Back in February, we initiated a project to explore the experiences of computing teachers in the UK and Ireland. The aim of this project was to look at the development of computing as a school subject in the UK and Ireland and to gather computing teachers’ own perspectives on their teaching through a survey.
The Brookings Institution, a US think tank, published a report in October last year about the provision of computer science education around the world (which we wrote about here). The report provided a global overview as well as in-depth case studies of education policies in specific countries and territories. Their findings showed that globally, there is a great deal of variation in the extent to which computer science is taught in schools and the approaches taken to the implementation of computer science education.
Computing in the UK and Ireland
We were interested in looking more closely at the state of play in the four countries of the UK (England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland) and in the Republic of Ireland, and in exploring what impact different educational systems, curricula and policy priorities have on the experiences of teachers.
These five countries vary greatly in size, with populations ranging from 56.55m in England to 1.9m in Northern Ireland. They each set their own curricula and educational policy priorities, and the development of computing as a school subject is at a different stage in each country. This means there are key differences in the provision of computing education (not least what we all call the subject!) which are summarised in our previous blog post, as well as differences in the experiences of computing teachers.
UK and Ireland Computing Teachers’ (UKICT) survey
The UKICT survey ran from February to March this year and was open to all teachers of computing in England, Scotland, Wales, Northern Ireland and Ireland. 758 people completed the survey (huge thanks to everyone who participated!)
The survey was a localised and adapted version of METRECC, a comprehensive and validated survey tool developed in 2019 to measure many aspects of how computing curricula are taught and the experiences of computing teachers across different countries. The UKICT survey included ten sections, asking questions about topics such as qualifications, support and resourcing, classroom practice and professional development.
Once the survey closed, we cleaned the data, removing responses from those who had been disqualified at the start of the survey (for example, because they were under 18 years old or were not a teacher/educator) and focussing on the complete responses. This gave us a final data set of 512 responses.
The survey provided a huge amount of information, and we are still in the early stages of exploring the findings. Here we share a couple of interesting results from our initial analysis.
Classroom teaching time
We asked the teachers how much of their classroom teaching time per week is spent teaching computing. We then grouped them into three categories (which may not align to how teachers describe themselves, but are useful for the purposes of this study):
- Non-specialist computing teachers: those spending less than 50% of their classroom time on computing
- Specialist computing teachers: 50-100% of teaching time spent on computing
- Dedicated computing teachers: 100% of their time spent teaching computing
As expected, we found that overall far more primary teachers (70%) were non-specialists compared to secondary teachers (25%). But there were some interesting differences between the countries, which illustrate the impact of different policy decisions. For example, in Scotland, computing science is taught throughout primary and secondary school, and it’s a compulsory subject up to the age of around 14-15. In our survey, 93% of the secondary teachers in Scotland told us that they spent at least half of their teaching time on computing, and nearly half were dedicated computing teachers, spending all of their time on that subject. In Ireland, there is no defined computer science curriculum at primary level (a reform to introduce a primary-level curriculum is currently under consideration) and the subject is optional at secondary level. In the survey, 29% of the secondary teachers in Ireland reported that they spent at least half their time on computing, and only 5% were dedicated computing teachers.
Qualifications and feeling qualified
We asked the teachers what computing qualifications or certifications they hold, and also asked them to rate how qualified they feel to teach computing.
The most common qualification was a Bachelor’s degree in computing (held by 37% of the teachers in our study), followed by computing professional development (29%). Again, we could see the impact of national policies on teachers’ experiences. For example, England and Ireland have both established substantial PD programmes in recent years, and we found that more English and Irish teachers had PD qualifications.
We were interested in whether there was any link between the qualifications teachers held and their feeling of being qualified. We ranked the qualifications into four levels, and used this to group the teachers based on their highest level of qualification. This chart shows how teachers’ responses to the statement “I feel qualified to teach CS” varied based on the highest level of qualification they held:
We can see that those with CS professional development, a post-16 CS qualification or a Diploma or Certificate in CS responded similarly to those with no CS qualifications, but those who have a Bachelor’s degree or higher appear to feel more qualified. Could this perhaps mean that in countries like Ireland, where new requirements were introduced in 2021 for computing teachers to have studied CS as part of their degree, teachers’ feeling of being qualified may increase over time? When we compared the countries, we found that the teachers in our study from Ireland were least confident about being qualified, while those from Scotland were most confident.
The survey provided a huge amount of information about the experiences and perspectives of computing teachers in the UK and Ireland, and we are still in the early stages of exploring the findings.
Our first paper on the project has now been published. The full reference is:
Sentance, S., Kirby, D., Quille, K., Cole, E., Crick, T., & Looker, N. (2022, September). Computing in School in the UK & Ireland: A Comparative Study. In The United Kingdom and Ireland Computing Education Research (UKICER) Conference (pp. 1-7).
Look out for more about the results in the coming months!