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Sharp increase in students taking computing A-level

The number of A-level computing students rose 29.1% in 2015, as students pick up their exam results today

Computing showed the biggest percentage increase in A-level entries in 2015 – 29.1% – compared with English literature (up 7.1%), modern foreign languages (up 3.8%), history (up 7.1%) and geography (up 12.7%).

The number of students studying A-level computing rose from 4,171 in 2014 to 5,383 in 2015, with the number of male students rising from 3,857 to 4,927 and the number of females up from 314 to 456.

The proportion of females achieving A* grade in computing increased from 2.2% to 3.9% this year, and females achieving A grade rose from 18.5% to 20.6%. However, the proportion of boys achieving A* fell from 2.9% in 2014 to 2.8% this year, and boys achieving A grade slipped from 15.7% to 15.3%.

The number of students taking science and maths subjects has increased by 38,000, or 17.3%, since 2010, when the government and industry announced a drive to encourage more young people to study Stem (science, technology, engineering and mathematics) subjects.

That campaign was focused particularly on encouraging more female students to study Stem subjects. Since 2010, the number of females taking A-levels in Stem subjects has risen by 16,000.

From September 2014, the English national curriculum required computing to be taught in schools to children from the age of five until 16. This replaced the ICT syllabus and was intended to introduce children to computational thinking from an early age.

However, in the lead-up to the new curriculum, many schools said they did not have enough time or support to prepare for the launch.

Overall, there were more than 850,000 A-level entries in 2015 and, according to Joint Council for Qualifications figures, the pass rate rose by 0.1 percentage point to 98.1%.

Schools minister Nick Gibb congratulated students as they received their results today. “This year’s A-level students are among the best qualified in a generation and I want to congratulate them on today’s results, which reflect the dedication of teachers and young people across the country,” he said. 

“These results provide the clearest proof that the introduction of the EBacc and our drive to persuade more pupils to study core academic subjects has been a success.

“As a result, thousands more pupils from all backgrounds are studying subjects that will secure them a place at a top university or an apprenticeship, and that will help to secure well-paid employment.

“The growing rise in students taking facilitating subjects follows the introduction of the EBacc performance measure, which encourages the study of these subjects at GCSE.”

Across all subjects, A* and A grades were achieved  by 25.9% of entries, down 0.1% on last year.

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Meanwhile, the Ucas university admissions service reports that 409,000 computer science places have been confirmed this year, a rise of 3% on 2014.

The number of students opting to take computer science at degree level has increased from 111,030 in 2014 to 123,900 in 2015.

A decrease of 13% was seen in 2011, followed by bigger fall of 19% in 2012 and 11% in 2013. The figure was static in 2014, but 2015 has seen a sharp increase of 12% in students applying for computer science degrees.

Despite this rise, the proportion of girls choosing to take a computer science degree has declined since 2010, when the figure was 14%. In 2014, the figure stood at 13%.

Recent figures from the Institute of Engineering and Technology show that women make up just 3% of IT and computing engineers across the UK.

Richard Gadd, managing director, UK & Ireland at Hitachi Data Systems, said: “With A-level results coming out today, it is exciting to see the prospect of new Stem talent from this year’s school leavers.

“For young people planning or beginning their careers, it is important to remember that careers in Stem are no longer about being the ‘techies’ stuck in the basement. With new technologies redefining the jobs market, the people with tech acumen will be those placed at the forefront of business innovation and integral to defining strategy. 

“It is the skill of connecting business and technology that is so vital for driving growth and is quickly earning places at the board table.”

Gadd highlight the fact that many UK businesses have been worried about finding the next generation of workers with the right knowledge and skills.

“To ensure the UK technology scene is an inspiring hub of great talent that can ignite economic success, businesses also have an important role to play,” he said. 

“By working with the government and offering more entry-level jobs with on-site training, where individuals are equipped with the right skills to pursue a career in IT, businesses can help bridge the IT skills gap and ensure they can recruit the right people for the future.

“At Hitachi Data Systems, we are working with Beaconsfield High School to provide girls with the support to pursue further education and careers in Stem subjects through a mentoring scheme, work placements and interactions with our staff and partners.”

Andrew Lawson, UK managing director of Salesforce, said: “It is really encouraging to see that the number of students taking maths A-level has risen, and I'm pleased that it remains the most popular A-level subject. I believe that with the curriculum changes the government introduced last September, to focus on computer science, and in particular programming/coding, we will start to see even more students taking all the Stem-related A-levels in future.

“And although there has been a drop in the number of science papers awarded the top A* and A grades, I don’t think we should worry. Instead, we should look at this as an opportunity to continue our work encouraging students to explore Stem-related degree options and careers – and to help this generation of students build the UK technology industry of tomorrow.”

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