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Coding in schools: showing the way, not the end

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The most successful coders are usually creative rule-breakers. That’s the view of David Perks, the principal of the East London Science School, a free school in Newham.

David was speaking at the Battle of Ideas, where he and a panel of experts were discussing whether we can or should teach programming in schools. For David, formal lessons on coding are not the way to go to inspire the next Bill Gates. Making coding another formal subject could even stop creative minds from doing their own exploring.

While some children may discover coding for themselves, what about those who won’t, without help? Ruth Nicholls, from Young Rewired State, pointed out that learning about coding at school is one of the best ways to make sure it reaches a wider range of children. And introducing all the individuality of pupils in our schools to coding can also help the industry, where you’ll often find a pretty uniform group of primarily male employees.

Where Ruth agreed with David is that formal coding lessons won’t take us far. Teachers often lag too far behind pupils’ skills in coding to be able to truly teach it. Instead, they should be facilitating learning, helping pupils to explore code, use online resources, and share ideas with each other. Extra-curricular programmes, which often take this approach, can be replicated in schools, she said.

For Joe Halloran of London Connected Learning Centre, it’s important that teachers are setting the right tasks to promote this kind of exploration. They should find out what pupils are interested in and encourage them to use coding to take those interests on. For example, they could ask pupils who are interested in fashion to make wearable jewellery devices. The way to make coding in schools successful, Joe said, is to show pupils the way, but not the end.

Members of our school leader service can read more about the requirement for maintained schools to teach computing from Key Stage 1 to 4 here, and about planning and assessment for the new computing curriculum in primary schools here.

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