GCSE Computer Science Option - New to the School

(20 Posts)
crazymum53 Mon 10-Feb-14 21:40:06

My child wants to study Computer Science as a GCSE option but there are some disadvantages:
1. This is the first year the school has taught this subject so no track record.
2. The HOD was unable to answers one of DHs questions on Computer programming languages at the options evening.
3. Parents evening is after half term and teacher told my child that they are prioritising "other pupils" and are too busy to book an appointment.
Does this mean the school is trying to hand pick pupils for this new GCSE? Our child has some level 7s in this subject at KS3, so surely this would be a good option?
Would this put you off?

hench Mon 10-Feb-14 23:11:28

If he/she is keen, able and already shows an interest (rather than choosing it as he/she thinks it will look good ifyswim) and your dh knows a bit of programming already I reckon the school's inexperience wont matter too much. In the first cohort to do this in a local school some did brilliantly and some did rather badly - I think the able and keen ones tend to do well whatever and the teachers need a bit of time to learn how to support the more middling ones who are the ones more likely to lose out in the first year of teaching.

No idea why they might be too busy for parents evening or why the HOD didn't know the details of programming language, but IT specialists are often not noted for their people skills, the HOD might not actually be the one going to be teaching the course, and they may not have chosen the language they will teach yet. It might or might not be a cause for concern, but not so much if your dh has the knowledge to plug any gaps left by an inexperienced teacher.

prh47bridge Tue 11-Feb-14 00:01:02

What was the question the HoD was unable to answer?

crazymum53 Tue 11-Feb-14 08:42:50

The teacher covers 100+ children in my child's year group so if he means that he only has time to meet those wanting to take the GCSE that's OK, but he did not ask my child whether or not she intended to take GCSE computing before making this comment. My understanding is that the teacher had a list of pupils that he wanted to see already but we have no idea where and why this list has come from. We thought that the options process meant that pupils chose the subjects rather than teachers choosing the pupils iykwim.
The language they are doing is called Python and my OH wanted more information about the type of language this is and what it is used for. OH has degree in Computer Science from an ex-poly so would have expected teachers to be a bit more knowledge than him.
My child is a girl, but I really don't think that this should have any bearing or not on whether she takes this subject if she really wants to do it. We are a bit concerned that she only mentioned boys names for the pupils the (male) teacher wants to see but are unsure if this is the main issue.

purpleroses Tue 11-Feb-14 08:51:30

Same at my DS's school - first year of teaching it and DS(y9) is very keen. It would appear the school is hand-picking the pupils - and capping numbers at 30 because it's new and they want to see how it goes with kids who are reasonably able at it. DS has a level 7 in maths - his best subject - and was told he would definitely get to do it, so would be surprised if your DD wasn't considered good enough unless maths is not a strong subject for her?

I would guess that the pupils being prioritised for the teacher to speak to might be the less able ones who they are guiding away from the more academic subjects - that's certainly what seems to happen at DS's school. If they're into computers they suggest ICT instead.

The programming language it uses is called Python and I think there's a free online tutorial your DD could have a go at. My DS's class have all been started on it this term which has been really useful for helping them get an idea of whether they'd like to do it next year.

crazymum53 Tue 11-Feb-14 09:09:15

Hi purpleroses. Yes dd has already started using Python this term and has previously used Scratch. I did ask HOD whether pupils had to be good at Maths to take Computer Science and she said No. However the names mentioned are Maths top set so this could be the case.
dd is level 6 at Maths and achieved some level 7s in ICT last year including databases which is in the GCSE. Last year the same teacher said she was talented in ICT so thought they would be delighted that she is considering this subject. The school is also offering ICT cert of digital applications in the other option block, but there is no indication that one option is for the more able (and vice versa).

purpleroses Tue 11-Feb-14 09:23:28

That's interesting - and definitely different from what DS's school has been saying. They've been very clear that computer science is much more maths-oreintated than ICT. ICT is more about using computers, databases etc, whereas there's more logic, maths, equations, etc in computer science. I think it is pretty much those in the top maths set they're encouraging to do it if they're keen (though many of them would be on high level 6s at DS's school)

A lot depends how your DD gets on with the Python I would guess though - some of them have certainly started to struggle with it in DS's class (it's been taught through their ICT lessons, so in a mixed ability group)

IsaacHuntyChops Tue 11-Feb-14 09:31:39

There will be two classes taught at DS2's school. There is an entry level for it as spaces at a premium.

