computer science education · Computing At School · research · teachers · teaching

A holistic approach to teacher professional development in Computing

Recently (12th July 2016), the new standard for teacher professional development was released by the DfE, in conjunction with the Teacher Professional Development Trust.

The standard has five underpinning aims:

  1. Professional development should have a focus on improving and evaluating pupil outcomes.
  2. Professional development should be underpinned by robust evidence and expertise.
  3. Professional development should include collaboration and expert challenge.
  4. Professional development programmes should be sustained over time.

And all this is underpinned by, and requires that:

  1. Professional development must be prioritised by school leadership

It is excellent to see the professional development of teachers being discussed at this level and giving the platform it needs. As the guidance states, professional development is a collaboration between teachers, headteachers and providers of CPD. I would also add to this that Teacher Professional Development (TPD) is not something that is done to teachers, but rather should involve them at every level; also that there needs to be a recognition that teachers have different needs (and know what these are).

In this blog, I want to look at teacher professional development in Computing, in particular to briefly present a holistic or integrated approach to TPD, which has been evolving over the last four years, and which can be seen to tie in with the new teacher professional development standard.

The background to the model is explained first, and then I’ll try to show how this has been implemented within Computing.

A integrated TPD model

The inspiration for the approach came from Aileen Kennedy of Strathclyde University. Kennedy looks at a range of models for TPD for professional development and suggests that a transformative approach can be achieved by an integration of elements of approaches (Kennedy 2005; 2014). I agree with this on the basis that teachers are not a homogenous group. The underlying ethos behind the approach to professional development described here is that we need this combination of approaches to be able to support and empower teachers with different requirements for their TPD. There is no one size fits all.

Following this we add the community of practice to the notion of an integrated approach. Much has been written about the value of the community of practice in providing a supportive and developmental environment for teachers (e.g. Akersonn, et al, 2009, Lieberman & Miller, 2008, Ryoo, Goode & Margolis, 2015). In the holistic approach described here, the community of practice and the resultant relationships between teachers take centre stage.

In all, the model consists of six core elements, of which one, the Community of Practice (COP), is central to all others. The six elements, as shown in the diagram are:

  1. Community of Professional Practice (or Communities…)
  2. Training
  3. Cascading of good practice
  4. Mentoring/Coaching
  5. Classroom-Based Research
  6. Accreditation

Model Only v5

It is proposed that providing each aspect of this model will support teachers in different ways at different stages of development.

Each element of the model is briefly described below.

1.Communities of practice

The concept of the community of practice was introduced by Etienne Wenger and has been applied to a wide range of domains, not just education. To be in a community of practice is to have a joint enterprise, mutuality and a shared repertoire of communal resources (Wenger, 2000).   In practice, teachers working together towards a common goal, for example, implementing a new strategy, who share their experiences, talk the same language, and are willing to learn from one another, can be said to be a community of practice.

2. Training

Training refers to events that teachers can actually attend either face-to-face or online; the training can be on domain knowledge or around pedagogical issues. We consider that training does have a role to play in a wider model, which is backed up by the work of Guskey and Yuon (2009) who looked at hundreds of studies of PD and were able to identify contexts where the much-maligned workshop may be a useful aspect of PD.  There are contexts where training is useful and certainly where it is supported by other aspects of development, including collaborative work with other teachers.

  1. Cascading good practice

Cascading good practice is where a teacher who has benefited from some TPD is able to then share that with another teacher or their department. This has the danger of focusing purely on cascading the skills and knowledge element of the PD but not the values and attitudes that have been engendered as part of the process (Kennedy, 2005). In defense of the cascade model, it can be empowering for a teacher where they have the desire, expertise and enthusiasm to pass on what they have learned to your colleagues.

  1. Teacher research

Teacher research is a way of empowering teachers to investigate changes in teaching and learning and measure the impact of those changes on their learners, rather than having them dictated to them during an inset day formal delivery session. It enables teachers to gain confidence in decision making, based upon the needs of their students and schools (Burbank, 2003).  Part of effective PD is trying out new ideas in the classroom and evaluating their effectiveness (Pine, 2009), whether this is called action research, practitioner research, teacher research or classroom inquiry.

To be good classroom researchers, it is important that teachers learn to think critically and also they need autonomy, a high level of support, robust processes for self-monitoring and transparent process for dissemination.  A coach or teacher education professional may have a role in supporting teacher inquiry  (Krell, 2012) and helping teachers to be more reflective (Herbert & Rainsford, 2014). There is however, a balance to be achieved between autonomy and a high level of support.

