On Radio 4’s Today program this morning senior lecturer at Roehampton University, Peter Kemp, raised concerns about trends in computing education at secondary schools. According to his research, fewer girls and students from ethnic minority and poorer backgrounds are now sitting GSCE computing. Since the government changed the curriculum from ICT to computing there has been a 20% drop in girls taking the subject at GCSE and an 8% drop among those eligible for free school meals.
A recent CAS survey indicated that many secondary schools are selecting pupils to take GCSE computing based on their aptitude for mathematics. Kemp suggested that this might account for the drop in take-up; schools are “fearful of producing a course where they might not be successful”, and respond by “picking students they think will be good at it.”
Also interviewed, Carrie Anne Philbin from Raspberry Pi Foundation, said it was “too soon to start panicking” as we are only four years into the new curriculum. Although disappointed, she said was “not surprised” by the research findings. She enthused about the “Fantastic stuff going on in primary schools”, where 40% pupils in Code Club are girls. However her concern was the lack of provision in secondary schools “to up-skill teachers” or to “provide the resources necessary” to deliver the new curriculum.
The average A Level computing class size is now only four and with the new funding changes schools will seek to cut back on the number of courses they provide. Opportunities to progress in computer science may become even more limited, and this in turn may threaten drives to make the industry a more diverse place.
As computing specialists we hope that the success and enthusiasm for computing in primary schools might create a demand for this subject in secondary, as these newly engaged students get older. However as this process takes place secondary schools must support their staff in developing the skills and confidence to deliver an engaging and sufficiently challenging curriculum for all.