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  1. 5 articles on assessment and assessing computing
  2. 5 minute tip: 8 ways to avoid losing your work
  3. ICT and Computing
  4. Crosswords and coding
  5. Coming soon: Digital Education!
  6. More Recent Articles
  7. Search Blog - ICT & Computing in Education
  8. Prior Mailing Archive

5 articles on assessment and assessing computing

Such a shame that we can't look inside kids' heads. It would make assessment so much easier!

Such a shame that we can't look inside kids' heads. It would make assessment so much easier!

Here are a few articles I thought you might find interesting and, hopefully, useful -- or, at least, thought-provoking.

Evaluation: it's a piece of cake, by James Theo

In this article, James talks about who is doing the evaluating. In a nutshell, people who have become experts in their field. Well worth reading, both for its analysis and its recommendations.

Professional judgement in assessing Computing

What James is getting at in his article, it seems to me, is professional judgement. However, I doscovered that many teachers don't feel they have the right to exercise their professional judgement. In this article, I tackle that issue.

Marking with different coloured pens? Don't make me laugh!

The issue of professional judgement came up once again on a training course I was giving. Some teachers there felt that they had to do so-called "deep marking", where a teacher comments on a pupil's work, and the pupil comments back.

I asked them what they thought was the purpose of marking. If, as I believe, it's to help pupils deepend and extend their knowledge, understanding and skills, then you don't need to write everything down. If I can tell from your answers in class that you understand something (or that you don't), do I really need to write a note to the effect that I found that out?

Anyway, I'm not in favour of deep marking, marking with different coloured pens, or any other kind of marking whose costs in terms of workload exceed the benefits in terms of student learning. And if you're worried about what Ofsted thinks, then look at the 2015 Inspection Handbook:

Ofsted recognises that marking and feedback to pupils, both written and oral, are important aspects of assessment. However, Ofsted does not expect to see any specific frequency, type or volume of marking and feedback; these are for the school to decide through its assessment policy. Marking and feedback should be consistent with that policy, which may cater for different subjects and different age groups of pupils in different ways, in order to be effective and efficient in promoting learning.
While inspectors will consider how written and oral feedback is used to promote learning, Ofsted does not expect to see any written record of oral feedback provided to pupils by teachers.
If it is necessary for inspectors to identify marking as an area for improvement for a school, they will pay careful attention to the way recommendations are written to ensure that these do not drive unnecessary workload for teachers.

Assessing Computing: Practical Approaches

This is an article I wrote for Sec-Ed. It's a very practical article, as the title suggests. I think much of can be applied to primary education too, especially the apps and other resources I've cited.

Assessment as a process of scientific discovery

I think assessment is a fascinating topic -- always have done, because it's such a mystery, and a challenge. How do we really know if a pupil has understood something? I mean really know, in the sense of being able to apply it as well as explain it -- and apply it to unfamilar problems.

In this article, which was first published in the Digital Education newsletter, I apply Karl Popper's thinking to this thorny problem.

To find out more about the Digital Education newsletter, and to subscribe (for free), look at this page: Newsletter.



5 minute tip: 8 ways to avoid losing your work

Even if you know all this stuff, your less tech-savvy colleagues or your students may not. Feel free to pass it on.

There's nothing worse than putting in the last word of your lesson plan, essay, magnum opus, only to watch it all disappear because of a power cut or some other unplanned event. Fortunately, there are several steps you can take to avoid this worse-case scenario. These are not necessarily mutually exclusive, though which ones are available to you will depend on the software you're using. 

Save often

I tend to save after every paragraph, or every ten minutes. If I have to answer the phone or take a comfort break, I'll save my work first.

Save automatically

Some programs, like Microsoft Word, give you the option to save your work automatically at set intervals. In Word, click on the Home button (the round button in the top left hand corner of the screen), go to Options, then click on Save. You'll see something like this:

This screenshot is from Word 97. Your version may look a bit different.

This screenshot is from Word 97. Your version may look a bit different.

Near the top of the screen you'll see the option to "Save the AutoRecover information". Make sure the box is ticked, and set to every ten minutes or some other interval of your choice.

The AutoRecover option is not a replacement for regular saving, but it should help you retrieve the file if your computer or Word suddenly dies for some reason.

Set a backup frequency

Some programs, like Scrivener, give you the option to have your work backed up to a different location from the saved files, as an extra precaution. It means that if you lose the saved file, you'll at least have the backup.

I've set Scrivener to automatically backup my work each time I close the document I've been working on.

