Teaching computing - some honest truths

Today saw the release of the Royal Society's report on Computing Education in UK Schools, which told many media organisations what us insiders already knew - the recent push for coding in schools was helpful, but not enough.

One of the biggest problems is that teaching computing doesn't pay anywhere near as well as actually doing computing, so if you have computing skills and aren't independently wealthy, teaching isn't the obvious choice. Ergo there is a huge shortage of computing teachers; roughly half of all secondary schools don't even offer computing GCSE. I'd love to teach computing to children and teenagers as my main job, but my family of five couldn't cope with the 25k drop in family income - and that's out in the provinces; if I were working close to London the gap would be even bigger. As it is, I do my best by running a Raspberry Jam with 150 attendees, but it's a drop in the ocean.

We need to tell some honest truths here. Despite what the unions would have us believe, an art teacher's marketable value is not the same salary as a computing teacher's needs to be. Not even close, and some special grants of only a few thousand pounds aren't anywhere near enough to make up the difference. We will not solve this problem until we have put an end to national pay bargaining for teaching and stopped treating all teachers as being in equal demand.

There's a further problem in that many of the people trying to address the computing education conundrum, tend to be from independently wealthy backgrounds, and just don't see that computing teaching salaries are a problem. "Oh, it can be solved just by training more teachers;" sadly, this isn't going to work. If you've never needed to worry about how to pay rent or a mortgage, then it's easy to imagine that people will pick teaching simply for the love of teaching. Most ordinary people, who have family bills to pay, simply don't have the luxury of that choice.

Those who add an A for Art into the STEM initialism to make STEAM are making the situation even worse. Some are simply trying to grab the already pathetically small extra money intended for science, technology and maths. There is no skills shortage of artists, so get yer nose out of that trough. Others want to make a positive contribution but only have low-demand arts skills, and rather than do what's really needed - learn and teach computing, science and maths - just want to join in the party with zero effort. Sorry, but that's not just unhelpful, but damaging. Also, we're techies and scientists - we don't really care whether you want to join our party, we don't really care whether we're currently trendy or not; we only care whether you have useful skills.

Upping the salaries of all teachers also isn't going to work either, because it's blatantly unaffordable. We need to put supply-and-demand back into teaching salaries. Really, nothing else will work.

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Public Domain - Andrew Oakley - 2017-11-10

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