Female students head to Silicon Valley as UK firms fail to open arms

Head of Townley Grammar School for girls shares why he takes 80 computer science students to meet female role models in Silicon Valley every year

Many British girls studying computer science are heading to Silicon Valley annually, because UK technology businesses are failing to invite them in says one grammar school head teacher.

According to Desmond Deehan, head teacher at Townley Grammar School for girls in Kent, UK businesses are not as open to allowing young people in to meet role models and learn about careers in technology, so the school takes the 80 GCSE and A Level computer science students to Silicon Valley instead.

The students visit San Francisco, LA, the Computer History Museum and Stanford University and businesses such as Microsoft, Google, Facebook, Intel and NetApp to name a few.

Deehan said: “The last three years we’ve taken our computing students to Silicon Valley. We couldn’t get the students into businesses in the UK, so we go to the US for two weeks. It’s all bureaucratic; you have to be certain schools to meet the criteria in the UK.

“The students go to Silicon Valley to see the female roles and to see successful women in the industry. There is a real drive to make things more equitable there. Britain isn’t as geared towards it as the US is. Organisations such as Computing At Schools (CAS) are great and willing to help, but not businesses.”

Deehan highlighted how schools are not given extra funding from the government for the computing curriculum “and it costs a lot to run. Basket weaving would receive the same amount of funding, because it’s done on bodies and not what you’re teaching.”

Townley Grammar School is having a computing suite built called the Ada Lovelace suite. However, Deehan said the school was given a grant of £1,000 to help “not for computing but because it was a new building. There is nowhere in the industry to go and ask for help. We should get help because we’re supporting the industry too.

“It should be if you’re doing something good businesses should offer to help and offer places for apprentices, or help fund your computing degree if you come work for us for a while.”

He explained that computing teachers are few and far between and can be hard to keep: “I have recruited every computing teacher I can get my hands on, but it’s been a slog.

“There are not enough students doing computing at university, so not enough to go into the technology sector and even less to go into teaching. I need enough slack for them to go and help others train too. I was contacted by a teacher who is head of design technology and has been asked to set up computing science at his school. I’m teaching my maths teachers to code too, so I have some slack.”

The school currently runs a coding club, a robotics club and is the computing hub for south east London. It also recently took part in the Hour of Code and has a previous student, now studying at UCL, come into to talk to the students about life studying computing after secondary school.

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