This year we launched Computing at A/S Level in our school and have 20 students who started the course in September 2011. A few lovely peeps on Twitter have been asking questions about the best way to go about getting Computing launched in school and I thought I should share my recent experience in this. Below is an account of the process I undertook as best I can recall after having decided that my school should really be offering the subject.
Before I begin, I think it is best to point out that this is the way I did it in the school I currently work at and it may not be the most appropriate for another, different school. However, I am sure there are elements you can take from what is detailed below and I am pretty sure I would do a lot of the same things if I were to do it again.
The audience – I looked at the learners in the school in the first instance: what they were studying, doing well in, messing around with when computer rooms were open to them in breaks and lunch times. This led to chats with students about their interests, other staff about popularity of subjects especially at post 16 in our sixth form and parents when possible. From this I could clearly see that there was already a demand, there were already students who were touching on areas of Computing. But, I asked myself the question- would it be best to start preparing students for ‘examined’ syllabus in this subject i.e. start it in KS3 leading to future launch at GCSE and A Level? Or would it be a better option to turn this common approach on it’s head and launch the subject at A/S Level then trickle down. This latter approach may sound riskier if you consider that students will not have had exposure to Computing as such in the school syllabus and then be expected to study it at advanced level. Yet, isn’t this what happens in Business Studies in most schools or Sociology and Psychology? Further, given the skills that link with areas of the Maths syllabus and to a lesser degree Physics, I could see that there were hefty numbers on those related A Levels in our sixth form, hence that seemed the logical approach.
The tools – I did not really consider tools in respect of IT. Rather I focussed on tools in respect of people able and willing to teach the subject. In my experience, a school’s IT can, in most cases, be adapted to fit demands if those demands are not too outrageous or excessive. I think you have to seriously look at the staff you have and ask yourself- “who is going to teach this course?”. Sounds obvious this I know but it is a question I have seen overlooked. It is not just a question of who can teach it either. It is a question who wants to, who is interested and hopefully, experienced in the field or at the very least is willing to learn the skills necessary. I am lucky I suppose in that I have a mix of experienced, willing and interested in my department in respect of Computing.
Initial discussions – I had lots of informal chats and discussions with the staff in my department, line manager (a member of SLT in school) and other members of the Senior Leadership regarding Computing. I mooted my ideas, shared some thoughts about my vision and generally started to sow the seeds. This gave me the feedback, although informal, of the departments and schools way of thinking, of whether such an idea could and would be supported. I made sure that the person in charge of timetabling was also involved in discussions at some point so I knew it could ‘fit’. From these initial discussions, I presented to our SLT on a formal basis that I wanted to introduce Computing A/S Level form Sept 2011 and was given the green light.
The promotion trail– Our school has a sixth form that largely recruits from our own students yet we have some students who come from other schools in the city. Promotion is done formally with an open evening and in LEA events where members of staff from our school will attend to recruit to our sixth form. Informally, promotion is usually done by talking students in lessons and with parents at Parents Evening where ideas about studying a subject at post 16 are discussed.To feed the formal events, I outsourced professional flyers from http://print24.com/uk/ at a reasonable cost of £65 for a 1000. I considered this a fairly reasonable cost to have ‘decent’ standard information to hand out to potential students. These flyers were given to hand out by those attending LEA events and were given to those students who showed interest at open evening.
A lot of the afore-mentioned informal promotion was carried out in lessons where students who showed interest, were given the flyers and talked to about the course with staff. In addition, I persuaded the Maths department to allow me in to several of their Year 11 lessons where I provided a quite ‘in your face and on your level’ kind of 10 minute presentation which you can see here:
One-to-one- This led to a lot of individual discussion with students on what the subject is about and whether it would suit the particular person. I tried as best as I could to use as much of a ‘coaching’ approach as I could to this and lead students to answer the question for themselves as whether it was the right choice for them. To be honest, there was not much in the way of clarifying the course or the types of learners I was aiming at given the level of promotion already done and information provided as detailed already. Yet, these discussions were, I feel, vital to students in making their decisions. This has been so far further vindicated by the enthusiasm and quality of work produced in the early stages by the 20 students on the course.
“Nailing the sale”- As I recall, the final pieces of promotion I organised was a lunch meeting for all those who had signed up for Computing just after option choices were made and a preparation letter sent to students before the end of the academic year .
The lunch was intended to give some of community to those involved, let them see the other faces who would probably be in their classroom after September and clarify any specifics/answer any lingering questions. By this time we had more or less decided on the board we were going to use for the course so this was also an opportunity to clarify the coursework/exam balance. I paid for a buffet from the canteen at a cost of about £50 to £60 and I recall the event was attended by nearly all who had chosen the subject.
Lastly, I sent through a preparation letter in late June:
To my mind, a lot can change for some students in the summer after GCSE results and prior to entering post-16 education and I wanted to get the ball rolling. Give students something to work on, consider and a sense of starting the course. This letter also instructed them to email me. From this, they were invited to Google+ and Dropbox. G+ enhanced the community aspect already kick started and showed it’s worth over the summer when students were helping each other out with technical issues around the installation of Visual Studio.
So……… there you have it. I hope that helps people launching Computing or any other course for that matter. Furthermore, I hope it gives an account of how quite intensive planning and promotion involving some degree of man hours reaps rewards. Now, all we have to do is educate the students well and get TWENTY students on an A/S Computing course, (a course that statistically produces poor results), decent grades!