OneMoreMum Tue 11-Feb-14 12:51:51

My youngest (yr 9) started it this year - we are on a 3 year options course. Originally we had been told it was for able mathematicians only, and he has only just moved up to the middle set so he didn't choose it. Anyway another course he'd chosen was oversubscribed so they invited the better scientists to move to computer science and he's really enjoying it. That said he is technically in the pre-GCSE year so I expect the material to get harder next year.
With the OP's daughter's levels she should have no problem academically.

sausagedog12 Tue 11-Feb-14 13:14:46

My son is currently doing computer science for Gcse this year. In year 9 he was told that anyone doing this option would need at least level 7 in maths as they might struggle. Please don't make the mistake of thinking that it is similar to ICT it is not. It is about programming and alogarithms which is a lot more technical. My son however after struggling to keep up in the first few weeks is now doing excellently and is taking it for A level and a possible degree as he's really enjoying it. So where there's a will.....but just make 100% sure of the course content.

KittyVonCatsington Tue 11-Feb-14 16:09:55

Hello crazymum53 - I am a Computing teacher and was part of the pilot for the GCSE in Computing, so have been teaching it for the past 4 years.

Firstly, with regards to your comment: OH has degree in Computer Science from an ex-poly, so would have expected teachers to be a bit more knowledge than him. - I agree that you should expect it - however, this course has been pushed onto existing ICT teachers who will have a degree in an ICT related subject but not necessarily a Computer Science degree. It is like saying to a German teacher that they suddenly have to teach GCSE Spanish, even if they have never covered the language before. I am lucky as I have a Computer Science degree but not many do and Gove is only putting aside less than £3 per IT teacher for further training.

Secondly, maybe I can answer your DD's question, The language they are doing is called Python and my OH wanted more information about the type of language this is and what it is used for Python is an open source language that covers two paradigms; Object Oriented Programming and Procedural Programming. Therefore, it is a good language to start with (and can be used on a Mac and a PC) It is used in industry in a wide variety of ways - organisations such as Apple and Google use it for their backends, for example.

As it is the first year of teaching it at your DD's school, I would question whether you are prepared for her to be a 'guinea pig'. If you are (and someone has to!) then it can't hurt asking your DD to have a quick chat at lunch or in lesson with the HoD or another ICT teacher, whether or not she can apply and what the reasoning is behind it all.

Thirdly, They've been very clear that computer science is much more maths-orientated than ICT There are no actual mathematics (for want of a better word) in the GCSE Computing course per se, but there are logical functions and some basic binary conversions - all of which are done without a calculator and you don't need an A grade in Maths to succeed. The correlation that is there, is that if you are 'interested' in Maths, than probably likely to be interested in Computing. I have had students get a C grade in Maths but an A* in Computing over the past couple of years. However, there are exceptions both ways. I would actually say that Physics is closer to the GCSE Computing with regards to the electricity topics with circuitry etc. Teachers are using Maths as a guideline due to the unknown with teaching a brand new GCSE for the first time.

Have faith in the IT teachers though, they will do everything they can to get your DCs the best possible grades they can - including going on training during their 'holidays' which has been happening for the past year now.

