Girls shun ‘geeky’ computing AS-levels

New figures have revealed stark gender divides in certain AS and A-level subjects.

But while the well-publicised gaps in physics and maths feature prominently, computing has the biggest divide between boys and girls.

Ofsted figures, published on Tuesday, show that only one in ten pupils who took the subject at AS-level last year were girls, making up just 707 of the 8,196 intake.

Laura Ferguson, schools team co-ordinator at the Tech Partnership, a network of employers that works to inspire young people into technology careers, said: “These are not particularly surprising figures. Take-up by girls has been particularly low.

“There are a few reasons. Technology and IT are considered geeky and just for boys and some of it has to do with the curriculum not being inspiring enough.”

But she said the new GCSE curriculum was changing the landscape. “We’re already seeing a positive response and a need from schools to use more inspiring resources.”

A new computing curriculum was introduced in September with the aim of teaching children as young as five how to code. The syllabus includes computer science, information technology and digital literacy.

Only four of the 40 A-level computing pupils at Alex Weatherall’s current school in Yorkshire are girls.

The soon to be head of computing at David Young Community Academy, in Leeds, said: “The new curriculum will mean pupils will be introduced to coding at primary school, where there is very little gender separation. Girls and boys tend to try all the same things, there isn’t a stigma.”

He is convinced that the gender gap will close, as it has done in physics.

But he added: “Like physics, active encouragement in secondary school by teachers will make a difference.”

Ofsted’s figures show, however, that for every three girls taking AS-level physics there are 10 boys. Girls made up just 8,951 of the 39,307 pupils. Fifty-seven per cent of girls continued taking the subject at A-level, compared with 71 per cent of boys. Girls are also outnumbered in further maths, ICT and accounting and finance.

But the figures show a role reversal in subjects such as sociology, psychology, and art and design. Only 9,613 of the 39,107 pupils who took sociology were boys. And in art and design, boys made up 9,838 of the 38,553 pupils at AS-level.

A Department for Education spokesperson said: “We want to make sure decisions girls make are not driven by tired gender stereotypes, but by their talents and interests.

“We are working hard to encourage girls to embrace subjects that open doors to traditionally male-dominated sectors – including IT –and to make sure they’ve got the knowledge and skills they need to succeed regardless of where they choose to work.”

The department has backed the industry-led Your Life campaign, which aims to encourage more girls to take up STEM subjects, and launched Your Daughter’s Future, a career guide for parents.

There are no plans, as yet, to address the imbalances in female-dominated subjects.

The figures are the first single source of data showing the numbers and proportions of girls and boys progressing from year 11 to AS-levels and from AS to A-level.

It is expected that Ofsted will continue collecting and monitoring the data over the course of the next parliament.


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