I have held off so far on blogging about anything to do with my Computer Science PGCE, because I wanted to have time to settle in. I didn’t want to comment after the first week, or my first day in a placement school, without knowing how I really felt about it.
But then something happened this week that really got to me, which I will come to later.
I admit that when I was first considering the Computer Science PGCE, while working in a job I did not enjoy, the £20k Scholarship offered by the British Computer Society was what tempted me to apply. To do the course, I would be leaving a paid job, and so the possibility of the scholarship was enough to make me seriously consider the course. I applied for both the Computer Science PGCE and for the BCS Scholarship at the same time. I knew my chances of getting the Scholarship were slim, but it gave me the extra nudge I needed.
As predicted, I was not successful in obtaining the Scholarship, but I did get a place on the Computer Science PGCE course. Fortunately, I knew that PGCE students training to teach in certain subject areas with either a 2:1 or 1st Class degree were eligible for Training Bursaries from the Government. In subjects such as Maths or Languages, the Bursary for a 1st is £20k, but for Computer Science it is only £9k.
While significantly less, it is still useful to help cover costs over the year, and slightly counter the loss of income from leaving a full time job. I was also able to apply once again for Student Loans, to provide financial support through the year, and help with the costs of tuition fees. It would be a struggle, but I’d just about be able to manage.
Since starting the course however, I have had this growing feeling I should have waited a year.
While applying to the course and going for interviews, I visited a couple of secondary schools that were both teaching Computer Science. I was told at the end of the summer term where my placement school would be, and had the chance to visit before the summer holiday. They too were teaching computer science. But when I started the course I was informed I was no longer being placed at that school. I then found out that not all schools the university works with are teaching Computer Science. We spend a significant amount of time in placement schools, learning from existing teachers. For my first placement, the longer of the two, I found I had been placed in a state school that only teaches ICT (Information and Communication Technology).
The draft of the new National Curriculum for England, Wales and Northern Ireland, which will come into effect in September 2014, includes Computing, the core of which is Computer Science, to replace ICT. This will mean that all state schools, with the subjects they teach bound by the National Curriculum, will have to teach Computing from September 2014. This greatly increases the chances that the schools the university works, with when placing PGCE students, will teach Computing. There are still Academies, which are not bound by the National Curriculum, and are free to choose the subjects they teach. So there may still be schools that teach ICT. But in many cases, these Academies are the schools already teaching Computing or Computer Science.
This on it’s own, although disappointing, has not been enough for me to change my mind and leave the course. While I would prefer to be in a school where I am getting experience of Computer Science being taught, as this is the subject area I chose, I am still learning about how to teach in general and how to teach a computer based subject. A PGCE is as much about learning to teach, the pedagogy, the theory and the practices of teaching, as it is learning to teach a specific subject. But in other subjects, for example Science or P.E., those students would naturally expect to be placed their chosen subject area.
Back to this week, and something that compounded the nagging feeling I am 1 year to early.
This week, before even receiving the first payment of that £9k bursary, Schools Minister David Laws has announced some rather significant changes which make this year seem very much like the wrong time to be doing a Computer Science PGCE. Now, instead of students with a 1st receiving £9k and those with a 2:1 receiving £4k when doing a Computer Science PGCE, both will automatically receive £20k.
Without having to do anything else, if I was in this same position next year of having a place on the Computer Science PGCE course, I would automatically receive more than double the amount of bursary. I would not have had the added pressure of applying for any scholarship, or being told by the BCS that I am not good enough to receive their £20k of funding. Instead, on the grounds of my degree classification alone, I would be good enough for £20k of funding. The Scholarship available from the BCS has increased to £25k, but now the difference between the two is less significant. I could still have chosen to apply to the BCS Scholarship, although with the difference between the two reduced, there is less incentive or pressure to do this.
It would mean straight away I would not have applied for any Student Loan. As it stands now, with the Maintenance Loan too support my living expenses during the year, and the Tuition Fee Loan, I am adding an extra £12k to the Student Loans I already need to pay back from my Undergraduate Degree. The Bursary does not need to be paid back, and would have meant I could have paid my own Tuition Fee, and had a enough left for expenses across the year.
It is definitely not all about money. But it would have been nice to have not had to increase my student loan debt by £12k this year. It would also have been nice not to have been told you I was not a good enough candidate for £20k of funding this year, based on a tough interview process, only to find next year I would have automatically been good enough based on my existing degree alone. That feels like a bit of a kick in the teeth. The increased chance of being placed in a school teaching Computer Science would have been a plus too!
Now that I am already on the course, I am going to stick with it. It would be impossible to drop out now and reapply next year. That would look ridiculous, and I know there is no way that any university would offer me a place again if I gave up the one I had this year. But I will never be able to lose the feeling it would have been better to do it next year. Yes people often say ‘the grass is always greener on the other side’. But in this case, it actually is.
All I can do is hope there are many positions available in the job market for Computer Science teachers to start for September 2014, when many more schools will need to offer the subject under the National Curriculum. I already experienced bad timing earlier in my career, when I had to delay graduation due to personal circumstances. This meant postponing graduate job applications, so when I reapplied the following year many of the companies had reduced their intake due to the recession. The only job I was then offered I had to take due to financial pressure, despite the nagging feeling it would be a mistake and detrimental to my career.
It turns my subconscious was right back then. I really hope this time it isn’t.
