Teach Computing

Sharing thoughts and ideas about teaching computing in school

Programming for GCSE Computing

I’ve mentioned quite a few times before that people often ask me which particular GCSE Computing specification I would recommend. Having only ever taught one of them (OCR GCSE Computing), I find myself in the position of a mortgage advisor in that I can only really offer advice on one product. As the availability of different GCSE Computing awards increases, it makes the choice for those who find themselves in the market even more difficult.

I’ve been working on a few projects recently that focus on the programming aspects of GCSE Computing. As well as the training events I’ll be leading around the country with Dragonfly, I’ve also been writing some more materials specifically on programming for GCSE Computing. This is the one topic that I find I get asked for advice and support the most.

I thought it would be prudent to compare the programming requirements for the two most popular GCSE Computing specifications (AQA and OCR). You can see for yourself a detailed comparison of each listed in this document.

I suppose it was reassuring that there were not that many significant differences between the two, but I did reach a few conclusions:

  • The AQA specification seems to use a lot more detail to make explicit, what seems to be implicit in the OCR requirements.
  • Either the AQA spec demands a lot more of candidates, or they are merely making sure that there is no ambiguity that might catch people out later
  • On some topics, there are some higher levels of understanding required for AQA, eg. AQA – use one and two dimensional arrays, be able to define their own data structures beyond those built-in to the language(s), OCR – define and use one dimensional arrays;
  • AQA requires understanding and use of SQL as well as an understanding of custom functions/procedures
  • OCR requires understanding of differences between high level languages and machine code and an understanding of assembler, compilers, interpreters as well as IDE tools

Though there will be many more subtle differences, I think these are the most significant for the programming element of the GCSE. I imagine those with a degree in Computer Science may find the AQA requirements a lot easier to digest than me.

If you don’t have a degree in Computing Science, don’t be put off entirely. I don’t have such a degree and until recently did not have a programming background either. However, after teaching the OCR specification for two years now, I have managed to understand and teach all that is required. So, you can imagine how delighted I was that my class achieved A* and A grades in my recent GCSE Computing results with 86% of the class achieving the same grades or better than they did in their other GCSE subjects.

Please send/add your comments on this.

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2 comments on “Programming for GCSE Computing

  1. Neil Brown
    September 8, 2013

    I find it hard to read the specs without launching into a long blog post about how I’d change them if I were king for the day ;-) The AQA spec does seem quite demanding for a GCSE spec, especially the items about reading in from external databases, and using 2 dimensional arrays. The defining your own data types part of AQA is not so bad when you realise they mean simple structs or extra classes, not defining say, linked lists or hash tables.

  2. Brian Sharland
    September 9, 2013

    I think OCR spec also includes requirement for a small bit of SQL as well.

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