ICT GCSE is leaving “girls and poorer students” behind

The ICT GCSE is at risk of leaving female, ethnic minority and students from poor backgrounds behind, according to academics at Roehampton University.

Only 28 per cent of schools entered pupils for the GCSE in computing in 2015, with only 24 per cent entering pupils at A-level. While this is a worrying statistic, what is perhaps more concerning is that of those entered at GCSE only 16 per cent were female. At A-level, this drops down to only 8.5 per cent. This increases to 20 per cent and 10 per cent respectively in 2016 – an improvement, but still troublingly low.

Carrie-Ann Philbin, a former computing teacher who works to engage children in coding at the Raspberry Pi Foundation, said that these figures are "disappointing but not surprising”, but points out that we are at an early stage in developing computing education and things should improve.

She also believes that there is a cultural problem, with the courses being sold as if its only purpose is to turn out a generation of programmers. "This only alienates teenage girls who already have a negative idea of what it is to be a ‘computer geek’."

However, the government remains optimistic with a spokesperson for the Department for Education highlighting that despite these low statistics, more female pupils are starting to study computer science courses: “The number of girls studying computer science has nearly doubled since last year and we want to see more follow their example.”

The study also found that poorer children and those from ethnic minorities are less likely to be getting the computing education that the government is encouraging.19 per cent of pupils who receive free school meals took the ICT GCSE, with only 3.6 per cent of pupils who were black taking the course. 

Miles Berry, principal lecturer and subject leader of computing education at Roehampton University, said: “Computing and ICT had really quite different groups of students taking them. ICT was much closer to the average in terms of gender, low income, ethnicity and prior attainment in maths." 

With the UK facing a skills shortage in the computer and technical sectors, it is vital more pupils study computer courses, Peter Kemp, a senior lecturer in computing education said: “We need to make sure that computer science becomes a subject at least as inclusive as the old ICT qualification. If the current disparities in access go unaddressed we risk wasting the opportunity to transform the tech industry into a more equal profession."

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