Thursday, 29 August 2013

Sector Panel meeting

The Sector Panel for Computing & IT met today. The Panel meets once per year to provide advice and support to me and my team about strategic developments in the sector. There was an excellent attendance today, with 18 people attending, representing schools, colleges, universities, training providers, employers, IT vendors, and professional bodies.

We have recently expanded the membership of the Panel to try to get more diverse views, and today's meeting certainly achieved that goal. There was lively debate around a number of issues such as employment trends, CPD needs of Computing teachers, e-learning, digital literacy, and Modern Apprenticeships, among many other topics.

We had a particularly interesting discussion about CPD for teachers in colleges. The new HN awards are state-of-the-art in terms of their contents and several college representatives reported problems ensuring that teachers were able to deliver the new units. One of the actions I will take forward is to report this concern to those agencies with special responsibility for CPD in the college sector.

We also had a good conversation about Virtual Learning Environments (VLEs) compared with "open solutions" to e-learning that utilise social meda.

It was good to hear the employer representatives so up-beat about the demand for Computing staff now and in the future. A number of recent reports have commented on the shortage of skilled IT staff. It was also heartening to hear college representatives report huge demand for places on their Computing courses.

Chris Morrow of E-Skills UK is a member of the Panel and told the meeting that he is leaving E-Skills in September. Chris has been a good friend of SQA over the years and will be missed.

The Sector Panel is not a talk shop. After every meeting we create an "action list" that we work through to ensure that the Panel makes a real contribution to the sector.

I plan to change the name of the Panel from "Computing and Information Technology" to just "Computing" to reflect the change in terminology that I have previously described.

We're always looking for new members of the Panel so please contact Caroline if you would like to know more about its work and consider joining it. Although the Panel only physically meets once per year, we use social media to keep in touch throughout the year so it's a great way of finding out what's going on in the sector and contributing to the work of SQA.

Tuesday, 27 August 2013

Defining the subject

I've mentioned before that SQA was in the process of re-organising Verification Groups (VGs) as a result of a report from the Royal Society about the past and future of the subject area. That report made a strong recommendation that Computing should be viewed as three distinct, but linked, subject areas: Digital Literacy, Information Technology and Computer Science. It also recommended that awarding bodies across the UK adopt this taxonomy.

SQA was happy to follow that advice. The first tangible change is this re-organisation of VGs, which I have been working on over the summer and is almost now complete. The new groups have been created and we are in the process of assigning EVs to each group. I used the following definitions to help me create the groups and assign qualifications (download here).

This is about more than just a change of name. The Report made it clear that seeing the subject area in this way (as having three branches) is fundamental and will have important implications for every aspect of the subject. From SQA's perspective, it's a useful way of considering curriculum development and categorising the portfolio of awards. I'm sure colleges and schools and other providers of computer education and training will find it equally helpful.

Monday, 26 August 2013

Team diagram

Since I was updating the portflio diagram, I thought that it would be a good idea to also update the team digram.

This is another cut-out-and-keep document since it provides important information about who you should contact along with their contact information. You can download it here. You will get a much faster reply if you use this diagram to contact the right person.

Updated portfolio

I updated the portfolio diagram today. This diagram summarises the portfolio of vocational Computing awards, ranging from stand-alone National Units at SCQF Level 3 to Professional Development Awards at SCQF Level 8.

The diagram also illustrates the recently created/revised awards (such as the new HND Computer Science) and the awards currently being reviewed (such as PC Passport).

You may want to download and print this diagram to aid your future planning. The "Useful links" box on the right provides links to web pages where you can find out more about any of these awards.

Wednesday, 21 August 2013

Satisfaction survey is open

The centre satisfaction survey for 2013 (session 2012/13) is now open.

We've been doing an annual survey for a couple of years now and we use the results to try to improve the service that we provoide to centres. Although we don't share the results publically, we do carefully consider them and try to identify our strengths and weaknesses, so that we can try to keep doing the good things and improve the not-so-good things.

