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Number of students taking computing A-level rises but ICT popularity falls

Government describes rise in computing student numbers as encouraging, but boys still dominate tech subjects

The number of students who chose to take computing A-levels increased by 16% in 2016, while the number sitting ICT A-levels fell.

This year, 6,242 students sat computing A-levels, a rise of 859 from 2015, whereas the number of students taking ICT A-levels dropped to 8,737, a fall of 387 from the previous year.

The number of students who achieved A* to C grades in A-level ICT also dropped, making it one of the worst-performing subjects on the curriculum. Meanwhile, the number of students who achieved higher-level computing grades rose slightly by comparison with last year.

Andy Lawson, UK and Ireland MD for Salesforce, said: “The drop in the A-level pass mark for ICT is a disappointing reversal of previous years’ results. Some of today’s most in-demand jobs – web developers, software programmers, IT security experts, data analysts – hardly existed 20 years ago. To make certain the UK continues to grow and thrive, we need to ensure students are prepared to meet these needs, and are able to pursue some of the most rewarding and lucrative careers available.”

The government acknowledged that the number of students taking science, technology, engineering and maths (Stem) subjects had remained “stable” and described the increase in A-level computing students as “encouraging”.

In recent years, there has been a shift in attitude about the types of skills that industry needs from graduates seeking jobs.

While traditional skills such as Microsoft Suite are still important, firms are increasingly looking for candidates with soft skills and a technical background, which could explain the shift from ICT towards computing.

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The new computing curriculum for children aged between five and 16 has also put more emphasis on coding and computational thinking, which may have encouraged more of those moving from GCSE to A-level to choose computing rather than ICT.

It has been suggested that computing is a better fit for creating graduates with a mixture of skills, and the industry is currently looking for people with tech, digital and creative skills for roles such as data scientists, security engineers and software developers.

Lynn Collier, COO UK and Ireland at Hitachi Data Systems, said: “With the growth of digital innovation and big data, the job market has undergone an immense transformation in recent years. New career paths are being created every day and required skillsets are constantly changing and evolving. 

“Modern businesses need a workforce that can respond to innovation and capitalise on the opportunities it provides.”

Closing gender gap

The number of female students who took A-level computing in 2016 rose slightly to 609 from 456 in 2015, but there were still eight times more male students taking the subject to A-level.

Fewer girls chose to take A-level ICT compared with 2015. A total of 3,124 female students took the subject across the UK in 2016, just over half the number of boys who did so.

Girls performed better than boys in both computing and ICT, with a higher percentage of girls achieving A* to C grades in the subject.

Overall, 5.3% of the girls who took A-level computing achieved an A* grade, compared with only 2.4% of boys.

Although more girls chose to take A-level computing than last year, there is still a lack of women entering the tech sector, with the percentage of women in tech roles hovering around 16%.

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