The drive to get more females into the technology and data industries has received a further boost following the release of this year’s GCSE results, which show that not only has there been a second successive rise in girls choosing computing, they are also embracing other STEM subjects.
The number of female candidates taking computing at GCSE has increased year on year, from 15,046 in 2018 to 17,158 in 2019, with girls now making up 21.4% of UK GCSE computing entries.
Girls also outperformed boys, with 24.9% achieving a 7/A grade in the subject compared to 20.8% of boys; meanwhile 66.2% of girls received a 4/C grade or above as opposed to 61.7% of boys.
In maths, the largest single subject, there has been a substantial closing of the gap between boys and girls. While the proportion of boys obtaining top grades nudged up slightly to 20.6%, the proportion of girls getting A/7 or above leapt by nearly a percentage point, from 19% last year to 19.9%, more than halving the difference between the two groups.
TechUK associate director of policy Vinous Ali welcomed the “enthusiasm” for computing and other STEM subjects among girls but pointed out that this needs to be maintained among both genders.
She added: “It is encouraging to see more young women taking computing at GCSE this year, recognising the importance and value of the qualification. With new and emerging technologies changing the world of work, a solid foundation in computing will undoubtedly be useful in the future.”
When it comes to other STEM subjects, there was a rise in students choosing to take maths at GCSE level, as well as an increase in double-award science.
The three sciences – physics, chemistry and biology – have typically seen a gender gap when it comes to higher grades, with boys traditionally achieving higher grades in physics and chemistry, and girls achieving higher grades in biology.
However, the gap has closed this year; while boys still performed better in physics, girls are increasingly performing better overall.
Helen Wollaston, chief executive of community interest company WISE, said: “I’m pleased to see the 14% rise in girls getting GCSE in computing. We saw the same increase last year, which shows steady progress, taking the female percentage up to 21%.
“But it worries me that so many more boys are still choosing this subject. With at least 82% of advertised openings requiring some level of digital skills, computing is as fundamental as English and maths in terms of getting a decent job.”