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 …

  1. RyokuMas Silver badge
    FAIL

    Oh, please...

    "...and using the same code repositories that were facilitating student malpractice," Ofqual said."

    So basically Ofqual, you want the means of gaining a certification in the subject of Computer Science to be completely at odds with how said subject is used out in the real world.

    What he f*** planet are you on???

    1. Zippy´s Sausage Factory

      Re: Oh, please...

      They kind of have a point, though. The basics you need to know. For all the rest, there's StackExchange.

    2. Lee D Silver badge

      Re: Oh, please...

      Yeah, it's like asking someone to do a Geography exam in a hall on paper instead of, say, climbing Mount Everest.

      Or a Media Studies exam in a school hall rather than, say, live on the BBC.

      Or a French exam in France.

      Examinations DO NOT TEST your real-world ability level. That's not what they are supposed to do, are designed to do, or have ever done. They test your foundation knowledge in the subject you've chosen, in a controlled environment.

      If you want to know if a guy can program in a team, you put him in a team of programmers. You don't expect him to have GCSE Collaborative IT Coding. GCSEs are literally baby qualifications. They assess your ability to learn and retain information, and eligibility for A-Levels, which themselves do the same and test your eligibility for a degree course, which themselves don't qualify you to walk into Microsoft and tell them they're doing it all wrong or that they should give you a job developing code for life support systems.

      You sadly misunderstand such qualifications (and even MCSA, Cisco and A+ etc.) if you think otherwise.

      There is literally no point having the people paid by the success of their students to assess their students. There is literally no sensible way to have an external unrelated agency test the capabilities of a student within a handful of hours on an exam they can Google the answers to without individually assessing each student by a qualified person for that time (and longer). Both are an absolute waste of time and money and cheating the younger generations.

      So what you have are exams which test base-knowledge in a written exam - even practicals are a waste if the science teacher has scope to literally just make up any grade they like and say they didn't help you when they did. The same way you have written exams for Food Technology, Customer Service and... yes... IT.

      You think they're assessing your capability to perform the job. They're not. Even job interviews don't/can't do that. You certainly can't do it en masse for an entire cohort of students nationwide within a 2 hour window for that subject. What you do is test base knowledge retained in their head, and then let that lead them to ever-more difficult-and-expensive base-knowledge tests until you get to the point where only someone well-versed in the subject stands a chance of tackling the problem (e.g. university / college degree). Then you unleash them on the workplace to see if they sink or swim in "real life".

      I'm a mathematician and a computer scientist, by degree. That was ALL done on paper with one minimal programming course in my degree. I actually used more maths in my CS side, and more CS in my maths side! Literally! That didn't get me a job - it couldn't. But it proves I can learn and continue to learn, and learn difficult and boring things, and that I enjoy learning. Then the workplace takes a chance on me and ends up finding out if I can do the job for real.

      You desperately misunderstand the whole academic system if you don't get that. Every kid out there now has a hairdressing or bricklaying GCSE. Trust me that you only want maybe 1% - if that - of them to do those things for you. A GCSE is almost a certificate of participation more than anything.

      1. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        Re: Oh, please...

        Wow you literally overuse literally, like literally all the time ;-P

      2. Prst. V.Jeltz Silver badge

        Re: Oh, please...

        @Lee D

        I'm hearing a lot of "cant" "wont work" etc etc, but i didnt see any suggestions

        Also you call all stages of education "just to prove you can learn"

        Why do we have further and higher ed then? surely you can work out if a kid can learn at GCSE stage, or earlier!

      3. Voland's right hand Silver badge

        Re: Oh, please...

        Examinations DO NOT TEST your real-world ability level.

        As my dad (a professor of Math in Differential Equations and Optimal Control) used to say:

        "Your university degree certificate does not signify that you have learned anything. It signifies that you are _CAPABLE_ of learning".

        1. Ledswinger Silver badge

          Re: Oh, please...

          "Your university degree certificate does not signify that you have learned anything. It signifies that you are _CAPABLE_ of learning".

