Microsoft has launched a new computing programme designed to help thousands of primary school teachers throughout the UK gear up for a new Computing curriculum coming to schools later this year.

The free course will give 160,000 primary school teachers the knowledge and skills they need to effectively teach the new Computing syllabus, which replaces the old ICT (Information and Communications Technology) curriculum that focused on more basic skills.

While ICT taught children how to use applications, Computing will instead focus on developing computational thinking, which is arguably a more important skill in the fast-changing world of technology.

The problem for teachers is that many of them will lack the necessary understanding of and confidence with the new curriculum, making it necessary for them to effectively go back to school themselves.

Improving computational literacy

Microsoft's First Class Computing programme, part of a wider aim to make all UK school leavers computationally literate, includes relevant material for Years 1 to 6 and has been successfully trialled with teachers and children.

"Primary teachers have less than a year to get to grips with the new 'Computing' curriculum," said Claire Lotriet, ICT Coordinator at Henwick Primary School in Greenwich. "There's a whole range of new concepts like algorithms that can be tricky to explain to some adults, let alone a five year old child. That's why simplified, adaptable and engaging materials are so useful to get our hands on now before that all important first lesson of the term."

The course is just one of a slew of efforts Microsoft is making to improve computational knowledge amongst children. It is also offering cheap Xbox 360s to schools that have a DreamSpark subscription, and it has launched its annual Kodu Kup competition designed to encourage children to code with the child-friendly Kodu visual programming language.