Boys outperform girls in 2017 computing A-levels

This year’s A-level results show more male students gaining higher grades than female students, but girls continue to steam ahead in ICT

A higher percentage of male students across the UK received computing A-levels with A* to B grades than their female counterparts this year.

Although 61.2% of both male and female students received grades C or above, a higher percentage of boys achieved higher grades, such as A*, A or B.

This is in contrast to 2016, when girls achieved higher grades than boys in the computing A-level, with 68.5% of girls receiving A* to C grades, compared with 61.4% of boys.

Gavin Mee, senior vice-president, enterprise sales and head of UK at Salesforce, said: “We as businesses need to continue to encourage more women to consider a career in tech, as it continues to play a bigger role across all industries. This includes an increased collaboration between schools, employers and the government to steer more young people, and in particular women, into the digital jobs that will be key to powering UK economic growth.”

This year’s ICT A-level results tell a different story, with girls outperforming boys for the second year in a row. In 2017, 66.3% of girls received grades A* to C, compared with 54.9% of boys, and a higher percentage of girls than boys achieved A*, A or B grades.

Although the percentage of girls receiving an A* grade in ICT this year is slightly lower than in 2016, they still beat boys to the top marks, with 1.3% of girls receiving this grade, compared with 1% of boys.

More students chose to take A-level computing in 2017 than in previous years – 8,299 students sat the computing exam this year, compared with 6,242 in 2016.

But Bill Mitchell, director of education at BCS, said the figures were “seriously low compared to the 40,000 level we should be seeing”.

“The UK is facing a digital skills shortage,” said Mitchell. “There aren’t enough teachers in schools and not enough training to become specialist computing teachers. Yet digital skills are in high demand.

“We need to improve post-16 computer science and computing teaching through better professional development, support and resources. If more took the qualification, it could deliver a significant payback for individuals, for the economy and in increased productivity.”

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Despite the many initiatives that have existed to boost the number of women in the tech industry over the past 10 years, the number of women in tech has remained constant at about 16%.

Although more boys chose to take a computing A-level than girls, there was still a significant increase in the number of female students who took the subject in 2017, rising from 609 in 2016 to 816 this year.

As for ICT, the total number of students taking the subject has declined from 8,737 in 2016 to 7,607 this year.

But although the total number of students who chose this subject dropped, the number of girls who took an ICT A-level increased marginally from 222 last year to 226 in 2017.

Analysis of UCAS data by database firm Exasol shows an 8.5% increase in applications for science, technology, engineering and maths (Stem)-based degrees over the past five years.

Mandi Walls, technical community manager, Emea at Chef, said the increase in the number of people choosing science Stem degrees is positive for the tech industry, but unless the government, universities and industry work together to direct learning, the skills gap in the UK tech industry will not diminish.

Responsibility to educate

“No matter what industry you are in, businesses still have a responsibility to educate and nurture the UK’s pool of talent to meet the ongoing demand for IT skills, regardless of whether or not candidates has gone to university,” said Walls. “We need to continue to do more to promote Stem skills at a grassroots level, and businesses must work alongside education providers to increase the quality and range of their professional training resources, and make training more accessible.”

Overall, the number of people applying to all university courses has dropped slightly from last year’s total.

Apprenticeships and other routes have become more popular in recent years, and many women in the tech industry claim to have “fallen” into tech rather than actively pursued it as a career.

Kaspersky Lab said the drop in the number of university applications may indicate that more people are taking alternative routes into tech careers.

“Today’s A-level results represent a growing trend away from traditional qualifications and this should be no different in IT and cyber security,” the firm said. “IT businesses should consider applicants whose non-traditional backgrounds mean they could bring new ideas to the position and the challenge of improving cyber security. While there are relevant certifications, there is also a big opportunity for anyone with critical thinking abilities and an interest in code.”

However, negative stereotyping, including unconscious bias and gender stereotyping, still exist in and around the technology industry, leaving many young people with little idea of what a technology role actually entails and causing teachers or parents to warn young people, especially girls, off entering the industry.

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