One in four of the students at Ada, the national college for digital skills in Tottenham, north London are female, a notable achievement at an institution where taking a BTEC computer science is compulsory, considering the low take up of STEM subjects by girls in the past.
In the academic year 2012 to 2013, the ratio of boys to girls studying computing was 11:1 and for ICT it was just over 2:1. Yet when I spoke to two 16-year-old girls, the issue of gender didn’t enter the conversation.
Instead, they spoke enthusiastically about the environment of the college and its connections with industry. “You don't learn in a conventional way, so you can get used to being in a professional environment. I think that is going to be really useful for when we move on to maybe an apprenticeship or we go to university and then go to our workplaces. It's really useful to gain these skills now,” said one.
The other was impressed by the range of subjects on offer, as she is able to study A-levels in graphic communication and physics alongside the BTEC in computer science, something that not a lot of other sixth form colleges offer.
"The dream is Google."
Ada offers A-level maths and further maths, psychology and business studies. When they turn 18, both girls want to go on to software engineer apprenticeships and, for both, “the dream is Google.”
It seemed that degree apprenticeships were not an attractive option to younger people. I met a career changer in his 30s who was enrolled on the advanced software engineer apprenticeship. He said: “I want to have my own business, I want to do my own stuff.”
He had been working as a teacher, but decided that the time was right to move on. “I got tired of that and was looking for something a little bit challenging, that would use my other skills, my more creative skills. So doing this allows me to be as creative, to build and create things and that's what I enjoy most about it.”
According to government figures, in July 2018 there were 198,100 commitments for apprenticeship training. Of those 98,300 (or 50%) were for apprentices aged 25 and over and 86,900 (or 44%) were advanced apprenticeships.
It’s fitting that an innovative and unconventional college is attracting students who have decided to take an uncommon educational pathway to get closer to their dream destination.
The identities of the students have been removed to protect their privacy.