A report commissioned by BCS’ School Curriculum and Assessment Committee (SCAC), of which Professor Dame Muffy Calder is the chair, found that boys outnumber girls in computer science classes.
Girls are now outnumbered six to one by boys across computer science classes, new research by the professional body for information technology tells us.
The new report by BCS, The Chartered Institute for IT also concludes that once young women do choose computing – they generally outperform their male counterparts.
BCS’ ‘Landscape Review – Computing Qualifications in the UK’ report says the gender gap had grown with the replacement of Information, Communications and Technology (ICT) by the Computer Science discipline.
It’s interesting to note that in Northern Ireland, the introduction of a broader Digital Technology option is attracting a higher percentage of girls, and Wales is now also offering this version of the subject.
This is the first report to focus on demand for the subject in all four UK nations. It finds that participation in computing across secondary education is stable or improving, though the number taking vocational computing qualifications are declining.
The research also confirms a ‘growing appreciation’ amongst UK employers and policy makers of the role of digital qualifications and awards.
UK Task Forces recommended
BCS recommends that task forces involving the four UK countries are formed to increase participation in computing and digital qualifications, and to understand the IT labour market and skills required by industry.
It also calls on senior politicians, business leaders and headteachers to promote computer science as an aspirational choice on a level of respect with other sciences.
Parents and carers of girls who excel early on in STEM should also feel confident to urge them to continue on to Computer Science A-Level and a career in digital.
The underrepresentation of students from ethnic minority groups requires better data in order to properly understand the situation.
Participation rates in Computing Science in Scotland, which had been falling steadily over recent years, rose in 2021, helped by growing popularity of new digitally focused awards.
Maintaining a pipeline of qualified computer science teachers is also a common challenge to all nations; the National Centre for Computing Education (NCCE), funded by the DfE is beginning to address this in England, supporting over 30,000 teachers.
I want every child to be as inspired by the power of computing to change the world, as I was and still am. That means computing education and skills need to be highly valued and promoted by leaders in government, education and industry too, as a route to shape the future. Thankfully, the overall message of this ground-breaking report is that demand for computing education is indeed growing. Yet all of the UK nations in this study have a long-standing problem with the balance of male: female participation in both academic and vocational areas.
Whilst male: female ratios of 2:1 were not untypical of the older Information and Communications Technology (ICT) curricula, the move to a more computing-focused approach has seen the imbalance grow: most regularly to around the 5-6:1 level.
This matters because teams that develop, say, the use of AI in medicine, or algorithms that affect our financial lives or employment chances need to be diverse to ensure outcomes are fair and relevant to everyone in society.
There may be lessons to be learned from some of the vocational qualifications in computing where a small number of topics show a better gender balance or, from the introduction of ‘broader church’ academic Digital Technology qualifications in Wales and Northern Ireland.
What is shown for the first time by this report is that each UK administration in its own way is dealing with a genuine challenge: a tension between teaching Computer Science and digital skills for all.
About the report
BCS’ “Landscape Review – Computing Qualifications in the UK” is a view of the current state of computing and digital qualifications in the UK.
The report aims to offer a comprehensive picture of the varying levels of engagement in Computer Science and closely related qualifications and focuses on continuing challenges of participation by young women and securing enough teachers to deliver specialist teaching and learning effectively.
It covers a five-year time period (2016/17-2020/21). Principally, it analyses publicly available data on academic computing and digital skills qualifications accessed by learners at age 16 and 18, which is when most students have to specialise and opt-in to detailed study of the subject.
It covers vocational and technical qualifications (VTQ) at levels 2 and 3 in the Regulated Qualifications Framework (RQF) and levels 5 and 6 in the Scottish Credit and Qualifications Framework (SCQF).
About BCS, The Chartered Institute for IT
BCS is the professional body for information technology. Our purpose, as defined by Royal Charter, is to promote and advance the education and practice of computing for the benefit of the public. With around 60,000 members, BCS brings together academics, practitioners, industry and government to share knowledge, promote new thinking, inform the design of new curricula, and shape policy.