Copy to an external device

If something happens to your computer, then all your saved files would be lost as well as your main ones. To safeguard against this, copy your documents to an external hard drive or a usb stick.

These are not foolproof, however. Usb sticks can get lost or damaged, while if your main computer is stolen, chances are your external drive will be too.

Export to the cloud

Some programs, like Pages on the MacBook Pro, give you the option to export your file to an area in the cloud, such as Dropbox or Google Drive. This avoids the scenario stated above, in which your backup device is stolen, damaged or lost. It's well worth opening a free account in at least one cloud service such as Dropbox, Google Drive, Sky drive or Amazon Cloud.

Take snapshots

Some programs, like Scrivener, allow you to take snapshots of your work. That means that if you take a snpashot before making some major changes, ypou can always revert to the previous version if you don't like what you've done.

Save versions

If the program you use doesn't have a snapshot facility, then save versions of your work. For example, I save my work as Chapter 1, version 1, Chapter 1, version 2, and so on. These are all saved as separate files, so if you make a mistake or lose some work, you can always open the previous version. To enable this to happen, use the Save As command rather than Save.

Email yourself

Finally, you can always email yourself (or someone else), because that will automatically place a copy of the document on a file server somewhere in the cloud. The main problems with this approach, though, are as follows:

  • If the file is very large, you may not be able to send it via email
  • If you have set your email up to delete emails from the server as soon as they've been downloaded, or after only a day or two, you will lose the document
  • It can be hard keeping track of versions if you do this a lot.

Still, it's better than nothing.


The key thing to remember is this: as far as working with technology is concerned, it's not a case of if something goes wrong, but when. By adopting one or more of the methods described here, you should save yourself a lot of heartache.



ICT and Computing

Kay's survey of over 300 teachers has yielded some interesting results.

Kay's survey of over 300 teachers has yielded some interesting results.

Kay Sawbridge, who I interviewed in December 2015 (An interview concerning the scrapping of ICT) has carried out a survey about the number of schools offering vocational courses in ICT, what percentage of girls take the subject and related matters. Over 300 teachers responded, and the results are very interesting. Kay has written an article about it, and her results have been uploaded to the ICT & Computing in Education website (see below), so I’ll say no more about it here. Read her article below, and find out what you could do to help to try to get the Government to rethink its position on replacing ICT with Computing, given that the skills covered and the kind of students each attracts are completely different. We need both. If you don't understand all of the terms used, please see the glossary at the end of the article.

So the English Government are concerned enough about digital skills (or lack of them) to have launched a Select Committee Inquirylast December (2015).  They are concerned that the UK economy is suffering as we do not have the skills to compete in the ever increasing digital world. 

Well I too am concerned, very concerned.  Unfortunately, the government seem hell bent on widening the digital skills gap – the removal of ICT (Information and Communication Technology) at GCSE and A level* being a prime example.  

In a recent survey I undertook, 363 teachers told me what the future of ICT looks like in their schools.  The results are scary to say the least:

· Over 46% of schools will not offer any ICT option at key stage 4

· Over 64% of schools will not offer any ICT option at key stage 5

· Over 27% of schools will not continue to teach ICT and Digital Literacy to key stage 3 students

· The uptake for Computing GCSE by girls in the majority of schools is under 10%. This drops to 5% for A level Computing.

For the full survey results, go here for a downloadable pdf: ICT Survey.

When questioned about the need to elevate digital skills to the same importance as literacy and numeracy at the digital skills inquiry committee meeting, Nick Gibb, the Schools Minister for England, cited this need as the reason for replacing ICT with Computing:

“This is one of the reasons we took the decision in 2012 to disapply the old ICT curriculum and replace it with Computing throughout all 4 key stages”.

Later on he went on to say that he wanted the UK to keep pace with the best of other countries in digital skills and 

“In the end we took the decision that we would only have one qualification in this area because we didn’t want people not to be taking the computer curriculum, the Computer Science GCSE. We want as many of our young people to be taking that as possible. Given that we are teaching this (ICT) from the age of 5 right through to 16 regardless of whether you take the Computer Science GCSE or not, that’s 11/12 years involved in this subject. So the skills we want our school leavers to have should have been acquired in those years”.

This makes me so angry; what the Department for Education (DFE) seem to have done is got rid of an extremely popular and useful qualification in order to make Computer Science more successful. Is this so they won’t end up with egg all over their face after investing £4.3 million in the new qualification? Do they just expect all students who would have opted for ICT at GCSE to now take Computing, therefore making it just as successful as ICT?