The survey only takes five minutes and your time would be appreciated. You will find the survey at this URL:

Thanks in anticipation.

Thursday, 15 August 2013

Welcome back

Welcome back for another year. I won't pretend I don't miss my long summer holidays (which I enjoyed for 22 years) but there is the consolation of being able to choose when I take my holidays.

The big challenge this year is the introduction of the new HN awards. We recently validated a new HNC and four new HNDs, including a brand new HND in Computer Science, and lots of you will be involved in delivering one or more of these new qualifications this year. It's an exciting prospect. The new awards are very up-to-date and, I think, have many improvements over the old awards -- not least of which is the 50% reduction in assessment. But I appreciate the challenge in delivering lots of new things in a short period of time. Don't hesitate to contact me if you need any help or support. There is a range of things I can do to help - from organising a development visit to personally visiting your centre. There are lots of support materials available for these new awards (more than we have ever previously provided). Contact Caroline if you want to know what's available.

Look out for two things in the near future. Our annual satisfaction survey is about to be issued (when I ask you what you think of the service we provide) and I am currently working on the annual update letters (one for NC, one for HN, and one for SVQ). I hope to get these finished in the next couple of weeks. Readers of this blog won't learn anything from the letters (it's all been posted here in the past) but for those who don't these letters provide a useful update on developments such as the on-going review of PC Passport.

In the meantime, don't hesitate to contact Hilary for anything related to non-advanced awards (National Units, NPAs and NCs) and SVQs, or contact Caroline for advanced awards.

Vendor Survey

Last week I blogged the link to a vendor survey that we have compiled to gain some feedback from centres who are offering vendor certifications alongside SQA qualifications.

Please take a few moments to complete the survey if you have not yet done so.

Monday, 12 August 2013

Local options within HN awards

Our HN awards have had something called "local options" for a long time. This allows centres to effectively add any units they like to the awards (although the number of credits is capped). These were originally conceived to help centres customise the awards to their specific local circumstances. For example, a particular college with a large local employer may have a very good reason to add an "unusual" unit to their specific HN award.

Computing is now one of the few subject areas to continue to offer local options. Their use has declined for various reasons including the adminstrative overhead of constantly updating frameworks, and it sometimes being used to provide credit for units that really don't fit the rationale of the awards at all.

I will clarify the rationale and procedure for using local options in my forthcoming update letter, which should be sent to centres in the next few weeks. We will continue to offer it but tighten the procedure to ensure that the awards continue to meet the purposes for which they were designed.

Friday, 9 August 2013

Annual team meeting

I've mentioned previously that the team take time out once per year to reflect on the past year and consider the coming year. We normally do this around summer time since it is quieter for us at this time of the year. We had our annual meeting yesterday.

In the past we have come up with some good ideas at these meetings. For example, we decided to use Twitter a few years ago and more recently we agreed to do an annual satisfaction survey of centres. One of the decisions to come out of yesterday's meeting was that we will try to use LinkedIn when we ask for volunteers to work with us. Look out for more information about this in the coming weeks.

We also agreed to try to use Google Hangouts to reduce time spent at meetings. I promised to take that forward internally.

We spent some time devising the centre satisfaction survey for 2013 and, again, look out for more information about this in the coming weeks.

Wednesday, 7 August 2013

Vendor Survey

We have compiled a survey to gain feedback from centres who are offering both SQA qualifications and vendor courses so that we can monitor how they are being delivered and to promote awareness of the new approach to vendor within HNC/D Computing awards.

This survey is not exclusive to HN awards.  This is open to all SQA approved centres (FE, HE, Training Providers etc) who are delivering SQA qualifications (HNC/HNC, PDA, NC, NPA, SVQ, CBQ) in conjunction with vendor courses.

I would appreciate if you could take a few minutes to complete the survey at the URL below: