The BBC is reporting that the government’s new look ICT GCSE, which focuses on computer science and coding, is running the risk of disadvantaging girls, poor and ethnic minority students.
The new ICT GCSE was designed to address concerns among government ministers that ICT teaching was too basic, and the subject was taken off the curriculum four years ago. The subject was not re-introduced, with schools having to enter students through an opt-in system.
Now, official figures for how well the new system is working, have been released by academics at the University of Roehampton. Just 28 percent of schools entered pupils for the computing GCSE in 2015. At A-Level only 24 percent of schools entered pupils.
The numbers also showed that female students were not being encouraged to study the subject- only 16 percent of GCSE computing entrants were female in 2015. This number almost halved at A-Level to 8.5 percent.
However, across both qualifications, girls scored higher than their male peers.
GCSE IT stats ‘unsurprising’
Former computing teacher, and coding teacher at the Rasberry Pi Foundation, Carrie-Ann Philbin, said she was disappointed by the figures, but was not surprised. She notes that computing education is in the early stages of transformation, and the situation should improve in time.
However, she thinks that the way computing is promoted to students as merely a means of producing a generation of programmers is problematic, commenting:
“This only alienates teenage girls who already have a negative idea of what it is to be a ‘computer geek’.”
Poorer and ethnic minority students are also less likely to be entered for computing education in school, despite the government emphasising the subject as vital in competing internationally in the digital age.
Pupils on free school meals made up just 19% of GCSE entrants, when they are 27% of the population, and just 3.6% of students were black when they make up 4.7% of GCSE students.
Compared to the old ICT GCSE, which is gradually being phased out, more pupils are still taking the ICT GCSE than computing, and the entrants are far more representative of the wider population. Forty-one per cent of GCSE entrants were female, and the exam had higher numbers of entries from children from low income and ethnic minority backgrounds.