Wednesday, 28 January 2015

Gender problem persists

The Times ran an article last week about the continued problems attracting women to STEM subjects at university. The figures for Computer Science were particularly bleak, with 87% of entrants last year being male, a rise of 2% since 2008. The good news is that the total number of people doing Computer Science at university has risen dramatically, up almost 50% in the last seven years. But the gender problem appears to be getting worse. There has been numerous initiatives to address this problem over the last decade but the figures appear to show that none have worked.

Tuesday, 27 January 2015

PC Passport QDT meeting

The first meeting of the Qualification Development Team (QDT) for PC Passport met on Saturday in Stirling. It was a good meeting. There were representatives of the college and school sectors.

We made a lot of progress in a short time. There was a consensus among the group that we wanted to go back to basics with the award, which would mean simplifying the structure and refocusing on application packages. Application packages have changed a lot since PC Passport was first introduced in 2004 and the new award would reflect this, with an emphasis on web apps, cloud storage and group collaboration. Products like Microsoft's Office 365 and Google's Apps for Work illustrate the type of software that the new award will focus on. This back-to-basics approach will mean that there will be separate National Units on word processing, spreadsheets, presentations, and databases. Topics such as file structures, Internet skills and cyber security will be embedded within the application units rather than separated out, which means that they will be taught in context. We will also reduce the amount of assessment so that it takes up much less time.

The QDT will meet again, in the near future, to brainstorm the contents of the revised qualification. It's not too late to join the Team. We're particularly looking for school, employer and training representatives. Contact Helen if you want to know more.

We hope to have the revised qualification available to centres from January 2016.

Friday, 23 January 2015

Review of HNC/D Interactive Media

I announced the review of HNC/D Interactive Media some time ago. Since then, we've created a Qualification Development Team (QDT), which has now met on three occasions. One of those meetings was held today in the SQA offices in Glasgow. Fiona Murnin (of New College Lanarkshire) is leading the development.

The development is progressing well. Fiona has created  frameworks for three new awards;
  1. HNC Digital Design & Web Development
  2. HND Web Development
  3. HND Digital Design.
Today's meeting was to discuss the draft frameworks. It went well. There was general agreement about her proposals. One of the (many) things that I liked about the proposed stuctures was their flexibility. Fiona has given centres lots of choice with her options.

The frameworks will be revised in the light of today's meeting and Fiona will continue to consult with stakeholders, which include college representatives, university faculty and employers. But I am hoping to have a complete (draft) version of the Group Award Specification available soon so that we can progress to unit writing.

Please contact Caroline if you want to know more about this development or contact Fiona if you want to know more about the contents of the new awards. And, of course, we're always looking for willing helpers.

Monday, 19 January 2015

Update on Lead Person Network

I've mentioned the Lead Person Network (LPN) previously. The Network now has 28 members, covering every college in Scotland. I appreciate that this is, in fact, more than the total number of (new) colleges in Scotland but, for the time being, some colleges have been permitted more than one representative. The FAQ covers the most common questions about the Lead Person Network.


In time, I'm sure that the LPN will serve a very useful service as a conduit between SQA and colleges. It won't replace the usual means of communications (which include this blog) but it would be worth finding out who your lead person is.

Contact Helen if you have any questions about the LPN for Computing.

Wednesday, 14 January 2015

PC Passport review

We are now proceeding with the review of PC Passport. This was "parked" to permit the team to focus on Digital Passport but we're now in a position to get on with this review. To that end, we've arranged a meeting on Saturday, 24 January in Stirling to discuss the nature of the changes required.


It's not too late to get involved. We're particularly looking for representatives of the school and training sectors. Please contact Helen if you want to be involved or simply find out more.

We hope to have the revised version of PC Passport available to centres from August 2016.

Tuesday, 13 January 2015

Heads of Computing event

The annual event for Heads of Computing in Scottish colleges is taking place on Friday, 30 January in the Stirling Highland Hotel. The agenda has now been finalised and includes some interesting talks from a range of experts.


The event will also update you on some important developments such as the review of HNC/D Interactive Media and NPA PC Passport. It's usually an interesting and informative day so I hope that you can join me and my team. You can get can register here or contact Caroline if you want to know more.

Monday, 12 January 2015

HNC/D Information Technology

We held a meeting this afternoon to discuss the future of the HNC/D IT award. The award is (over)due a review but we had received a number of different ideas about what to do with it so today's meeting was a brain storming session. Representatives of colleges and universities attended.