          Your dad may have been right for his students, more broadly there's a degree of empirical evidence strutting around (particularly in management consultancies) that suggests that many degrees do not signify any learning capability beyond rote. And for me, there's a big difference between rote learning, and understanding, applying, evolving.

          All examinations have a fundamental problem that they overly reward those who have good memories and can write quickly. In the real world those aren't completely useless, but there's far more useful attributes. Most organisations use exam results to filter, and as a filtering tool they are very poor other than as a pretend "objective screen".

          IT has (hitherto) been a curious profession, occupied by people who drifted into it because they wanted in, or because they were good at it. Few got in on exam results. I'd argue that's a good thing.

          1. Voyna i Mor Silver badge

            Re: Oh, please...

            "that suggests that many degrees do not signify any learning capability beyond rote. And for me, there's a big difference between rote learning, and understanding, applying, evolving."

            The current attitude of some people was brought home to me a few days ago when I mentioned (in a post on Ars T) that my first exercise in topology was to describe what happens when a hollow torus is inverted through a hole in its skin. The immediate response from someone was to ask what does happen, and when I suggested they work it out for themselves I was heavily downvoted.

            I realise that not everybody, possibly not even a majority, think like that, but internet search has a lot to answer for.

        2. J.G.Harston Silver badge

          Re: Oh, please...

          "Your university degree certificate does not signify that you have learned anything. It signifies that you are _CAPABLE_ of learning".

          That may have been the case when you, I and your Dad went to uni, but today it simply proves you've managed to stay alive for three years.

      4. Voyna i Mor Silver badge

        Re: Oh, please...

        Lee D - I just filled in the Ofqual survey, I hope you do the same. Injection of some real world experience may help.

        1. Anonymous Coward
          Anonymous Coward

          Re: Oh, please...

          I just filled in the Ofqual survey, I hope you do the same. Injection of some real world experience may help.

          There's sadly misplaced optimism.

          The purpose of a public sector "consultation" is merely to tick a procedural box before rubber stamping whatever the invertebrates had decided in the first place.

          1. Voyna i Mor Silver badge

            Re: Oh, please...

            "The purpose of a public sector "consultation" is merely to tick a procedural box before rubber stamping whatever the invertebrates had decided in the first place."

            But in this case I agree with their proposal. I am very sure that many schools, especially grammar and private, will want to revert to the coursework component because it's so easy for them to get very high scores in it. Eliminating it should level the playing field a bit. I think if people working in the industry who also have some knowledge of education support Ofqual, it may help resist this pressure.

      5. Glen 1 Bronze badge

        Re: Oh, please...

        "GCSEs are literally baby qualifications"

        Between compound interest, and basic trigonometry.

        A good grade in GCSE maths is all the maths many (most?) people will ever need.

        How much they remember of it 20 years later is another matter.

        We often forget that us techies are in the minority,

        I honestly can't think of anything that a 'muggle' needs that wasn't covered in school

    3. jmch Silver badge

      Re: Oh, please...

      I came to comment exactly on the same thing: "developing solutions with input from others and using the same code repositories that were facilitating student malpractice"... but it's not just Computer Science / programming.

      Pretty much every single real-world job that requires higher education also requires collaboration between people in a team and across different teams / departments. Being able to communicate and work effectively in teams is an important part of the real-life world. BUT any type of collaborative behaviour in a school (and to a lesser extent, university) setting is considered 'cheating', so collaborative skills need to be taught to new joiners straight out of school. Our school system is still stuck with using basic systems that were developed over a hundred years ago.

      1. Martin an gof Silver badge

        Re: Oh, please...

        why not flip it on it's head and use the task to simulate the real world

        Believe it or not, they tried that in my Elec Eng. degree back in the late 1980s both with Elec Eng. type stuff (designing a product to a specification) and with a programming task we were to undertake in pairs.

