The need for choice

Julia Adamson, Head of Public Affairs, BCS, recounts her daughter’s journey through her GCSE options and explains why computer science isn’t right for everyone  

At a time when the UK has a cavernous gap in digital skills, when the jobs our children will be doing in the future will demand that pretty much everyone is digitally skilled, why are so few studying computing at GCSE?

Simple. With computer science now the only GCSE option, students who were, and still are, keen to develop their skills of using and applying, rather than embarking on a scientific study, are left without a credible option.

We need choices, plain and simple

I’m incredibly lucky, I know that. My teens go to an outstanding secondary school, so the guidance we had both as parents and for the kids themselves was, in my honest opinion, as good as it gets.

And as a former teacher specialising in science and technology I feel pretty well-equipped to fly the flag for the essential nature of digital skills. However, guiding my teens into ‘sensible’ choices at GCSE hasn’t been plain sailing and, in fact, at one point, the impasse with teen number 2 was debilitating. And it’s on her journey that I’d like to focus.

Teen 2 is capable, she’s an all-round good egg. She’s an avid reader, a thoughtful author, a talented dancer and, importantly, she has the desire to do her best. Her aptitude for mathematics and physics is high, yet she grapples with her own self confidence in these subjects particularly.

Her passion for all things tech will come as no surprise. At the age of 14, she lives and breathes friendship, and as with any modern child, tech is the vital lifeline through which she and her friends connect.

So, when it came to the discussion and debate around her options earlier this year, I thought that if I shared the importance of digital skills through the world of amazing opportunities that it presents that I could inspire her to opt for a computing qualification. I couldn’t.

You see, her options were quite limited. The only GCSE on offer now is computer science, next year will see the final cohort of year 11’s sit GCSE ICT. I know that she would be more than capable of achieving, perhaps even excelling, in this subject. Yet quite frankly, it did not appeal to her. In fact she has been pretty candid in assuring me that it simply isn’t relevant. And whilst I disagree, I also know that I need to support my daughter’s decisions and encourage her to make the choices that she is most excited about, most interested in and most committed to.

The fact that this teenage girl is spending a significant amount of her own time creating her own blog site and honing her IT skills is bewildering.

We need choices. And, the good news for us was that we, at least, had one choice. Last year only 71% of secondary schools even offered computer science GCSE.

There need to be choices that stimulate a diverse set of students, and that prepare them collectively for a diverse and fluid working environment.

For every single child there is a baseline of computing education that is essential, and a particular strand that will be beneficial - inspirational even. What I also know is that a supported, trained and engaged teacher can help students find that path and lead them down it.

Whatever we do won’t change the choices for the children in my daughter’s situation, but we can continue to build computing education choices and train teachers to deliver them to meet the needs that all of us can see around us every minute of every day.

The number of students sitting GCSE computer science increased modestly this year to a total of 67,800 year 11 students compared to 61,220 year 11 students in 2016 when a mere 20% of entrants in were girls .  

If we’re serious about equipping the workforce for the digital world, and that includes girls! We need to ensure that there are credible options to study advanced, relevant, digital skills qualifications. 

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Supporting the government’s ‘Digital by Default’ strategy we’re keen everyone has the skills and confidence to use IT. Here, we share thoughts on a variety of digital matters.

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