly! I've tried to apply for the bribes - oops, I mean government sponsored ICT teacher training courses for the last three years, and have consistantly been tuened down every single time. If they are so desperate for teachers, why the **** are they turning people away?

Never mind, if I carefully manage a starvation diet for the next ten years, I'll be able to draw early on my pension and piss off out of the job market.

0
0
Silver badge

Re: There are no teachers

My best teachers at school were physics (former British Steel metallurgist) and chemistry (former British Tissues materials analyst).

0
0

So much for getting more girls into the profession then

As far as I understand it, girls benefit from the use of coursework-based assessment.

Considering we keep getting told the government wants to encourage more diversity in STEM subjects, this doesn't seem like very joined up thinking.

Not that that's surprising from those who make the rules...

3
2
Anonymous Coward

Re: So much for getting more girls into the profession then

I thought boys benefited more from coursework based not the other way around?

0
1

GCSE Computer Science

Perhaps you might want to look at what is actually in GCSE OCR Computer Science

I've got in front of me "The Revision Guide" and "Exam Practice Workbook" for my daughter who is taking it this year and it's not just about coding.

Sections on Components, Networks, Issues, Algorithms, Programming, Design Testing and IDEs and finally Data Representation.

One questions asks about 4 conditions from the Creative Commons license. FFS!

If you think the problem is schools IT kit think about Edsger Dijkstra and his "Computer science is no more about computers than astronomy is about telescopes" (okay I know it may not have been his quote) but you get the idea.

11
0

Why is Computer Science treated as a special case?

Having had one daughter sit CS last year and have her project binned having wasted 20 hours on it. And another who will go through the same next year, I don't understand why CS is being treated as a special case.

All of the DT subjects (resistant materials, product design, textiles etc.) have a controlled assessment element which makes up typically 50% of the final GCSE. Unless they have tightened up the process, students typically work on these at school and home, take as many hours as they need, and can use any resource (including online) provided they don't directly plagiarise, and they list what sources they have used.

Kids frequently discuss their projects with other kids both IRL and online forums.

Seeing as so little of the CS NEA mark was the actual code, if kids didn't understand it fully, could discuss their design choices, testing methodology and results, and document what changes / improvements they made, they would have got only a small percentage of the available marks!

It annoys me that due to some puritanical witch hunt another daughter will miss out on 10 weeks of CS lessons to work on something that is of no use to her skills, or the final GCSE!

3
0
Silver badge

Re: Why is Computer Science treated as a special case?

dt is no longer part of attain 8 due to the coursework element. I suspect anything with coursework will go the same way. Certain Information Technology was deemed the same until it went all exam.

0
0
Silver badge

Doesn't matter

It really doesn't matter much what they do now. GCSEs are devalued to the point of being meaningless - grades exist so we can tell the smart from the stupid and the extra smart and ultra smart from them. Once everyone started getting the top grade the top grade, and by extension all other grades, became worthless. This would have happened around the time the last labour government came to power, say 97.

The same is now true of degree level education. 40% of students get a first, such that a first is now meaningless. Devaluation of that occurred around the millenium.

When I was at school, and uni the first time around, only the top 10% would have expected the top grade.

What we have now is an indistinguishable rump of millennials all with the same grade and nobody actually prepared for the world of work. Our millennials take until their late 20s or early 30s to become productive enough to say they're ready for the world of work, which is a damning indictment of the education system. Its not like instead of being prepared for work they have gained great academic prowess either - none of them seems to know how research is done or critical thinking occurs.

We're genuinely considering mandatory supervised IQ tests for all candidates. How else to tell them apart on paper before spending our time interviewing them?

4
4
Anonymous Coward

Re: While true...

Why should people who get a higher percentage be considered better? It is not a measure of effort is it? (Some of us figured out how to game the system)

Likewise, those getting lower on the scores, may not be a reflection they are not "smart", as you put it.

1
3

Re: Doesn't matter

"This would have happened around the time the last labour government came to power, say 97."

Of course it would. Yawn.

Agreed with most of what you said, though.

1
1

Re: Doesn't matter

John Majors' Labour Government !?