        I think the idea was that we would work together to produce three separate "programs" as per the specification, but they paired us up at random so instead of working with someone I already knew well and could co-ordinate with, I ended up with a lazy so-and-so who didn't want to make an effort to co-ordinate his schedule around the limited slots in the programming lab. A lab which consisted, it has to be said, of a dozen BBC Micros with home-designed 6809 second processors all hanging on an Econet network that caused everything to freeze if anybody dared reboot a second processor by flipping the switch on its rudimentary power supply.

        The tasks were in (IIRC) 6809 assembler, C (or BCPL?) and Modula-2 (on some '286 machines elsewhere). I ended up completing two of the tasks pretty much solo and having to submit an incomplete project as if it had come from both of us.

        I like the idea of teaching collaboration (and the hardware task worked a lot better) but you do run the risk of the examiner not seeing the whole picture and one examinee being penalised due to the actions or inactions of another.

        M.

    4. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: Oh, please...

      You misunderstand. They are clearly aware that the use of code repositories is an essential part of programming practice these days, but point out that these same repositories can have entire answers in them, which makes assessment impossible. Even if you did have 10,000 programmers all trying to solve the same problem it wouldn't matter if they used the same solution.

      I have great sympathy with Ofqual here. When, as an HEI plagiarism investigation person, I found that detailed answers to some of our assessment was being hosted on StackExchange, the people there were unhelpful to the point of actively obstructive about it. There is a lot of "Fuck you, teachers" libertarianism in the coding world. In the end we had to get the university's lawyers to lean on them. Breach of copyright.

      1. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        Re: Oh, please...

        ". In the end we had to get the university's lawyers to lean on them. Breach of copyright."

        _Whose copyright_ to be spesific? Copyright for code is owned by the person who wrote it. Or employer if it's written in salaried job.

        Hard to see how university would have copyright on some piece of code just because it answers to one of their problems.

        If I write an answer to a problem and put it into StackExchange it is my code and there's not a thing university can do to that.

        Smells misuse of lawyer power, i.e. extorsion.

    5. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      @Ryoku Mas Re: Oh, please...

      I agree that this is a FAIL however I don't think we agree on the reason why...

      Its not a question about what happens in the real world, but whether or not the individual has enough theory to cope beyond being a monkey who can only pound on keys in the hopes of doing something right.

      Or for those who rely on Google to find examples, understand what the examples do and how and why they do what they do...

      I think the issue is that I can tell you the answer, but you may be unable to understand why its the answer because either you never studied Software Engineering at Uni or you lacked the practical hands on experience.

      By making the exam all questions/answers with no practical exam, it allows someone who can regurgitate what they memorized but not comprehend it... to score higher than those who can actually do the work and think.

      You need both.

      But then again... we live in a world where code is disposable and we often re-invent the wheel rather than evolve to the next level of transportation.

    6. a_yank_lurker Silver badge

      Re: Oh, please...

      In the real world in any STEM field you will various reference sources to solve a problem but that does not prove you understand the reference material. The idea behind testing students is to assess their understanding of the material not how would solve the problem on the job. So any testing strategy will be artificial in the sense that a competent professional will ask for help from others when needed. But to assess an individual competence requires no outside sources; otherwise you are testing a group's competence.

    7. katrinab Silver badge

      Re: Oh, please...

      "So basically Ofqual, you want the means of gaining a certification in the subject of Computer Science to be completely at odds with how said subject is used out in the real world."

      To be fair, every other subject is like that. Does anyone anywhere do work in conditions similar to exam conditions?

      1. Danny 14 Silver badge

        Re: Oh, please...

        up until 2 years ago the igcse was 2 practical exams and 1 theory exam. It worked well, then it changed to theory only which was a shame. The practical element took some setting up but worked well. We used python and mysql though the exam was supposed to be open ended.

    8. Topperfalkon

      Re: Oh, please...

      Did you read the whole article, or did you just tilt after reading that line?

      Because they mention that the conditions imposed weren't a realistic way of assessing real-world ability in a field that is typically collaborative.

  2. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Well, that's another qualification to ignore.

