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Girls now account for more than 20% of computing GCSE entries

This year has seen an increase in female students choosing computing at both A-Level and GCSE - and they are outperforming boys

The number of girls choosing to take computing at GCSE level has increased for the second year in a row.

The number of female candidates has increased year on year, from 15,046 in 2018 to 17,158 in 2019, with girls now making up 21.4% of UK GCSE computing entries.

Vinous Ali, associate director of policy at techUK, said: “It is encouraging to see more young women taking computing at GCSE this year, recognising the importance and value of the qualification. With new and emerging technologies changing the world of work, a solid foundation in computing will undoubtedly be useful in the future.”

When it comes to higher-level grades in computing, girls outperformed boys – 24.9% of girls got a 7/A grade in the subject as opposed to 20.8% of boys, and 66.2% of girls received a 4/C grade or above as opposed to 61.7% of boys.

The number of students who received a 7/A grade this year increased for both genders, and overall entries for computing increased year on year overall, with a total of 80,027 candidates in 2019 as opposed to 74,621 last year.

Russ Shaw, founder of Tech London Advocates and Global Tech Advocates, said: “A shortage of talent is always cited as the single biggest challenge facing tech companies. The UK needs to produce more home-grown talent to meet demand. Today’s GCSE results, which show an increase in STEM [science, technology, engineering and mathematics] students, is very encouraging.

“What is particularly significant is the increase in girls studying STEM subjects, which paints an optimistic future for the tech industry, which has struggled to increase its gender diversity.”

But Ali of techUK pointed out the “enthusiasm” for computing and other STEM subjects needs to carry on growing among both genders.

While there was a similar upward trend in the number of girls choosing to take GCSE computing last year, the technology industry remained hopeful yet sceptical, with many worried this trend will not continue into higher levels of education such as A-Level.

In the past, girls have claimed they regret not taking STEM subjects for longer, with many dropping STEM subjects due to industry and social stereotypes, then realising later these subjects would have been useful for their future careers.

The subject of ICT is being phased out, and as such saw a significant drop in the number of GCSE entrants this year, from 55,589 in 2018 to 9,515 this year, although some are in two minds about whether or not the subject should leave the curriculum.

When it comes to other STEM subjects, there was an increase in students choosing to take maths at GCSE level, as well as an increase in double-award science.

The three sciences – physics, chemistry and biology – have typically seen a gender gap when it comes to higher grades, with boys traditionally achieving higher grades in physics and chemistry, and girls achieving higher grades in biology.

There was a noticeable closing of this gap in 2019 – while boys still performed better in physics, girls are increasingly performing better overall.

In chemistry, girls outperformed boys when it came to higher grades, with 45.3% achieving at least a 7/A grade as opposed to 43% of male candidates who took the subject.

A higher percentage of girls still achieved higher grades than boys in biology, but the gap is closing here too – while 44.3% of female candidates received at least 7/A grade, 40.5% of boy received the same in this traditionally female subject.

Helen Wollaston, CEO of campaign for gender equality in STEM at WISE, said: “I’m pleased to see the 14% rise in girls getting GCSE in computing. We saw the same increase last year, which shows steady progress, taking the female percentage up to 21%.

“But it worries me that so many more boys are still choosing this subject. With at least 82% of advertised openings requiring some level of digital skills, computing is as fundamental as English and maths in terms of getting a decent job.”

Regardless of gender, the technology industry is keen to increase the number of people with technology and STEM skills across the UK to plug growing skills gaps.

But there are concerns over whether the UK’s computing curriculum is capable of filling this gap fast enough, and other provisions are being made to ensure technology talent external to the UK will still be available after Brexit.

Read more about tech talent

  • Despite cities around the UK being home to a multitude of tech talent, the London bubble still prevails, with a majority of those with digital skills collecting in the capital.
  • Research by Tech London Advocates has found investment in London’s tech sector has dropped since the Brexit announcement in 2016, threatening access to growth and talent.

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