5. Mentoring /Coaching

Being mentored or coached is another way that a teacher can develop professionally. The difference between these two terms was outlined in the National Framework of Mentoring and Coaching (DfES, 2005). A peer coaching model (Joyce & Showers, 1996) enables teachers of equal status work together, through coaching sessions or peer observations, without the concept of there being an ‘expert’. In contrast, mentoring assumes that the mentor has a higher level of expertise than the mentee (DfES, 2005). Mentoring may be less likely to be transformative than coaching, whereas the coaching experience is designed such that the coachee is able to solve their own problems and thus become empowered to be able to effect change. There is room for both approaches in an integrative and holistic approach to TPD.

  1. Accreditation

The purpose of on-going accreditation for in-service teachers is to add value to their commitment to developing as a professional. As well as being motivating to be able to gain accreditation, it is important in the school context as more value and hence time may be allowed for a teacher who has the possibility to gain an award from their professional development.

These six elements make up the proposed integrated and holistic approach to PD.

Exemplification of the model: Computing At School

The model outlined above is being implemented for Computing as shown in this diagram, where CAS is an acronym for Computing At School.


Some background

In September 2014, changes to the National Curriculum in England were implemented, including the removal of the subject formerly known as ICT, which was replaced by the subject Computing. Computing has three elements: IT, Digital Literacy and Computer Science (The Royal Society, 2012). The new elements of the subject for teachers are in the computer science area and this is where thousands of teachers have a need for professional development to give them not only new subject skills and knowledge, but also teaching strategies, assessment support and above all, confidence.

Due to the differing backgrounds of ICT teachers, no assumptions can be made of who is a “typical” teacher in this context, and therefore the provision for teachers has to be flexible and individualised (Sentance, Humphreys and Dorling, 2014). There is no “one size fits all”.

A key driver in both the curriculum change in England and subsequent support of teachers has been the organisation Computing At School (CAS). In line with the shift described above from top-down organisation-driven provision for teachers, CAS has emerged from the ground up as a teacher-owned and teacher-driven organisation. The energy, creativity, and leadership comes from its members, who members are primarily teachers, but also come from industry, higher-education, awarding bodies and local authorities.

The model implemented in Computing

The model described above has evolved and been implemented incrementally (Sentance, Humphreys & Dorling, 2013), driven by teachers’ needs and supported by modest funding. CAS has gradually implemented all elements of the model, with the philosophy behind the approach being to support teachers to become empowered and confident teachers in a new discipline. The basic premise is that good professional relationships between supportive peers underlie the best and most effective teacher professional development.

Within CAS, the overarching element is the community of practice; this encompasses both the holistic nature of our model and the development of professional relationships.  Each element of the model revolves around relationships and shared good practice. 

As a “from the ground up” organisation, CAS supports Computing and ICT teachers by providing them with teaching material, training, local hubs, newsletters and the opportunity to interact with like-minded colleagues, and acting as a Subject Association for Computing teachers. Government funding has enabled CAS to implement some aspects of the model (the Network of Excellence); Google funded the Teaching Inquiry in Computing Education project and other initiatives; Microsoft have funded the Quickstart Computing materials amongst other things. Other aspects are unfunded and exist through the time and energy of members of CAS: much is still emerging and evolving.

How CAS Master Teachers, CAS Hubs, and CAS Regional Centres all work is outlined in document entitled The CAS Eco System, and in other documents on the CAS website, so I won’t describe these initiatives here. The Network of Excellence implements these and this was always envisaged as a peer-to-peer model incorporating both training and mentoring within a giving and sharing community (that’s CAS!). Recently, the formalisation of the work of NOE universities as CRCs has meant that another aspect of the cascade element of the model is more visible: this element was always there in an informal way, as the community of practice includes many levels of expertise.

The areas I have primarily been engaged in developing have been the last two areas of this integrated approach: accreditation and classroom-based research. I will briefly describe them here. These are designed to complement all the training, mentoring and collaborative activity that is available to support and empower teachers who are adapting to curriculum change.


While initial teacher education has adapted to the curriculum change in Computing by providing new PGCE programmes in Computer Science (supported by bursaries), teachers were left feeling that their previous ICT teaching qualifications and/or experience did not leave them feeling confident for the new Computing role they were undertaken. In response to this, a professional accreditation scheme was designed and created.

