Exclusive: Computing GCSE News

Today I attended a computing qualifications meetup at Anglia Ruskin University that was attended by the three main exam boards; OCR, AQA and Edexcel. Please excuse any typos or mistakes – I have typed this up very quickly (and published it in the early hours) as I would not have had time until the weekend to report it otherwise.

Each board was given 15 minutes to explain their course and then a question and answer session was staged afterwards.

I will initially go through each board before offering my personal views:

OCR Computing GCSE – Sean O’Bryne

Their idea for the course started way back in 2005 and was put into practice in 2010 with the first cohort qualifying this year. Sean O’Bryne was keen to state that the course focuses on ‘computational thinking’ – and this is more than just programming. Computational thinking is the core of the course and this has strong links to the real world.

OCR stressed that their course did not have a specified language for the practical work and they are happy for teachers to teach the language they feel most comfortable with.

Assessment of the course is not box ticking, neither is it marked by weight of work. They do not expect a huge amount of coursework to be completed to achieve the high grades. “If it works, it works” explained Sean, whilst also pointing out that they like to reward creativity. It was pointed out that OCR have had to make hardly any adjustment to teacher’s marking of their student’s work.

There are currently 5 programming tasks available to students (Little Man Computer, Javascript, Shopping Cart, Mobile Phone App, and Encryption Using a Spreadsheet) and they will continue to be live until OCR feel they are outdated. If this does happen at least 2 years notice will be given to teachers before they are withdrawn.

As this course has all ready been running two years, there is support already available. Hodder Dynamic Learning are going to supply the official support. Susan Robson’s GCSE Computing book was recommended although more as a revision guide than a coursebook (Note: Please see Susan Robson’s comment below). The OCR official website was also mentioned as a good place for resources.

Course structure:
1.5 hour written paper (40%)
20 hours controlled assessment – investigative task (30%)
20 hours controlled assessment – programming project (30%)

Edexcel Computing Science – Nicky Hughes

Edexcel’s course is still being written. They hope to submit their course in June 2012 to obtain accreditation by September 2012.

Nicky explained their course was about “doing” and making computer science “cool”. Edexcel are also trying to structure their course to attract more girls into the subject. Edexcel Computing Science will “relate theory to students lives and bring out the addictive nature of problem solving.”

To help put their course together, Edexcel has spoken to MIT, URL, ARM, Open University, BT and the Computing at School group.

Their aim is to raise awareness of what computers do and how they do it, develop awareness of ethical issues associated with computer science and support progression into computer science related careers as well as those linked closely to it – engineering for example.

Nicky Hughes described the course as, “Challenging, creative and cool”. They would like students in the lesson to be programming and are trying to focus their course on “more about doing than writing up.” There will be opportunities in the controlled assessment to introduce motors, sensors and robots.

Course Structure:
1.5 hour written paper (40%)
3 hour practical examination (on screen) – externally assessed (35%)
Controlled assessment task (10 hours) – internally assessed (25%)

AQA Computer Science – Stuart Gilbertson

AQA have obtained full accreditation for their course and they handed out the specification at the meeting. Supposedly we were the first to get our hands on it and it will be available on their website later this week.

AQA carried out extensive market research (before Gove’s speech) to help produce their course. They spoke to many teachers and had support from Microsoft. AQA made it clear that it was not a partnership with Microsoft – just support – and their course does not rely on the students using any Microsoft products.

They have put their practical unit as unit 1 to emphasise that it is the most important part of the course worth 60% of the GCSE. Students will be required to complete 2 of 4 available tasks. There is one already available on their website (Mobile phone app) with 3 more to come within the next 2 weeks. Tasks are year specific so they will change each year. There is a guideline of 25 hours set for coursework, but unlike other controlled assessment, this is only a guideline and students may spend less or more time on their work. The time also does not have to be recorded by the teacher.

The second unit is the theory unit which is tested at the end of the course by either a paper or online test.

Stuart Gilbertson explained that the course is based on “what teachers wanted. It is relevant with interesting content and will be updated regularly. It is focussed on the ‘fun’ area of computing.”

The course content does overlap a little with the Microsoft MTA qualification.

The support AQA will offer is as follows:

  • Free of charge web conferences
  • Free face to face meetings
  • AQA and Microsoft resources for teachers on their website
  • Subject advisor support

Course Structure:
50 hours controlled assessment – 2 tasks of 25 hours each (60%)
1.5 hour written paper (40%)

Question and Answer Session

Can students do both ICT and Computer Science GCSEs?
OCR: Don’t know.
Edexcel: Hopefully, but not 100% sure

OCR and AQA: Will you supply lesson plans for your courses?
OCR: Yes, on the website and Hodder Dynamic
AQA: We are currently focussed on the SoW at the moment, but will have some materials available in September

OCR: What feedback have you had back from your pilot schools?
OCR: Everything has been positive so far.

AQA and Edexcel: Will there be text books available?
Edexcel: One will be produced as soon as possible for September
AQA: We are currently working with people to produce a range of text books rather than having one endorsed publication

Will there be any VLE material available?
AQA: Yes
OCR: Yes, already available on the website
Edexcel: Yes, there will be

Edexcel: What is the reason for the lack of controlled assessment on your course?
Edexcel: This is due to the on screen assessment. Students will need a lot of programming skills to pass the test.

