Grades in fastest-growing A-Level rise, and girls buck the top-grade trend, but too few students are taking the subject

16 August 2018

Grades in Computer Science - the UK’s fastest-growing A-Level - have improved again in England, but more students need to take the subject to produce the skilled workforce that will maintain our advantage in the digital economy, raise productivity, and protect our homes, businesses and NHS from the growing threat of cyber-attacks.

Welcoming today’s announcement that 61.7% of pupils in England (5,873) achieved an A* to C grade in their Computer Science A-Level, BCS, The Chartered Institute for IT said many more students need to be attracted to the subject to fill the digital skills gap.

In the very top grades, girls outperformed boys by 2.4%, bucking the national trend for all A-Levels. 19.9% of girls received an A* or A, up from 14.7% in 2017, while 17.5% of boys attained the top grades.

Although the number of students sitting Computer Science A-Level in England has increased by 14.7% year-on-year, (9,518 in 2018 against 8,299 in 2017) the subject accounted for just 1.3% of all A-Levels taken in England in 2018.

These figures mean that for more than 85% of schools, class sizes are below the Department for Education’s definition of 11.7 as the minimum viable – bringing the sustainability of the subject into question.

Julia Adamson, Director of Education at BCS, said: “The UK is facing a digital skills shortage, yet many students are not even given the chance to study Computer Science at A-Level.

“We need investment in training to produce the specialist computing teachers who will deliver the number of digitally skilled young people we need to close the skills gap.

“If more sixth-formers took A-Level Computer Science, it could deliver significant payback for individuals, for the economy, and in increased productivity.

BCS also called for more girls to study Computer Science. “Today’s results show a disparity between the number of boys and girls taking Computer Science at A-Level,” said Julia.

“In fact, there are nine times as many boys taking Computer Science at A-Level as girls, but girls who are sitting the exams are performing extremely well; in fact, slightly better than boys.

“Computer Science needs to be made more attractive to girls, as the industry desperately needs more young women to address the gender imbalance, who currently comprise just 17% of the IT workforce.”

Universities continue to insist on the highest A-Level grades from applicants, preferring candidates with Maths, Further Maths, Physics, and Computer Science. The University of Birmingham demands three A grades including an A in Maths or Computer Science.

James Davenport, Professor of Information Technology at the University of Bath and Vice Chairman and Chair of the BCS Academy Board said: “It is excellent to see that the number of students studying A-Level Computer Science has grown, and indeed shows the largest percentage increase of any A-Level subject.

“However, at just over 1%, the total number of students sitting the examination is still far too small. A recent report from Barclays shows that around 20% of all jobs advertised require advanced or expert digital skills, so we are still a long way from meeting national requirements.”

But good career prospects and higher-than-average salaries await Computer Science graduates, with seven of the top ten jobs held by graduates being related to computer sciences, including web design and IT operations technician, and average salaries in IT in the Top 5 by sector.

Rebecca George OBE, Vice Chair and UK Public Sector Leader at Deloitte, said: “Equipping young people with good quality and relevant computing and IT skills provides a pathway to social mobility.

“Too few teenagers realise how many and varied IT job opportunities there are, and the vital contribution that IT makes to the wider economy.”

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