    (not that I take much notice of GCSEs anyway)

  3. bigtimehustler

    To be honest, I don't agree with the point that it's OK to look up resources because people do in the real world. If you examining a basic skillset, which a gcse is, then you want them to know all of that ideally without consulting other resources. Experienced programmers look up resources for complicated things, for day to day basics, they know it. I can't believe a GCSE is even covering all the basics, let along going beyond them.

    1. Martin an gof Silver badge

      I can't believe a GCSE is even covering all the basics, let along going beyond them

      Define "basics".

      One of my offspring has this year started GCSE Computer Science and is currently plodding through a module using Python. He appears not to have been taught the "basics" of what variables are and their scopes, how different kinds of loops work, what a "function" is nor why it's useful to put code into functions.

      They did some rudimentary Scratch in Y7 or Y8, went straight into hand-coding HTML at the start of Y10 (GCSE first year) and then jumped into Python via a very, very brief excursion into number bases and binary maths. I'm not sure he's even covered simple logic, though he did draw a diagram of a computer with "input", "processing", "storage" and "output".

      Instead he is working his way through exercise after exercise with some very basic guidance and seems to be expected to pick up these key ideas by osmosis or something*. In many ways it reminds me of me in the 1980s, teaching myself the basics of programming via the Sinclair and then the BBC Welcome manuals because a: there was no internet and b: I couldn't often afford to buy magazines or books and c: I needed to write the software I couldn't afford to buy.

      It has to be said that at the open evening where the pupils were given the chance to talk with teachers about their optional subjects (at this school, top stream only has three options) a huge emphasis was put on "Comp Sci is hard and you'd really be better off taking ICT because it's still a GCSE and counts exactly the same", all of which had the effect of giving me the impression that it was really the teacher who was finding it difficult. As a result, only five started Comp. Sci in Y10 this year and two have already swapped for ICT.

      M.

      *My eldest is doing maths A-level and has three teachers. Two of them are fine, but the third seems to have a similar attitude; here's some basic info (often in the form of a self-made video), here are some exercises, now get on with it, no we won't have a feedback session next week. I struggled with my own A-level maths, and am struggling to help at home 30 years later.

      1. werdsmith Silver badge

        A tip for your young one doing Python: stick something in that is beyond the stuff taught in the course.

        I taught my son lambda function, he used them in a couple of places and A* for that section was the result.

        1. Martin an gof Silver badge

          stick something in that is beyond the stuff taught in the course

          Not sure about lambda functions, but simply making the thing look "pretty" is always a winner. If the question asks "print the contents of a list", it'll always be better to do (very crudely)

          for item in list:

          . print(item)

          Than

          print(list)

          (sorry for the formatting!)

          M.

      2. Voland's right hand Silver badge

        He appears not to have been taught the "basics"

        Same here. I tried to direct mine to at least read the fundamentals (*). Total loss because the utterly idiotic GCSE curriculum skips on the surface of the water like a skipping stone and never goes into any depth. So by the time I managed to convince him to read at least 20+ pages on algorithms and data structures they were doing sh*tty HTML instead. It is the best way to make a student a complete future failure at CS.

        Pretty much the same way my dad directed me and left me to learn to swim by throwing me straight into the deep water of Niklaus Wirth books.

        1. Anonymous Coward
          Anonymous Coward

          It is the best way to make a student a complete future failure at CS.

          With Brexit, we may not be able to hire Bulgarian hit men quite as readily as we can now. Maybe that's an alternative career with growth potential, and no exam entry requirements?

        2. werdsmith Silver badge

          they were doing sh*tty HTML instead. It is the best way to make a student a complete future failure at CS.

          Coached my son through GCSE CS and I don't remember that.

      3. Ucalegon

        Define "basics".

        One of my offspring has this year started GCSE Computer Science and is currently plodding through a module using Python. He appears not to have been taught the "basics" of what variables are and their scopes, how different kinds of loops work, what a "function" is nor why it's useful to put code into functions.

