GCSE IT is changing, but is it the way forward Part I

June 21, 2017

Like British politics, GCSE IT is undergoing a revolution, but is it the way forward? Part I

What are the changes in GCSE IT?

A revolution is under way in the teaching of computer science in schools in England – but it risks leaving girls and pupils from poorer backgrounds and ethnic minorities behind. That's the conclusion of a study regarding the move from ICT as a national curriculum subject to computer science.


Four years ago, amid disquiet that ICT was teaching children little more than how Microsoft Office worked, the government took the subject off the national curriculum. The idea was that instead schools should move to offering more rigorous courses in computer science; children would learn to code rather than how to do PowerPoint.

But academics have some worrying news. First, just 28% of schools entered pupils for the GCSE in computing in 2015. At A-level, only 24% entered pupils for the qualification.

Then there's the evidence that girls just aren't being persuaded to take an interest: 16% of GCSE computing entrants in 2015 were female and the figure for the A-level was just 8.5%. The qualification is relatively new and more schools – and more girls, took it in 2016 – but female participation was still only 20% for the GCSE and 10% for the A-level.

It looks as though the few that did take the exams were very focused; girls got higher grades than boys in both the GCSE and the A-level.

Teachers describe these figures as disappointing but not surprising. However, we are at an early stage in developing computing education and things should improve.

The issue could lie in the way computing is often sold as if its only purpose is to turn out a generation of programmers is a problem.

Meanwhile, it also appears that poorer children and those from ethnic minorities are less likely to be getting the computing education the government says is vital if the UK is to have the skills it needs to compete in the digital era.

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 that age group.

But wasn't the picture roughly similar for the old discredited ICT course?

Well, no.

While it 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.

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