We had an open discussion about the changes required and made some important decisions. The working title for the revised award is HNC/D Technologies for Business. It will include a number of strands including: computer systems, data management, business processes, data analytics, information securtity, cloud computing and programming. Soft skills will be embedded within the technical units rather than separate units.

It was a productive meeting. The next stage is to form a QDT and get on with developing the award. I expressed my hope that many of the people who came along today would volunteer for the QDT but anyone can join it so please contact Caroline if you are interested. I hope to convene the first meeting of the QDT in the next few weeks.

Digital Passport and PC Passport update

We are piloting a new qualification this year called Digital Passport. It's a National Progression Award (NPA), available at SCQF Levels 4, 5 and 6. A small number of centres (including schools, colleges and training centres) are offering the award this year to try out the contents and support materials.

We are receiving a lot of enquiries about the award from centres that plan to introduce it next year (session 2015/16). They typically want to know more about the award so that they can offer it from August. We're happy to help. We can supply Group Award information now and and final versions of the assessments will be available from SQA Secure from beginning of February. The qualification FAQ [PDF] provides more information about this or contact Helen who will be happy to help in any way that she can.

Digital Passport was created as part of the PC Passport review, which we are now turning our attention to. Please contact Helen if you want to be involved in this development.

Tuesday, 6 January 2015

Product Marketing

I met with Karen MacGregor this afternoon. Karen is the new Product Marketing Manager (PMM) with special responsibility for Computing. PMMs are responsible for developing business cases for new (or revised) qualifications. They take suggestions from the ideas capture form right through the a completed business case, after which me and my team take over. Please contact Karen if you have any suggestions or ideas about new awards. I've updated my organisation chart to include Karen.

Monday, 5 January 2015

Welcome back and welcome to Helen

Welcome back after the Christmas holiday. I hope you had a good break. SQA also resumed today.

A new person joined the team today. Helen Zhang is covering Hilary's post while she is on secondment. Helen will be in position until mid-2016. This means that Helen is the person to contact for all non-advanced qualifications. I've updated the organisation chart to show who-does-what.


Helen has worked for SQA since 2010 in a variety of roles, including international work, so she is an experienced member of staff. Helen can be contacted at helen.zhang@sqa.org.uk. Those of you coming along to the Heads of Computing event will meet her then.

Wednesday, 3 December 2014

Agenda for Heads of Computing event

We're currently working on the agenda for the Heads of Computing event, which is taking place at the end of January. It's shaping up well with talks about cyber security, the Wood Report, and the future of assessment, as well as the bread-and-butter stuff about qualifications and support materials.


You can sign-up for the event here.

Tuesday, 2 December 2014

External verification reports

One of the jobs of the Senior External Verifier (SEV) is to write an annual report on each verification group (VG) in their area. I've been reading the annual reports for my groups recently. My main verification groups are: 288 Information Technology, 357 Computer Science and 358 Information Technology.

The reports made good reading. They were very positive, with lots of improvements compared to previous years. Long standing issues, such as the lack of "red ink" on candidates' written work, have been (largely) addressed in centres. David also noted a big increase in the use of e-assessment in centres, and improved internal verification procedures. His reports also covered Graded Units and improvements were noted here too.

I normally write down action points after reading the reports but this year I had none, which is indicative of the improvements that have taken place. David will be presenting his findings at the forthcoming Heads of Computing event. Coming on top of the recent Aspect report on Computing, it would appear that there has been real improvements in teaching and assessment in colleges.

One of the things discussed at the recent EV annual update meeting was that centres weren't sure what units were in each of the Verification Groups. SQA has been working on a solution to this, but in the meantime you might find this spreadsheet helpful since it lists all of the units in each group.


You can download the complete spreadsheet here.

Wednesday, 26 November 2014

Lead Person Network

I've mentioned previously that we had almost established the lead person network (LPN) for colleges, well I'm pleased to say that the network is now complete. We now have a Computing contact person for each college.

The SQA Computing team has been using online mailing lists and online groups for a long time, but the recent re-organisation of colleges in Scotland meant that these groups were out of date, so we have been working on getting a lead person for each of the new regional colleges. That task is now complete.

Here is a FAQ about the lead person network.


Please contact Liz if you want more information or find out who the lead person is for your college.