        Before you get that far it might be useful to point out that a Computer Science GCSE will typically get half the timetabled lessons as Mathematics or English (~5 hours per week). For this reason alone I tell my students it's a difficult subject.. a bit like mathematics but with half the time available in lessons.

        Btw I'm still not sure I can teach it to students who can't solve the simplest of problems on paper never mind coding a solution despite having 20 years software development behind me.

        1. Martin an gof Silver badge

          it might be useful to point out that a Computer Science GCSE will typically get half the timetabled lessons as Mathematics or English (~5 hours per week)

          That may be the case (I'll have to check) but whatever it gets in relation to Maths and English (and Welsh in this school where Welsh and English are on an equal footing), it will be getting the same number of hours as Art and History and Physics and all the other "non-3R" subjects he's doing. These courses are supposed to be roughly equivalent in content and complexity (that's the whole point of having standardised tests at standardised ages), so if 5 hours (if that is what it is) is sufficient for Physics, it jolly well ought to be for Computer Science too.

          If so, why does it seem as if he's being asked to teach himself a large part of the curriculum under his own steam and in his own time? Other subjects manage well enough.

          M.

          1. Martin an gof Silver badge

            Computer Science GCSE will typically get half the timetabled lessons as Mathematics or English (~5 hours per week)

            I'll have to check

            I checked.

            My GCSE student currently gets 4 hours a week of English and Welsh, 3 hours a week of maths and 2 hours a week of mostly everything else. There are some complications with the Welsh Bacc (a mandatory subject that seems pretty pointless to almost everyone) and the fact that his set is squeezing in French by "stealing" hours from other subjects.

            In all he's studying (if I've counted it correctly) thirteen subjects in a school week which has (again, if I've counted correctly) the same number of teaching hours as my O level week, albeit by cutting the lunch break down to 45 minutes in order to allow school to end at 3pm, yet he is studying three subjects more than I did, and in my day we thought we were being pushed because our friends in English-medium schools normally took eight O levels (or CSEs).

            There's a whole other argument about the length of the school day and the way it is arranged, but as I'm not (and am never likely to be) in a position to challenge "received wisdom" I'll not rant about it just now :-)

            M.

    2. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      " If you examining a basic skillset, which a gcse is, "

      No it's not. It's what some management person somewhere high in bureucracy thinks 'basic skillset' is, usually created by people knowing nothing at all about the whole sector themselves.

      And if in rare case they happen to know something, it's at least 30 years old.

      GCSE is bad and expensive joke, a failure. Knowing which way to turn a knob isn't essential in IT, that's in the manual, what you should know is why to turn a knob and which knob.

      Simple, basically yes/no-question totally ruin whole thing: None of them is about 'why', but 'what'.

      Wrong level in questions to start with.

      1. Voyna i Mor Silver badge

        "No it's not. It's what some management person somewhere high in bureucracy thinks 'basic skillset' is, usually created by people knowing nothing at all about the whole sector themselves."

        I have been doing a bit of maths and physics tuition since retirement. I actually think the maths GCSE is pretty good.

        But the physics A level and the A level mechanics, in my view, stink. They look like something thought up by shaking a load of elderly physicists in a bag and then trying to dumb down the result to A level standards. The mechanics paper, in particular, consists of variations on a few very artificial situations for which the method of solution can simply be drummed in. The physics paper treats particle physics as a form of accountancy and manages to make it at once opaque and boring.

        There are numerous reasons for this, one of which is poor school funding, but I think another is that the exam boards have to rely on the available talent pool, and try and make sense of what it tells them. If physicists had a better overall grasp of their subject and its history rather than knowing an awful lot about their own speciality, things might be better (they were in the 1960s, for instance). But the day of the generalist is pretty dead. For instance, a few years ago (and I am not making this up) I came across a retired professor of semiconductor physics who did not realise that a positron is not a hole, because he had never done any nuclear physics.

  4. Giovani Tapini

    In my experience

    Good coders have a good approach that is far more important than knowing syntax for an arbitrary programming language used in an exam.

    Seeing code does not necessarily demonstrate a good approach, only that you managed to get something to work (or compile).