Well listen out, Nick Gibb and Nicky Morgan, this just won’t happen. Why not? Because, as you so dismally fail to recognise, ICT and Computing are totally different qualifications. There is no overlap (unlike many qualifications that survived the cull; Geography and Geology, History and Ancient History, Media Studies and Film Studies …. there are many more on the list: see my list of approved qualifications on this page: Free Resources).

ICT offers students essential skills for life after school. The new Computer Science qualification has a strong technical focus, teaching skills in: 

· Algorithms, Decomposition and Abstraction

· Computer Programming including binary, logic tables and pseudo-code

· Networking

· Emerging trends in computing technologies and the impact of computing on individuals, society and the environment 

All good skills, but where is the overlap with ICT, where are the skills that industry is crying out for such as website design, digital marketing etc?

I am extremely worried that as from 2018 we will not be teaching our future workforce and entrepreneurs the digital skills which are needed to live, study and work in their life after school.  Universities expect incoming students to have a certain standard of digital skills, employers expect employees to have good digital skills and be proficient in the use of software packages.  How will removing these essential skills from future generations help us compete with other countries? How will this decision effect the UK economy when our workforce does not have skills that employers desire? Will companies start looking further afield for employees?

I am not alone in my concerns; other teachers, parents, students and businesses have all voiced the same concerns. Why won’t the DFE listen? Are they so arrogant as to assume that they know best? I have asked them to answer this question through numerous emails, they have replied with unsatisfactory answers that never actually address the questions asked. Under the Freedom of Information Act I asked for copies of the minutes of meetings where this decision was discussed and copies of the redrafted ICT specs that were submitted. 

All were refused.

It is important that the DFE understand that ICT is already being dropped completely as a subject by many schools as they are reluctant to offer vocational subjects.  Also that they realise that Computing and ICT are very different subjects and offer totally different skills.  There is no overlap in content. Computing is a niche subject and will be useful to some students in future life whereas ICT skills will be useful to all students in future life.

My next step is to bombard MPs with the results of the survey and to publicise this issue wherever I can. 

Please do the same.

All I am asking is that Nick Gibb and Nicky Morgan give us the opportunity to redevelop the qualification. Let teaching staff from schools and universities alongside industry get together to look at what skills would be beneficial in our digital age and come up with an alternative which would help bridge the digital skills gap that the government is so concerned about.


GCSE: General Certificate of Education, the examination that students take at age 16, generally speaking.

A Level: Advanced Level, the examination that students take at 18, and the grades in which are important for getting into university or getting a job.

Key Stages: blocks of years for curriculum purposes, as explained here. Key Stage 5 is not included in that article, but it refers to the age range 16 to 18.

Nick Gibb: The Schools Minister in England.

Nicola Morgan: The Secretary of State for Education in England, and therefore Nick Gibb's boss.

About Kay Sawbridge

Kay Sawbridge is Faculty Leader of Computing and ICT in a secondary school.

This article first appeared in Digital Education, the free newsletter for all those with a professional interest in educational ICT and Computing. To subscribe, click on the button below and then fill in the form.



Crosswords and coding

Did you know that “schoolmasters” is an anagram of “the classrooms”? Just thought I’d mention it. It’s the sort of anagram beloved of crossword compilers — and crosswords are the subject of a short video I made recently.

As I say in the video, I believe that being able to solve cryptic crosswords requires a way of thinking that would not be out of place when planning and writing a computer program. Alan Turing thought so too: being able to solve The Times crossword was an entry requirement for working with him at Bletchley Park.

Have a look at my review of the book Two girls, one on each knee (7). That's a crossword clue, by the way, in case you hadn't realised it!

Here's the video:


This is a slightly amended version of an article that first appeared in Digital Education, or free newsletter. You can sign up by clicking this button and filling in the form:



Coming soon: Digital Education!

Oh joy! The next issue of Digital Education is out today!

Oh joy! The next issue of Digital Education is out today!

Here's what the next issue of my newsletter, Digital Education, contains:

  • SAMR and digital signage
  • Assessment as a process of scientific discovery
  • The Assistive Technologies Conference
  • ICT and Computing: original research by Kay Sawbridge
  • Musings
  • Useful tips
  • Research news
  • What I've been reading: reviews of Teacher Proof, the Substitute Teacher Manual, and How to lie with statistics
  • What I'm currently reading
  • Conferences
  • Competition: win a copy of Karl Beecher's Brown Dogs and Barbers, which is all about Computing.

It's set to be sent out at 1pm today, so sign up now to make sure you get it!



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