1
1
Anonymous Coward

Re: Doesn't matter

"When I was at school, and uni the first time around, only the top 10% would have expected the top grade."

That's _huge_ amount. When I was in uni in many courses only one person got top grade. Not 1%, but one person. out of 80 to 200, depending on the course.

Also in many courses no-one got top grade or not even the second from top (5 'approved' grades and fail).

I can't even imagine university where 40% of students get top grade for every course: Whole grading system is snafu at that point and totally irrelevant.

1
0
Silver badge

Re: While true...

Why should people who get a higher percentage be considered better?

Probably because that is the only reason to give students a grade - so we can tell who tested better. Generally, that will be the smarter or otherwise harder working students, provided you issue grades on a bell curve. Top 10% get an A, next 15% get a B, next 25% get a C, and so on.

Likewise, those getting lower on the scores, may not be a reflection they are not "smart", as you put it.

True, they may also be lazy or they may choke under pressure. Neither is a good indicator of someone I want to employ.

0
1
Anonymous Coward

Examine using coding problems?

The issues seem to be (a) that the practical tests are not under exam conditions and (b) that schools don't have access to the same hardware.

Could this be solved by having some coding problems that can be executed under exam conditions using similar hardware in all schools?

The sort of problem that I am suggesting is a set of simple requirements and a partial implementation. The task is to complete and/or fix the implementation so that it meets the requirements.

Problem is to be solved on a specific version of a Raspberry Pi (or similar) that has no Internet connection, just keyboard, mouse and monitor. All students are supplied with an SD card, each with an identical image that contains all that they need and is handed in (as their exam paper) at the end of the exam.

For ease of marking, problems can be broken down into steps. (Get the code to compile, get the code to execute without crashing, get the code to satisfy requirements 1 to 3, get the code to satisfy further requirements, etc. Bonus marks for having each step committed to source control?)

Just an idea...

3
0
FAIL

When the kids own IT at home is better than the Sh*t they have at school

Most schools where I live use a certain supplier who's kit has been renowned for years to be a pile of stinking crap.

4
0
Gold badge

Re: When the kids own IT at home is better than the Sh*t they have at school

And yet, for every kid who has a multi-monitor desktop on a properly maintained box within a sensibly managed home LAN, you will still find another for whom the school computer is the only *working* PC they've ever handled (in contrast to the virus-ridden pox box that they have at home).

5
0
Silver badge

Re: When the kids own IT at home is better than the Sh*t they have at school

And if you have something better its not allowed on the net at school.

3
0

Re: When the kids own IT at home is better than the Sh*t they have at school

What sensible school would allow random home computers on the network, the networks should be designed to be secure so only approved and controlled devices are connected.

For everything else (if deemed suitable) a guest WiFi with client isolation and filtered internet access (due to Prevent regulations) can be provided.

1
0

Good

All the actually important skills can be examined with a flowchart stencil. For everything else there’s IntelliSense, Github, SO, etc.

3
0

Ofsted Have Caused It

Ofsted inspections cause some schools to game the exam system:

Not allowing borderline students to take exams;

Teaching how to pass exams, but not learning much about the subject.

I assume the school's reward is based on exam results, and not how they improve the pupils.

Looking at my daughter's recent exams (and mocks), they are almost exactly the same as mine of almost 40 years earlier.

Computer Science is not really Software Engineering, Software Engineering is not really Programming. There is some overlap.

Computer Science, the science of computers - how they work

Software Engineering - how to build software more correctly, cheaply and quickly

Programming - devising a solution to the requirements and instructing the computer to execute this solution

2
0

Re: Ofsted Have Caused It

@ Robert Forsyth Well said!

Computer science is not actually being taught

In my teaching experience, beyond the level of "it has a hard disk and memory", I found that nobody (not even the definers of syllabuses) was remotely interested in how computers work, only in what you can do with them, and this attitude persists today despite the trendy label 'computer science'.

The real test of knowledge is not what you can regurgitate, but what you can apply successfully in a novel situation and defend logically if challenged. That's why the PhD still (for the moment) has a viva. Consequently, if exams are failing, maybe it's because they're the wrong exams, rather than due to an intrinsic failing in them in principle.

