There's an an innovative approach to computer science at Dartford Grammar School, where half of all students opt to study GCSE Computer Science and it’s one of the most popular choices for university applications.
Students and staff were proud to share their achievements with Schools Minister Nick Gibb when he visited in September, to see their work to drive up standards and enthusiasm for computing across Kent.
Dartford Grammar is one of the National Centre for Computing Education (NCCE) Computer Hub schools, one of a network of 34 schools working to deliver NCCE training and support across England.
Teacher Steve Ireland leads the Computing Hub at Dartford and he’s also a CAS Master Teacher and leader of CAS Dartford Mixed Community.
He explained that Dartford Grammar started delivering NCCE courses in January, and quickly switched to online provision following the impact of the coronavirus pandemic.
“We were well placed to do that and to deliver CPD online. Digital skills and technology have been at the heart of what we do and, in many ways, the coronavirus pandemic has highlighted the need for these skills across so many sectors,” said Steve.
Since January, 150 teachers have attended the NCCE's Computer Science Accelerator (CSA) course at Dartford, significantly contributing to the 1,300 teachers who have completed the CSA to develop GCSE subject knowledge for non-specialist teachers across England, and the further 2,300 enrolled on the programme.
“It’s been incredibly busy through the lockdown period and, since the start of term, the focus has been on a blended learning approach,” said Steve.
Schools Minister Nick Gibb was clearly impressed when he visited the school in September.
“'What is so wonderful about this school is its ambition; its ambition for the students, ambition for the curriculum, and ambition for taking part in Hub programmes - it is a centre of excellence that can spread out to other schools,” Mr Gibb told staff and students.
Dartford takes a whole school approach to Computer Science, said Steve.
“In our KS3, middle years, we put the focus on projects with a lot of work on design, development and testing. We clearly have some success in building enthusiasm, as around half our students take CS GCSE,” he said.
“We have three GCSE classes, of 30 students. And this year’s Y12 Computer Science class has 54 students, up on 35 the previous year.
“We take a broad approach, delivering the national computing curriculum, but also looking at IT and digital literacy. It’s about being really varied and offering diversity,” said Steve.
The school offers the International Baccalaureate (IB) rather than A levels, allowing students to study a broader range of subjects, including computer science.
As part of the IB Diploma programme, students’ project work involves working with clients to address a real-world problem.
“Over recent years we have seen several applications that demonstrate ingenuity and appropriateness,” said Steve.
“One student created an application for a cribbage club for members who could only meet once a week, but wished to play more often. A program was created to allow the members to play separately between meet-ups. The proposed program idea allowed the club members to play cribbage against somebody using pre-programmed strategy instead of needing another person, which enabled members to get extra practice between games.
“Our Year 9 students also worked on designing an app, and explored concepts of family, loss, bullying and identity. They had to design, develop and test a mobile application, with many students using characters from the Lion King to explore these issues. The target audience for these apps were KS2 students.”
Dartford’s work as a Computing Hub aims to increase the number and attainment of pupils studying computer science and A level as well as teacher confidence in teaching the computing curriculum. It’s clearly delivering results.
“In every year group around 10 percent of our students choose to apply to university to study Computer Science. We’ve had up to 37 students in a year group looking to study Computer Science at university, and we’re delighted to send one of our girls to Cambridge University to study CS this year,” said Steve.
“We know how valuable Computer Science will be to young people’s future, and the wider economy and we’re on track to make sure our students and those beyond our school, have the best possible start to their computer science journey.”
Isabel Bajomo, a Y12 student at Dartford Grammar, explained why she’d chosen to study computer science.
“Computer Science is relevant to the world, It’s an amazing and interesting subject that causes me to be more conscious of the world around me and where the future is heading. Plus, composing an algorithm, implementing and seeing your own creation function is extremely rewarding!”
She’d chosen to study at DGS, because, she said:
“I believe I will be pushed and challenged at length and the emphasis on the content will be very efficient. Also, in the open evening, the student I spoke with sounded very passionate about the teaching and consideration put into this computer science journey at school.”