    I am of two minds on this, but I am disappointed that the only reason this is a debate is that the schools teaching computing don't have enough to run the exams and therefore same probably applies to the underlying teaching also.

    1. vtcodger Silver badge

      Re: In my experience

      "the schools teaching computing don't have enough to run the exams"

      In my experience, the problem is that a significant fraction of the programming universe lives in a world of constant "progress" where computers are shiny new multicore pentiums (pentia?) connected by IPv6, using gigabit ethernet from a reliable supplier and running the latest version of their favorite programming language on the latest version of their favorite OS. (This is obviously a world with standards that are actually followed, no security issues and few or no budget constraints).

      But another fraction lives in a world of hand me down computer equipment, no budget for much of anything and, 10 Mb ethernet connected, if they are lucky, to slow DSL lines. In that world, folks figure that just about any version of C or Python or Perl or HTML is good enough to learn the basics. Which is good because that's all they can realistically provide.

      I can imagine that concocting a single test process that can work across that full range is very difficult. Maybe impossible.

      1. Martin an gof Silver badge

        Re: In my experience

        But another fraction

        Maybe that's an argument for not teaching (the basics of) programming on a "normal" computer. Perhaps have some kind of "educational computer" which is specifically designed for the task and which it is more difficult simply to copy-and-paste stuff from da interwebs. These days you could quite easily make something based around a £10 Arduino, noting that some clones (e.g. from Adafruit) come with Circuit Python installed as standard, as well as being usable with the normal Arduino IDE.

        Didn't we try this before?

        M.

        1. Danny 14 Silver badge

          Re: In my experience

          running python and using IDLE is hardly a massive undertaking. Core2duos with 2gb ram (albeit with an SSD) on windows 10 works well enough. 7 year old refurbished optiplex 760s do the job just fine.

          mysqlworkbench isnt resource hungry either and you only need a small server to handle mysql for students.

          The issue is the teachers who are willing to learn python. Maybe even start off with a bit of small basic to learn concepts.

  5. David Harper 1

    Practical programming exams? I was doing that 25 years ago.

    Back in the early 1990s, I was teaching a graduate-level programming course at one of the colleges of the University of London. The end-of-course assessment was a set of programming exercises that the students completed under exam conditions on PCs running MS-DOS. They copied their work onto a 3.5-inch floppy that I gave them at the end of the exam. I allowed them to consult their printed course notes during the exam, so it wasn't purely a test of memory, and this was before the Interwebs, so they couldn't google the answers.

    1. Danny 14 Silver badge

      Re: Practical programming exams? I was doing that 25 years ago.

      up until a few years ago I used to invigilate a practical GCSE exam where students were required to make a database to spec, integrate into a simple website using language of choice.

      second practical would have a spreadsheet with formulae and a document write up and presentation.

      all offline with no internet or email.

      1. Is It Me
        Headmaster

        Re: Practical programming exams? I was doing that 25 years ago.

        Up until a couple of years ago I was doing IT support for schools and I had set up some log ons that were limited to just the required software and no internet access for GCSE assessment

        This was all done through application white listing and group policy.

        It is a shame that what I observed of the teacher was so bad, to the point where there were posters on the wall with Mb and MB confused on them. On pointing out the poster error I was told "I paid for them so they are staying up".

        The teacher had no trouble shooting skills, couldn't even check if the keyboard/mouse/network cables were plugged in and would wait several days until my next visit (3 days a week support for this Secondary school).

  6. Anonymous Bullard

    At GCSE age, I'd expect anyone who would be a good programmer later on, to already be beyond GCSE level.

    Also, beyond moving to a higher qualification, GCSEs are next to useless. GCSEs == I managed to finish high school without belting the teacher.

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      >Also, beyond moving to a higher qualification, GCSEs are next to useless. GCSEs == I managed to finish high school without belting the teacher.

      And still the pass rate is below 70%, with the grade 4 pass mark at 21% in Maths with one exam board (https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/education-45282518).

