Gaps still to be bridged for female students despite 10% uptake in GCSE computing

Woman using computer with light reflecting on her face
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The latest GCSE results showing a marked increase in the number of girls studying computing highlights a positive step in the right direction, according to tech industry stakeholders.

Figures published this week show 19,061 girls chose to study computing at GCSE level this year, marking a 10.4% increase on the year prior and a second consecutive annual increase in uptake in the subject.

The uptake of girls studying GCSE computing was, for several years, a cause for concern among educators and industry stakeholders alike amidst what appeared to be a growing deficit and lack of interest in computing related subjects.

The number of girls choosing to study GCSE computing decreased in two consecutive years, dropping to 16,919 in 2020 and then 16,549 in 2021.

However, analysis shows that current figures are now surpassing these lower uptake levels and are trending upwards.

Sheila Flavell CBE, chief operating officer at FDM Group, said the increase is a cause for optimism and could help address long-standing gender deficits in STEM subjects.

“The digital skills gap is an ongoing problem that is not going to disappear overnight,” she said. “Statistics that highlight an increased number of women choosing tech-based subjects is a hugely positive sign that things can get better.”

Joanna Kori, head of people at Encompass Corporation, echoed Flavell’s comments, adding that a consistent increase in the number of young women and girls studying computing will contribute to creating a more diverse national workforce.

“It is encouraging to see that female uptake of technology-based subjects is on the rise, and the hope should be that this will ultimately contribute to a more diverse workforce in the future, with the next generation ready to make their mark on the industry.”

Still work to do in STEM

While this week’s GCSE results are a cause for optimism, looking ahead there are still lingering issues surrounding uptake of computing subjects for female students.

Girls still remain outnumbered in computing subjects, accounting for just 21% of the total number of students at GCSE level - and these numbers have remained largely stagnant since 2019.

At A-level, the situation is worse, with female students accounting for 15.1% of the total number.

Bridging the gap between GCSE and A-level studies has been a challenge for some time, but there have been improvements in recent years.

A-levels results last week revealed that more female students are pursuing studies in computing at this stage in their education. 2022 saw a 17.6% increase compared to the year prior, and this builds on consistent growth since 2019.

Since then, the number of female students studying computing at A-level has risen by a whopping 87.6%.

Later-stage education still remains a cause for serious concern, however. At degree-level, bridging the gap between school and universities has proven highly challenging.

In July, it was revealed that the number of female students taking computing at degree level decreased. This highlights a concerning trend in which female students pursue computing and tech-related subjects at school, but then choose not to continue their studies in higher education.

Speaking to ITPro last week, Agata Nowakowska, area vice president for EMEA at Skillsoft said this shows there is little room for complacency among educators and industry stakeholders.

School-level statistics are promising, but Nowakowska said more must be done to encourage young women to continue studying computing subjects later on in education and pursue careers in tech if the industry is to have any hope of addressing its current skills gap.

“These A-Level results must not be a signal to become complacent, particularly following last month’s fall in the number of girls taking Computing at degree level,” she said.

“STEM subjects remain very male-dominated, putting off over a quarter of female students.”

Flavell also called for a greater focus on encouraging young women to pursue computing studies and for a push to continue “breaking down industry stereotypes”.

“Women offer a plethora of skills that the technology industry is crying out for meaning tackling diversity, equality and inclusion should be on everyone’s agendas, allowing companies to fill vacancies with females, providing much needed role models for the future generations and improving accessibility.” 

Ross Kelly
News and Analysis Editor

Ross Kelly is ITPro's News & Analysis Editor, responsible for leading the brand's news output and in-depth reporting on the latest stories from across the business technology landscape. Ross was previously a Staff Writer, during which time he developed a keen interest in cyber security, business leadership, and emerging technologies.

He graduated from Edinburgh Napier University in 2016 with a BA (Hons) in Journalism, and joined ITPro in 2022 after four years working in technology conference research.

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