More girls take GCSE computing in 2018, but will they carry on with Stem?

The number of girls who chose to take GCSE computing rose in 2018, but concerns remain over whether they will continue to study Stem subjects later on

The number of young people who chose to take the computing GCSE in 2018 rose year-on-year, and the number of girls taking the subject is steadily going up. Overall in 2018, 74,621 students took the full-course computing GCSE, an increase from 66,751 in the previous year.

In 2018, 15,046 girls took the full-course computing GCSE, a 1,814 increase on the previous year, but girls performed slightly worse than in 2017, with 65.3% gaining a C grade or above in comparison to 65.7% last year.

Though an increase in the number of girls taking subjects such as computing is a good sign, Fujitsu’s EMEIA employee experience, diversity and inclusion lead, Sarah Kaiser, said there is evidence that suggests girls who attain high grades in science, technology, engineering and maths (Stem) subjects do not necessarily go on to study them at a higher level.

Commenting on research by the Institute for Fiscal Studies, which found a lack of peers taking Stem subjects and low confidence deters girls from taking these subjects after GCSE level, Kaiser said: “Although girls are achieving top grades in science and math at GCSE, more still needs to be done to encourage the uptake of Stem subjects at A-level and all the way through university and into the workplace.”

Young girls have claimed they would like to see more encouragement from role models in the technology industry to pursue similar careers, but stereotypes about the industry, such as it being better suited to men, still put girls off of subjects such as computing.

Tara O’Sullivan, CMO at Skillsoft, explained that to encourage more young women into Stem, an effort will have to be made across the entire tech pipeline, starting with schools and progressing up to boardroom level.

“Some women feel that men suit Stem more than they do,” she said. “This is why there are so many programmes aimed at getting girls interested in these areas. These on-going drives are trying to eradicate and challenge old fashioned viewpoints held by parents and teachers alike, that girls are less likely to want be involved in Stem career paths – or that they will find it too tough.”

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Young girls have claimed in the past that they are put off of subjects such as computing because they see them as “too difficult”, but a large number of young women have also admitted to regretting leaving Stem behind them, wishing they had studied these subjects for longer – so there is potential to shift the dial.

Overall grades for both genders combined in GSCE computing were up on 2017, with 21% of students achieving a 7 or higher (equivalent to an A grade) in 2018 compared to last year’s 20.7% and 61.6% of students achieving an equivalent C grade or higher in computing compared to 60.8% last year – but there are still concerns over the growing technology skills gap in the UK, which is only predicted to get worse after Brexit.

Despite the government’s efforts to increase the number of people in the UK with digital skills by introducing the new computing curriculum in 2014, many have argued there has not been enough support for teachers, or enough done to raise awareness of the importance of Stem subjects.

Julia Adamson, director of education at the BCS, The Chartered Institute of IT, said: “There is a critical need to improve computer science teaching through better professional development, support and resources. We need to recognise the value of the subject and students, particularly girls, need to be encouraged and supported to take the subject.”

Adamson said encouraging more young people into Stem is vital not only to close the UK’s technology skills gap, but also because as technology becomes more common, everyone will need to have at least a basic level of digital skills to do any job in the future.

This will also mean that there needs to be a shift towards “lifelong” learning as opposed to school being the last hurdle, especially as the school curriculum is not flexible enough to adapt to the fast pace of change in the technology industry.

Matt Weston, managing director at Robert Half UK, said: “In the coming years, the only thing that will remain constant is the pace of change. This is a crucial lesson for all students and workers alike. They must react by adopting a culture of lifelong learning, being resilient and demonstrating the flexibility to learn new skills.”

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