A new report reveals that a computing education revolution is faltering with fewer children receiving the digital skills that the government and employers say are crucial.
In the report from the University of Roehampton, researchers highlight that the replacement for ICT at GCSE and A-level is a much more challenging computer science option.
Researchers say that the subject is proving to be very difficult both for students and schools that are struggling to find teaching staff for delivering it.
They say that last year, just over half of England’s schools were offering the subject at GCSE while those in the independent sector and smaller schools being less likely to offer students the chance of studying computer science.
Just 12% of students opted to take the subject last year.
Indeed, it was also a less attractive subject for girls to study than ICT with them making up 20% of GCSE entrants.
There is also evidence that the number of pupils from poorer backgrounds have also fallen.
Typical entrant for computer science
The report makes clear that the typical entrant for computer science is “mathematically able, academically strong and likely to be taking triple science”.
They add that the entrants are likely to come from a relatively affluent family background and likely to be male.
The researchers also point out that while entries for the new subject are rising gradually, they are not keeping up with a fall in numbers for ICT.
This summer sees the last of the ICT exams and it appears there will be a large drop in the number of 16-year-olds who have any form of computing qualification.
The report warns: “This will disproportionately impact girls, some ethnic minority groups and poorer students.”
Affects their digital skills in the workplace
The researchers highlight that 30,000 fewer girls since 2014 have, by the time they reach the age of 16, a computing qualification which affects their digital skills in the workplace.
There are also worries that budget pressures mean many sixth form colleges may struggle to offer computer science at A-level.
The report says that many of these colleges have so few students wanting to study the subject that they are below minimum viable class sizes that are defined by the Department for Education.
While welcoming the introduction of computer science, the authors say that ICT should be retained in the curriculum as an alternative.
One of the authors, Peter Kemp, said: “The government’s refusal to renew A-level and GCSE IT against the teaching community’s will, is making computing more exclusive.”
He added that the emphasis on computer science is leading to fewer students including girls having any digital qualification and ‘a rebalance is necessary’.
The Chartered Institute for IT also expressed its concern saying that the UK needs 500,000 more youngsters to gain a computing qualification every year.
They said: “There is still a lack of young people with the work ready computing and digital skills the economy needs.”
A qualification that equips them with the digital skills necessary
A spokesman for the Department for Education said that the computer science at GCSE level is offering pupils with a qualification that equips them with the digital skills necessary for the high-tech jobs of the future.
He added: “Entries for computing science are rising more quickly than for any of the subjects and have increased year-on-year since its introduction.”