Exam questions that require the candidate to provide a justification for their answer can work very well, but depend on those marking the exams being able to evaluate the students' justifications. Given the short and shallow training of school-level 'computer science' teachers this is not realistically possible, so it's not just a matter of exams or practicals - the entire school education system is broken, and we have a simulacrum of learning.

1
0
Silver badge

Re: Ofsted Have Caused It

And none of them is IT. Which realistically is what we *should* be teaching.

"IT" is today's "how to drag a pen over a sheet of paper and get these things called words and sentences to appear, because when you go to work you'll need to be able to drag a pen over a sheet of paper and get these things called words and sentences to appear".

0
0
Anonymous Coward

CAT Tests and Flash

Every year, most secondary schools have to run CAT tests on their new Y7 students.

The test is online.

The test program uses Flash.

IT Support are blamed when it won't run because browsers are doing more and more to block Flash.

The supplier says "we're working on a solution to be in place for 2020"

0
0

Teaching is neither tutoring nor coaching

I believe quite a posts on here show a lack of experience in trying to get 30 fairly disaffected teenagers to learn anything on just two hours a week for 60 weeks.

It's not all about adding something *special* to the lesson, whilst that's a lovely idea and not to be dismissed, it is far more about managing those students. After all most cannot remember their password, where they saved their work, what an IDE is, how to read a problem, what a sequence is, how do you actually come up with an algorithm and best of all was there homework set for today?

Teaching Computer Science (much like any science subject) is incredibly challenging before you even sit down to determine what the "basics" should even look like in your lesson.

When it's your passion it's so, so easy to forget how an average student could start your climb.

2
0
Silver badge

Re: Teaching is neither tutoring nor coaching

My neighbour has been a social worker for 20-odd years, and I'm constantly having to go around to explain to her where she's saved her documents, and that Acobat Reader is not a word processor, and that Microsoft Word is not an email program, and worst of the worst, that what she sees in *that* window is actually her PC in her office in the town hall, not the PC under her feet under her desk at home, and that a document saved from *this* window is inaccessible to *that* window. She keeps mumbling "I must get some training", but my thoughts are: why the **** were they not trained in this *before* expecting them to use it?

And not just how to use the remote access system and their casework management system, but the bare fundamentals of "this is a file system", "this is a directory structure", "this is how to keep things tidily arranged", "this is what the file system looks like from the filer vs this is what it looks like from a file dialog", etc. I sometimes wonder, do they dump paper records in a huge pile in a cabinet drawer? As that's what they do with electronic data.

0
0
Silver badge

Oh dear, are we still insisting on teaching children to build a car engine because the future depends on being able to drive?

0
1
Silver badge

Oh dear, are we still insisting on teaching children to build a car engine because the future depends on being able to drive?

No, we are merely asking that children who choose to learn how to build a car engine (because as long as there are cars with engines we will always need people to design them and build them) are taught to do so properly.

M.

1
0
Silver badge

But that's *not* what's happening.

Employers: We need school-leavers to know how to use computers!

Politicians: Right... that's called "IT" innit? Oi! Teachers. You've gotta do this "programming" stuff.

0
0
Silver badge

But that's *not* what's happening.

I think you may be missing a subtlety. We're talking here about GCSEs and specifically about Computer Science GCSE. Generally speaking, taking Computer Science at GCSE is a free choice. No-one is compelled to do it, and the course is specifically aimed at children with an interest in how computers work. That was why I wrote what I did, and that is why I am disappointed that my 14 year-old is having to self-teach this stuff; it's almost as if the teacher isn't confident in the subject himself...

This is separate from the teaching of "IT" as you put it - the computer as a tool - which is mandatory from the early years and can optionally be expanded upon at GCSE level through the Information Communications Technology curriculum.

M.

2
0

Page:

POST COMMENT House rules

Not a member of The Register? Create a new account here.

  • Enter your comment

  • Add an icon

Anonymous cowards cannot choose their icon

Forums

Biting the hand that feeds IT © 1998–2018