• There is a growing appreciation amongst employers and policy makers of the role of digital qualifications and awards, complementing specialist Computing Science / Computer Science pathways
  • Academic participation rates appear stable or improving, although it is harder to comment in some cases where new curricula and qualifications are being established, such as in Wales (where a new Digital Technology award was made available for first teaching in September 2021 with the first opportunity for certification in summer 2023) and Northern Ireland
  • Participation rates in Computing Science in Scotland, which had been falling steadily over recent years, rose in 2021, augmented by the growing uptake of a wider range of new and digitally focused awards
  • In all nations, Computer Science (or its equivalent) appears to be the least popular science subject and there are grounds for trying to understand this and to raise its esteem and attractiveness
  • Understanding whether qualifications and awards are geographically accessible to all remains a challenge. For example, the Computer Science GCSE is available in around 77% of secondary schools in England (but a higher proportion of students)
  • All of the nations in this study have a continuing problem with the balance of male and female participation in whichever variant of the subject is on offer. This can be in excess of 10:1 in some cases, but more regularly around the 5-6:1 level
  • In spite of low participation rates, female students typically outperform their male counterparts
  • In a small number of VTQs, the male:female ratios reverse the typical participation pattern Computer Science (or its equivalents)
  • The supply of appropriately qualified and trained teachers is a common challenge to all nations, although the National Centre for Computing Education (NCCE) is beginning to address this in England
  • Uptake of and participation in VTQs is variable across the four nations and generally at levels notably below academic awards
  • Overall, participation levels in VTQs appear to be declining, and many of the regulated awards have attracted no participants for several years
  • High-quality and comparable data capturing key demographic information in addition to male:female participation and attainment rates is often hard to obtain for both academic and particularly VTQ awards

Key recommendations

  1. A task force to be established with representation from the four UK nations to understand, examine and report on access and participation in Computer Science qualifications of learners across key demographics, with the aim of learning from what works and disseminating best practice
  2. That regular reviews to clarify the Computer Science and digital skills ecosystem in the UK are conducted, setting out what characterises different awards and qualifications and what the distinctions are (where these exist and are notable)
  3. That administrations, awarding organisations, and regulatory bodies work closely with BCS to monitor and publish data concerning uptake and participation patterns relating to computing and digital qualifications and awards. An independent annual report on the state of Computer Science education and digital skills across the UK should become the annual benchmark for the sector. BCS is uniquely placed to convene such a report
  4. Administrations, awarding organisations, and regulatory bodies should engage closely with BCS to establish more detailed data overviews of Computer Science and digital skills qualifications to explore the impact of other pupil and student characteristics on uptake and attainment
  5. An engagement group should be developed to clarify the scale of the digital skills labour market and the nature of the skills required across the UK so that best use can be made of increasingly limited resources.