After 3 long arduous years, I finally did it. I resigned. It’s such a weird feeling, as I’ve been wanting to do that for such a long time. Now that it’s done, it is a little surreal. For the next 4 weeks I am part of that group everyone complains constantly about; the unemployed. In 4 weeks time, I join that other group lots of people complain about, university students. Although in a fairly loose sense. I start a PGCE in Computer Science at the University of Reading in September, training to become a teacher. It’s a big change, but I’m looking forward to it!
Although the time off now I’ve finished work is welcome, I’m trying to use the next 4 weeks as productively as possible, starting tomorrow. I am once again being a mentor for Young Rewired State, this time running the Reading centre kindly hosted at Microsoft. If you do happen to read my blog (unlikely!), you may have read about this when I mentored at the Reading centre last year. It was one of the best experiences I’ve had in recent years, and played a big part in my decision to apply to the Computer Science PGCE course. We have many new names signed up this year, some returning participants and a fresh group of mentors, and I am definitely looking forward to things kicking off tomorrow morning.
I doubt I’ll be blogging much during the week, but I’ll definitely be active on Twitter. I’ll be active on my own account as well as tweeting from the Reading YRS account, so anyone interested in #YRS2013 can follow our progress. I’ll return here once I’m back from the Festival of Code next weekend, to let you know how things went, and to work out what to do with the remaining 3 weeks of my unemployment!
Predictably, a lot has happened in the last 6 months. Just not a blog post. One thing that is both at the same time surprising, and not at all surprising, is that my job somehow found a way to get worse. I already didn’t enjoy it, as it never really had anything I could really engage with. But when the business completely changed and forced my job to become something I absolutely did not want to do, I realised it was time for a change. I was already looking to leave, and so didn’t see the point in trying to fight the change or try to move into another job role within the same company. I had already been looking for other jobs, but with each interview I would get rejected for not having enough experience. If it required any programming experience, while I could demonstrate some, I would be turned away because I had not got even 1 solid year of experience from my current job. If it wanted skills in electronics, the same thing.
Even though my job has given me experience in all the key areas I’m interested in, it has been few and far between. Once any potential employer found this out, they would send me packing. If they targeted you because there was something written on your CV, they expected it to be something you had at least 1 year of solid experience with. Not just a few projects scattered through the last 3 years. I started to see that the only way to change jobs was to start from scratch. To look at things from the point of view of not having a degree, or not having any professional experience, and go for junior or entry level positions. But I also started to think of alternatives. Going back to University was one of them.
This is something that has always been on my mind, ever since I was unsuccessful in securing funding to stay on and undertake a PhD after I graduated. But then something caught my attention. Something I had thought about before, but had always ignored. Teaching. Or more specifically, teaching Computer Science. It was a tweet from Dr. Sue Black that made me stop and think. She tweeted about the British Computer Society Scholarships being offered to those going to do a PGCE in Computer Science Secondary Education. Their goal is to encourage more people with the right skills to train as teachers, coinciding with Computer Science being added to the National Curriculum. Seeing this, and reading more about it, made me take action.
I knew that working with young people was something I enjoyed, having been involved in Scouting again as an adult for almost 4 years. This is why many of my friends had been suggesting for about 2 years I should become a teacher, knowing how much I dislike my job. They all think it would be something I’ll enjoy. I also knew there are plenty of enthusiastic young people out there interested in learning to code, through events such as Young Rewired State, who would gladly take the subject if it was offered at school. I immediately looked at the PGCE courses offered by the University of Reading. Having really enjoyed my time there completing my undergraduate degree, it was always my first choice if I returned to study. Fortunately, they offered Computer Science. I made my applications, to both the PGCE course and to the BCS Scholarship, and the process began!
I’d like to say I was lucky and was awarded the BCS Scholarship, but sadly not. That didn’t deter me though, and I kept going with my application to the PGCE course. Part of the process involved spending at least one day observing lessons in a school. Something I was apprehensive about at first, not having been in a school for years, but thoroughly enjoyed. It did not feel awkward or uncomfortable being in a classroom and engaging with the students. I have now been through the application process, and after a somewhat awkward and uncomfortable interview, I am looking forward to starting back at university in September.
It maybe isn’t how I expected I would go back to university, but I definitely think it’s the right thing to do, and now, the right time to do it. I can’t stay in a job I don’t like any longer, desperately hoping that somehow, some-when, the job will change and I’ll start enjoying it. It’s been 3 years, and the changes have only ever made things worse. If I don’t get out now, and do something different, I don’t think I’d last much longer.
Now, whether the weather shows it, or not, summer is here. And I doubt it will hang around very long. So I’ve got a new project, something I’m going to build. I took the Windows Phone controlled Netduino robot about as far as I wanted too. Although I still haven’t attached the wheels onto the motors, it functions as I planned it too. Nothing too complicated, just a bit of fun. Now I’ve set my eyes on a Quadrotor/Quadricopter – whatever they’re called – a flying vehicle with 4 propellers. To start with I’m just going to jump into the Radio Controlled world, and build one to fly manually. But after that, I’ll look at things like the ArduCopter and Bitcraze Crazyflie Nano, to see about automating it and turning it into some sort of UAV. As and when things happen with it, I’ll probably put up some stuff here. There’s also our ongoing home automation work, which may require some creativity to add some feedback to our LightwaveRF setup, that may also feature here. Either way, there should be something new sooner than 6 months!