      1. Prst. V.Jeltz Silver badge

        And still the pass rate is below 70%, with the grade 4 pass mark at 21% in Maths with one exam board

        just wow

      2. Martin an gof Silver badge

        And still the pass rate is below 70%

        I'm not sure that's the main problem. Reading tables such as this PDF from WJEC (remember in Wales they still use A* - G grades) what strikes me is the huge range in pass rates which I'm not sure can be completely explained by some courses being - in effect - selective, while others are mandatory. From the above, how come English Language A* - C is 40.7% while English Literature A* - C is 77.3%? How is Geography 72.2% while Physics is 89.4%?

        And if Computer Science is supposed to be much more difficult than ICT, how come the A* - C pass rates are 62.1% and 67.6% respectively?

        M.

        1. werdsmith Silver badge

          Careful to understand how these pass grades work. They are not simply a fixed boundary.

      3. Ken Hagan Gold badge

        The 9-1 GCSE grade boundaries are basically percentiles. The top and bottom grades are explicitly percentiles and at least one of the intermediate boundaries is fixed by an algorithm that constrains the rest of the boundaries to be almost certainly in the same places from one year to the next unless the actually distribution of results goes waaay off a bell curve.

        It is disguised, presumably because it was dreamt up by a committee with a significant minority who didn't want percentiles and so those who did simply obfuscated until everyone agreed.

    2. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      >At GCSE age, I'd expect anyone who would be a good programmer later on, to already be beyond GCSE level.

      I don't know why you have been downvoted, I think you have a fair point. I was doing computer studies O-Level and I'd already taught myself machine code by 14, dropped it by Christmas as the teachers had blank faces when I asked them some machine code questions. Did Chemistry instead as I felt it was just a waste of time and never looked back.

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

      1. MrBanana

        "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.

        1. Danny 14 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. Anonymous Coward
          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.

      2. cbars

        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.

      3. Anonymous Coward
        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. J.G.Harston 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".

    3. Def Silver badge

      At GCSE age, I'd expect anyone who would be a good programmer later on, to already be beyond GCSE level.

      I have to agree with this too. The best programmers I've worked with taught themselves when they were kids. (As I pretty much did - after an after school computer class when I was nine that taught me the BASICs. Literally. ;)

      That said, my first attempt at the GCSE exam resulted in a U because I couldn't arsed with anything (specifically my end of year project was notable in its absence) and was so fucking bored at school you wouldn't believe. The next year at college, I got an A for GCSE, and the year after that at A-Level, I think the teacher learned more from me than I did from him. (This was a teacher who would write things on the whiteboard (usually in indelible marker), ask me if it looked correct, and then explain it to the class if I gave the thumbs up.) Suffice to say I didn't stick around in that class for too long, and dropped out of college completely sometime after that. I started working in the games industry a couple of months later.

  7. Missing Semicolon 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.

    1. Boris the Cockroach 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"

      1. Ken Hagan 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. Danny 14 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.

        2. J.G.Harston 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).

      2. J.G.Harston 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.

  8. wurdsmiff

    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...

    1. Anonymous Coward
      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?

  9. Paul Johnston

    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.

  10. Rufus

    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!

    1. Danny 14 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.

  11. LucreLout 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?

    1. Anonymous Coward
      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. LucreLout 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.

    2. cynic56

      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. Robert Forsyth

        Re: Doesn't matter

        John Majors' Labour Government !?

    3. Anonymous Coward
      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.

  12. Anonymous Coward
    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...

  13. Duffaboy
    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.

    1. Ken Hagan 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).

    2. Tom 7 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.

      1. Is It Me

        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.

  14. Gaius

    Good

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

  15. Robert Forsyth

    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

    1. Mike 137

      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.

    2. J.G.Harston 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".

  16. Anonymous Coward
    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"

  17. Ucalegon

    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.

    1. J.G.Harston 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.

  18. J.G.Harston 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?

    1. Martin an gof 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. J.G.Harston 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.

        1. Martin an gof 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.

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

Biting the hand that feeds IT © 1998–2019