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Increase in number of girls taking GCSE computing exams in 2022

After two years of declines in the number of girls taking the GCSE computing exam, figures out today show a rebound to 2019 levels of participation in the subject

A rebound in the number of female students opting to sit the GCSE computing exam has occurred during 2022, with the number returning to 2019 levels after two successive years of decline.

The number of female candidates who studied GCSE computing hit 17,264 this year, which is on a par with the 2019 results, when 17,158 sat exams in the subject.

The intervening years of 2020 and 2021 saw the number of female students studying the subject fall to 16,919 and 16,549 respectively, prompting calls from industry experts for more to be done to encourage young women to study computing and pursue careers in the fields of science, technology, engineering and maths (STEM).

The number of male students studying the subject remained broadly the same as in 2021, when 63,415 sat exams in GCSE computing, whereas this year 63,856 were counted as doing so.

Overall, the number of students studying the subject rose from 79,964 in 2021 to 81,120 this year, which can be solely attributed to the uptick in the number of female students who studied it.

Where both sexes are concerned, there was a marked year-on-year decrease in the number of students achieving a 7/A from a high of 39.7% in 2021 to 34.1% this year – which is in line with other subjects, as noted by the Joint Council for Qualifications (JCQ).

The organisation said outcomes were higher overall in 2022 compared with 2019, but were lower than 2021 because last year’s results were based on teacher assessments rather than exams.

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As in previous years, female students continue to outperform their male counterparts in computing, with 40.6% girls achieving a 7/A grade compared with 32.3% boys sitting the subject.

Julia Adamson, director of education at the BCS, Chartered Institute of IT, said the uptick in the number of female students sitting the GCSE Computing exam was cause for celebration – but not complacency.

“It’s fantastic news that girls continue to take up computer science qualifications at similar levels to previous years and achieve good grades,” she said. “However, we cannot be complacent, and we need to see more girls studying this exciting and creative subject.

“One thing we all learned during the pandemic is that digital skills are vital for all, providing the tools to take an active part in society, aid career prospects and improve the UK economy in the long run.

“I hope that many of today’s pupils will continue to deliver their knowledge in this subject, and I wish them every success in their future endeavours,” said Adamson.

Year-on-year increases

Outside of computing, there were year-on-year increases reported for the number of students sitting biology (1.3%), physics (1%), double award science (0.9%) and chemistry (0.6%) exams compared with 2021, which was accompanied by improved outcomes in all of these subjects compared with 2019.

Red flags have been raised, however, about the decline in the number of students who sat exams in other core STEM subjects, with the number studying engineering, ICT, mathematics, further maths and physics all down by 1.58% this year.

These numbers are a sign that more work needs to be done to encourage young people to engage with STEM subjects if there is any hope of closing the skills gap, said Agata Nowakowska, area vice-president for Europe, Middle East and Africa (EMEA) online education provider Skillsoft.

“With the UK’s economic future contingent on closing the skills gap, these figures highlight the need for further investment in initiatives to support and encourage young people into the sector,” she said.

“Schools and businesses need to work in tandem to showcase the career paths available and offer young people a clear way to gain the vital skills needed,” said Nowakowska. “It’s also essential to support organisations such as In2scienceUK, which are working to help young people from disadvantaged backgrounds get into STEM. At the end of the day, investing in the youth is an investment in the future.”

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