A-levels show progress in IT education, but IT leaders can do more

At last. This year, computing was the fastest growing A-level subject – nearly 30% more students took the exam. At university level, applications for computer science degrees are up 3% – a small increase perhaps, but a big improvement compared to declines of 13% in 2011, 19% in 2012 and 11% in 2013.

Have we finally turned a corner, for encouraging young people to study technology?

Let’s not get too carried away – those A-level figures correspond to just 5,383 exams out of 850,000 – but after years of consistent decline in interest, this year’s sharp increase is a positive sign.

One important underlying concern remains – only 8% of those computing students were female. At university, the proportion of women students is just 13%, down one percentage point since 2010. Some hope is offered by the fact that since 2010, the number of females taking A-levels in science, technology, engineering or maths (Stem) subjects has risen by 16,000 – but clearly there is a lot more to be done to make girls interested in technology early enough for it to become an option for A-level and degree study.

We must be grateful for any increase, but the industry has to build on this and re-double efforts to develop the next generation of digital workers. The battle to convince leaders in IT, business and government to support moves for more children studying Stem has been won – but the battle to convince those young people is ongoing.

IT leaders need to step up and help. There is hardly an IT manager that does not complain of problems recruiting the skills and talent they need. Getting kids to study computing won’t change that today – but IT chiefs have a responsibility to help ensure their successors don’t face the same difficulties.

There are more and more ways to help – organisations like the Tech Partnership, the BCS, Founders4Schools, Future First or the BBC’s Make It Digital campaign can help engage with schools. Or take your own initiative – offer work experience or apprenticeships, go back to your old school, or to your children’s school, and offer to help in careers days or talks. Sell what a great career the technology world offers.

We need to secure the next generation to build the UK’s future digital economy. We’re going in the right direction at last, but IT leaders need to step up and contribute too.