No female A-level computing students by 2014
By Barry Collins
Posted on 24 Aug 2009 at 11:58
There will be no female A-level computing students by 2014 if the subject continues its current slide in popularity.
Only 454 girls took the computing A-level exam in the whole of the UK this year, according to figures released by the Joint Council for Qualifications (JCQ).
Female student numbers have fallen by more than 50% over the past five years, with 816 female students sitting the exam in 2005. If the slide continues at its current rate, there will be no female computing students in only five years' time.
The drop in female candidates reflects an overall slide in interest in A-level computing. Male candidate numbers have fallen from 6,426 in 2005 to 4,256 this year.
The numbers will provide further cause for concern for both universities and employers, both of which have bemoaned a slowing interest in computing subjects over the past few years.
Microsoft warned of an ever-widening IT skills gap in the summer of 2007, and urged the Government to reintroduce computing at GCSE level to encourage more pupils to persevere with the subject through higher and further education.
University tutors have told PC Pro that many computing and ICT A-level students are arriving ill-prepared for computing degree courses, leading them to recruit students who have taken subjects such as mathematics or physics instead.
A-levels unfair preparation for a career in computing
Anyone who has seen those "We can teach you IT and make you rich" adverts on TV must cringe. The computing industry has been flooded for years with people with a monetary interest in computing careers, but no skill whatsoever. My colleague once spent some time on the phone to a council “IT contractor” explaining how a PC was rebooted!
It would help if basic skills were taught in schools. My boss and myself recently had access to his son's A-Level exam paper and were horrified at (a) how stupidly easy it was and (b) how vague and subjective the questions were. It might as well have asked "What's your favourite colour?" and then said "blue" is the right answer!
I think that computing professionals in support and development need to be sent into schools to teach, so that children get a chance to learn real skills. They should drop the TMA’s (totally meaningless acronyms) and call the subject “computer studies” and remove the jargon and mystification. I don’t for a second believe that there are no girls interested in computing as a subject or career (they sell enough pink Nintendo’s) but I think it is sold as a male career, with the fat and unwashed trekkie-obsessed geek as the role model, it’s no wonder girls are not keen.
What also might help is computing education for teachers. How many staff rooms produce hand-outs from the photo-copier instead of a server full of PDFs?
By cheysuli on 24 Aug 2009
I'm not unwashed....
By jamesyld on 24 Aug 2009
What's ridiculous is the schools that have PCs and the teachers that don't have a bloody clue on how to use them. If ever the problem of where to start teaching kids is, it's with the teachers themselves!
By lemonlainey on 24 Aug 2009
Females in IT
Who can blame anyone for not wanting to work in IT. Pays well, only if you work in London or development in 2009. How about the fact is it full of emotionless men who who are unfortunately full of I am better than you attitudes and don't like any emotion in work as it spoils the topic of conversations which are not exactly for the girls.
Its not a good industry for women. Only men would think it is ????!!!
By cosmogenesis on 24 Aug 2009
Making PDF handouts won't save computing?
My school printed out paper documents, each teacher had a networked computer on their classroom that could send print jobs to a number of centralised printers. So they had a bit of both worlds, you didn't have to deal with the horror of fourth generation photocopies and the teacher could change the handout before each lesson if they wanted. That's pretty neat if you think about it but it's relatively common place these days in offices etc.
Putting children behind computers is not always going to end well and making everyone download PDFs from the intranet to their school appointed laptops is nice but YouTube is better.
By steviesteveo on 24 Aug 2009
Have you not seen an IT man when they get a new gadget? Far from emotionless. ;)
By jamesyld on 24 Aug 2009
ICT Vs. Computing
I did A-level Computing and it contained a decent amount of programming, basic networking etc. We had 1 girl who dropped out after AS level.
The exams were still awful but it still taught basic skills. I'm now doing a Networking degree and aiming for a career in Web Development.
A-level ICT, on the other hand, is a joke. Spreadsheets and word processed reports on ICT use in varying situations. That doesn't prepare them for a career in the IT industry at all.
By Starbuck89 on 24 Aug 2009
Why worry only about females?
According to the chart, there's going to be no male A-level computing students by 2017 (give or take) either.
By mataj on 26 Aug 2009
What about a career?
Everyone needs some IT skills, but working in the industry is a tough job. Every 5-10 years serious retraining is needed and you are considered out of date or/and expensive. There are very few jobs over the age of 40-45 and you have to migrate to Management or change career. Still surviving at 61, but maybe I would rather run a bar in Cannes....
By Ip_pmjm044d1322b on 27 Aug 2009
Computing should replace ICT
I agree with recent comments from PC Pro that not enough emphasis is placed on understanding computers and using them to be creative at school. When I started secondary school, IT lessons were pretty poor but they did have basic and pascal installed on the computers which many of us used at lunch time to write our own programs with. When they replaced the ageing Windows 3.11 systems with '95, suddenly the programming languages had disappeared. It wasn't until I started A level Computing that I was given dos access and allowed to program again. Programming should be the main focus of ICT lessons at school.
Having said that, my Computing A level was poorly designed. Exam papers were out of 35 marks, with only 3 marks separating one grade from another and too much emphasis was placed on the need to mention specific key words. You could therefore understand your topic but not have learned the exact word they want in the answer, lose two marks and drop a grade on that exam. I remember that in one exam there were questions on configuring the IP interfaces on a router. Everyone else on my class complained that they hadn't been taught it, but because I'd actually done this before I was fine!
By phudct on 27 Aug 2009
This is a bad thing, how exactly? Women don't belong in IT, or football stadiums for that matter and they definitely shouldn't play football, I mean what is the point. Womens cricket and rugby fair enough because they're non sports anyway.
By dodge1963 on 29 Aug 2009
How do you edit a comment, I forgot to say womens football was pathetic and embarrassing to watch.
By dodge1963 on 29 Aug 2009
The problem is in the Teaching
There are too few teachers with decent knowledge of computers and how to make use of them.
Also tech savvy kids get bored with teh basic and mundane curriculum which provides little useful knowledge. The kids are already wizzes at photoshop and spreadsheets. The A level is such a backward step for these kids that they lose interest and swap for more useful A levels.
The curriculum is woeful, which shows that those setting it are not competent.
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