Edexcel: What will students do in the 10 hour controlled assessment?
Edexcel: Prototyping, like a self watering Christmas tree. The student will have to prove the concept. Simulation of this would be enough to pass.

Edexcel: Is you on screen assessment language specific?
Edexcel: No, it will only be using pseudo-code

Edexcel: You website has not been updated for a long time. When will new content be available?
Edexcel: In the next 3 to 4 weeks

Edexcel: Will all students sit the on screen assessment on one day?
Edexcel: It is likely it will be over two days

Will the courses be compatible with Apple Macs?
All course: Yes

Is it possible to resit the exam if a student fails?
AQA: No as it is a linear course. However students are allowed to carry their coursework over.

Edexcel: Is you course aimed at high level students only?
Edexcel: No, it is aimed at all levels.

AQA: How far in advance will the CA tasks be released?
AQA: 2014 tasks will be available by 1st September. After this we will release them 3 years in advance of the exam.

What other courses do you offer?
All exam boards hinted that other computer related courses are in the pipeline.

My Personal View

It was an interesting event and gave everyone present a chance to see what stage the exam boards are at in getting their courses ready for September 2012.

AQA were certainly the most professional and organised looking board. They had a pack available for all teachers, were keen to get teacher details and their presentation was the most polished of the three. I feel their course has the most potential and I particularly like the way they have put a lot of emphasis on the practical side of the course. However it does concern me that there is very little material available currently to help teachers and the promise that they will be by September leaves us teachers in a bit of a gambling situation – what if they do not follow through with their promise?

Edexcel were very much about ideas with little actual content on their course – they offered no handouts at all to teachers. I do not see how any school can see this as a realistic option this year when the course will only be submitted for accreditation in June. Like AQA they are very short on the ground with material to help teachers and their exam heavy course may put people off – especially the on screen pseudo-code only test.

OCR were a little disorganised, using a presentation that was clearly not edited for 15 minutes meaning the speaker ended up rushing through a number of slides. They did give out a brochure, but were keen to point out that their material was already easy to access on their website. However, I personally feel this course is really the only safe option at the moment. It has been running two years already, has text books, scheme of work, lesson plans and teachers who have already taught the course to help out. It is the safe option – tried and tested.

To summarise, OCR is currently the best course to teach in my opinion. AQA have the foundations of something special though and it will be interesting to see how it is in a year or two, but at the moment it will be a gamble for any teacher who takes it on – keep your fingers crossed the support material arrives in time. Edexcel have left it too late and just aren’t a realistic option this year. Their course took a bit of a battering in the question and answer session and there on screen assessment test that replaces a controlled assessment option on the other two courses didn’t seem very popular amongst the people there.

I hope this has been some help to those of you who are not sure who to go with. Please post your thoughts and comments below.

  1. Interesting write-up, thanks for getting it out there so quickly.

    Very interesting questions, and interpretation. I’ve been using OCR for 2 years and am very happy with the course. Edexcel’s focus on ‘cool’ worries me a little and although I like the idea of an onscreen test for ICT, if we’re looking at Computing then I think a longer programming task will aways provide the students with better opportunities for development.

  2. Thank you very much for this. I was hoping someone would provide a summary of what happened as it was not possible for me to attend.

  3. Carl, thank you for taking the time to do this so quickly. We cannot run GCSE Computing until 2013 but it is so useful to see such a comparison at the moment.

  4. Thanks for this. We’re looking at selecting our exam board in the next month or so.
    Had heard the WJEC also had something in the pipeline for September, it this true?

  5. Thanks Carl,
    I organised the event so glad you found it useful. I have copies of slides for all the delegates. If anybody would like a copy just email me at sue.sentance@anglia.ac.uk



  6. This is really useful. Thank you very much.

  7. AQA sounds like it will be the best one – I’m willing to take a chance on them

  8. Really useful thanks very much

  9. Minor correction: GCSE Computing by Susan Robson (me!) is most certainly not just a revision guide. It is a comprehensive textbook that covers every point in the OCR specification in detail and has been endorsed by OCR to use with the theory unit. Please do look at the preview pages on http://www.lulu.com to see for yourself.

    • I do not disagree with you at all. However those were the words by OCR at the meeting so I do not wish to change the report. I will make a point about your comment though.

    • I agree, it is a great book, Susan!

  10. Thank you for this I came across this via the tes website. This has made me consider starting computer science this year as I was going to hold off till next year. AQA is very interesting and is high on my list. I have attended one of their web conferences and it was very positive from all that attended and I am considering attending the face to face session too. With Edexcel the on screen test is putting me off choosing them and the lack of progress with the specs.

    Thanks again!

  11. Thanks Carl. Very helpful.
    I had chosen AQA…am still liking the ‘feel’ of AQA more than the others but am also slightly nervous at the lack of resources available still. I went on the AQA course last week and thought it was great. We went through exemplar work with Matthew Walker(Senior AQA Examiner) – who seems to pretty much write all the assessment materials. He is working on more and seemed very positive that a lot more will be available soon. I think AQA is winning the race for me…

  12. Thanks Carl. Its great to have a summary of all three options and a subjective opinion. Fantastic

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