The BCS Certificate in Computer Science Teaching was introduced in October 2014 and is open to all practising Computing teachers. It enables teachers to demonstrate their teaching competence in the Computer Science elements of the new Computing curriculum. Teaching Computing requires a good understanding of the domain of Computer Science as it is taught in school and the development of appropriate pedagogical skills to teach the subject. The Certificate provides professional recognition for this. Working towards the Certificate helps teachers consolidate and extend their existing skills and supports their work in the classroom. For teachers who do not have a formal qualification in the teaching of Computing, the Certificate is evidence of their competence and enables them to progress and gain recognition within their schools. BCS accreditation supports the individual teacher and signals the importance of Computing, and Computer Science, as a school discipline.

The BCS Certificate has three elements as shown below.


To pass the Certificate, teachers have to reach a set standard in all three parts. They have one year to reach this standard and are supported by e-assessors, who comment on draft work and give formative feedback. The three parts of the BCS Certificate are explained in more detail here. Many teachers have now enrolled on to both the primary and secondary versions of the BCS Certificate and it is being continually revised in line with teacher feedback.

Classroom-based research: the TICE Project

As described in this blog post, the Teacher Inquiry in Computing Education (TICE) was the first attempt to provide an opportunity for teachers to meet, share ideas and work on research projects together in the area of Computing. This project ran from October 2015 to June 2016. Teachers were funded to come out of school for two full days at each end of the project where they formulated their ideas for research projects to work on, and were supported by interested academics from within the CAS Community who volunteered their time to support the teachers. The idea was to support teachers to carry out interventions in their own classrooms by giving them some time and support.

The teachers on this project were truly amazing and an inspiration to those of us who worked on the project. At the end of the project, teachers presented their work at the CAS Annual Conference in Birmingham in June 2016; a summary of each project was published in a booklet of teacher research projects.

Booklet Image

There is a lot of potential to do more in this area and an enthusiasm amongst some Computing teachers to engage with research interventions as a way to develop more insights into their own practice. As with all aspects of the model, it is not for everyone, but working with teachers means provision of TPD for the needs of a wide variety of teachers.

How does this integrated model tie into the new TPD standards?

In my reading of the research on this topic, some of which is indeed included in the implementation guidelines for the TPD standard , the key elements in effective CPD are enabling collaboration and being sustained over time (CUREE, 2013). One-off events are simply not the answer to change in the classroom. These aspects of TPD are two explicit items within the new standard – which was very encouraging to see. The following table shows how the integrated approach described here meets the new standards.


New DfE TPD Standard Integrated model of TPD for Computing
1.      Professional development should have a focus on improving and evaluating pupil outcomes. Training and mentoring provided by CAS Master Teachers is based around what happens in school. Master Teachers are effective teachers of Computing who are able to pass on skills and knowledge that directly relate to the improvement of pupil outcomes.The classroom-based research element of the model encourages teachers to carry out interventions on a small-scale and measure their effectiveness.
2.      Professional development should be underpinned by robust evidence and expertise. The model of TPD suggested here was inspired by original research by Kennedy (2005; 2014) based on work in Scotland. It also draws on research in communities of practice, PCK and action research in education; however this is at a meta-level (perhaps not what is intended by this standard).The development of the research group (CAS Research) and a supportive environment for classroom-based research means that Master Teachers will increasingly have access to evidence on what works in the classroom (see my CAS TV appearance for a snapshot).
3.      Professional development should include collaboration and expert challenge. The mentoring and community of practice elements of the model are necessarily based around collaboration and this is also implicit in all the other elements. Underlying the ethos of this model is a focus on peer-to-peer relationships as key to professional development.
4.      Professional development programmes should be sustained over time. The existence of CAS Master Teachers in a local community to support teachers around them means that there is ongoing support in terms of regular training, hub meetings, and mentoring opportunities. In addition, teachers on the BCS Certificate in Computer Science teaching are given a year to develop evidence of the standard necessary to be accredited.
5.      Professional development must be prioritised by school leadership This is the hardest element to evidence in a model but I would recommend that school leaders consider how many of the elements within this integrated model are being offered to their teachers; this can form a benchmark.The use of accreditation to recognise teachers’ skills and knowledge in the teaching of their subject gives a clear standard for school leadership.


My ideas here have been developing over the last three or four years, and designing the BCS Certificate and the TICE project have been the outcome of this thinking. Any comments welcome.  The TICE project has now finished and we no longer have funding to continue this – any suggestions for potential funders would be very useful.

Sue Sentance, King’s College London
August 2016

(this is a shortened version of some work being prepared for publication)


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