I hope this helps and let me know if you have any other questions. Good luck with your DD's options.

crazymum53 Wed 12-Feb-14 14:41:38

Thanks very much KittyVonCatsington that's very helpful. DH did ask the HOD whether Python was an Object Oriented Language and got blank looks which was rather concerning.
We have looked up the syllabus for the course and the only Maths that we could find was indeed converting numbers from binary or hexadecimal which didn't look particularly difficult.
I have contacted the school to find out if there are any extra criteria for taking this subject and am awaiting a reply.
As an alternative to Computer Science the school does offer an Edexcel certificate in IT which is a level 2 equivalent but the content designing a website and compiling an e-portfolio sounds a bit vague and it is unclear whether this would have any progression route at sixth form.
The school has been offering Computer Studies in the sixth form so we looked at last years results for this (all male) group which wasn't that impressive. For boys the school has an A*-B pass rate of approx 40% last year, but for computing the results were less than half that amount.

lljkk Wed 12-Feb-14 18:43:13

You could have googled all about Python. hmm You still can!!

It's very widespread.

PandaG Wed 12-Feb-14 19:18:54

Kitty - thanks here from me too - DS is also strongly considering it. Other choices are electronics and economics - he has to do 2 out of 3, and he can't decide which. Hmmm.

Ohhelpohnoitsa Wed 12-Feb-14 19:28:59

Message withdrawn at poster's request.

KittyVonCatsington Sat 15-Feb-14 08:38:14

Just one point about A Level Computing and grades (actually, I have two!).

1. Generally, only independent and selective Grammars have generally offered it as an A Level and this is why Universities don't say you have to have it as an A Level in cOmputing to apply;hardly any schools offer it! Therefore, the grade boundaries are set with a high cumulative curve and so, they are very high. If you think that most A Levels are offered at most schools; from the very bottom to the very top in ability, the grade boundary UMS is much more spread for those subjetcs and therefore, the UMS of an A grade would be much lower that it is in A Level Computing. Last year, the AS Grade boundaries for A2 Computing was 70/80 raw marks for an A, in one exam board. for Maths A2, one paper was 55/80 for an A.

2. Imagine someone opting to take Physics at A Level, without having done any Physics at all in their school career. You would think they were barmy. Well, that is exactly what taking Computing AS Level is like and it is one of the most difficult subjects to take, because of that.

Therefore, try not to focus too much on their A Level Computing results as it is largely not their fault. By offering GCSE in Computing, those pupils opting to take it in the future, will be better prepared. For example, the first term alone covers all the material from the GCSE.

crazymum53 Sat 15-Feb-14 12:20:46

Thanks again Kitty for your help. In that case, it looks as if dds school is one of the few comps in the country offering this subject at A level, so if they have been teaching the subject for 3 years at AS and A2 the teachers should be able to manage the GCSE.
Just to update we do now have an appointment to meet the teacher after half term to discuss whether the ICT GCSE equivalent or Computer Science will be the best option for dd.

looplab Sat 15-Feb-14 21:36:21

My DS is doing the Computing and I write programs. I would say your DS perfect for this subject because he has parental support and, it seems, a natural enthusiasm. I get a bit frustrated by some of my DS's mates (and the DS actually) who want to learn Computing but don't do any research off their own bat. Maybe the course will get them going.

I wouldn't do it at the expense, say of one of the triple sciences, because they are worth more IMO and Computer Science degrees don't actually require Computing at GCSE, or, I believe at A-level.

The course itself is under-powered but its a start. We haven't touched Python yet (he can add in binary and hex though, I bet your OH can't do that!). I do think its a useful foundation though.

I do think we need to get behind this subject actually. I think its M$ who like to call it the 4th science, and I think they are right.

ILoveChocolatePudding Mon 17-Feb-14 17:01:31

Both myself and DH read computer science at ex-poly. We both went on to work in the industry (husband still does). Our DS wanted to do GCSE Computing but after investigating we decided that it was not a good idea. Felt the content was not there, questioned the language being taught and just not impressed. I did not study computing before poly, husband did A level. What we both had A levels in maths and that was the most important thing. DH recruits graduates and prefers those who did not do computing at A level, thinks they have a broader skill set.

crazymum53 Wed 26-Feb-14 11:22:06

An update - we have now had the Parent-Teacher options evening and have concluded the best GCSE option for dd is ICT rather than Computer Science. What she is interested in, is using computers to design things rather than programming, so this seems like the best decision.
Thanks very much for the advice.

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