Tuesday, 25 November 2014

Computing at School

I attended the annual Computing at School Scotland event on Saturday, held at Napier University. Computing at School is a UK-wide organisation that aims to promote the teaching of Computing in schools. It is supported by BCS, Microsoft and Google.

Saturday's event was the usual interesting mix of talks and workshops. The keynote was given by Elizabeth Montgomery (HMIe) about the importance of computer science to the UK economy. A couple of the workshops related directly to SQA, including one on verification, presented by Ray Simpson, who is the Implementation Manager for CfE Computing Science.


Computing is one of the vocational subjects that is popular in schools. Qualifications such as Internet Safety, PC Passport and Computer Games Development have large uptakes in the school sector. Digital Passport is also proving to be of interest to many schools.

The recent Education Working for All report emphasised the importance of vocational qualifications in schools (up to and including HNCs) and I hope to take this forward in the coming months.

Contact Liz for more information about vocational qualifications for schools.

Friday, 21 November 2014

Heads of Computing Annual Event 2015

In the recent HN Update letter to centres, you were informed that we were in the process of discussing plans for the forthcoming meeting of Heads of Computing.

The annual event will take place on Friday 30th January 2015 at 1000 hours (Registration from 0930 hours) in the Stirling Highland Hotel, Spittal Street, Stirling FK8 1DU.

The event will cover current and future curricular developments as well as a number of spotlight items of interest to the field.

Places are limited and will be based on a first come first served basis with each delegate allocated a maximum of 2 places which is built into the online registration.
If you are interested in coming along to this event then please register online by clicking HERE.
We look forward to seeing you on the 30th January 2015.

Wednesday, 19 November 2014

HNC/D Computer Games Development review has commenced

SQA was the first awarding body in the UK to offer qualifications in computer games when we introduced the HNC/D Computer Games Development in 2005. We revised that award in 2009, and it is now due to be reviewed again.

I met with Gill Flockart, of Dundee & Angus College, this afternoon to discuss the possible changes required to the existing award. Gill is going to scope the likely changes. She will consult widely during the scoping process to discover what's good and what's not so good about the current award.

Gill will complete the scoping exercise by March 2015, after which we will get down to making the necessary changes to the qualification. The revised qualification will be available to centres from session 2016/17.

Contact Caroline for more information about this project.

PC Passport and NPA Digital Literacy reviews

Both PC Passport and NPA Digital Literacy are being reviewed during the current year. In fact, PC Passport was meant to be reviewed last year but, instead, we forked the development to create Digital Passport. We now want to turn our attention back to PC Passport.

I intend to organise two "pre-QDT" meetings to discuss how to take each of these developments forward. These meetings would be wide-ranging discussions on what, if any, changes need to be made to these awards. They are "pre-QDT" because, if the recommended changes are small (such as simply updating the support materials rather than changing the contents of the qualifications), there would be no need for a QDT.

I'm hoping to conduct these meetings before Christmas. I've used the new lead person network to ask for college representatives but I am aware that these awards are also offered in schools and training centres. So please contact Liz if you want to be involved in these meetings.

Tuesday, 18 November 2014

Lead person network now established

We've just about got a lead person for each new college. We have lead contacts for 17 of the 19 Scottish colleges, and we hope to have a "complete set" in the near future. I've created a private group for the lead people so that we can easily communicate and share information.

This lead person network will not replace the usual channels of communications, such as this blog and my annual update letters, but it does provide me with a quick and easy way of communicating with the new colleges.

I have encouraged the lead contacts to cascade information to their colleagues, which should simply be a case of them forwarding the various e-mails that they will receive via the online group.

Please contact Liz if you want to know more about the lead contact network or find out who your lead contact is.

Friday, 14 November 2014

NPA Digital Literacy

As you may know, this award is due to be reviewed this year. The current award was introduced in 2007.

I plan to convene a meeting of centres, with an interest in this award, in the coming weeks to decide the best way to progress this development. There are a number of options including leaving it as it is (but updating its contents) and bringing it into the Digital Passport family of awards.

Please contact Liz if you are interested in being part of this development.

Wednesday, 12 November 2014

Christmas lectures on cyber security

There are a series of Christmas lectures on cyber security coming up in various places around Scotland. I attended last year's event in Glasgow, which was great fun, so I can highly recommend it. Tickets are available now. The events are organised by Martin Beaton of SICSA.

SQA is currently considering the development of a number of qualifications in this area. Contact Liz for more information about our plans.