The Roehampton Annual Computing Education Report

Jun 08, 2018

Peter Kemp, Miles Berry and Billy Wong

Increasing numbers of schools are offering computer science at GCSE (52.5%) and A level (36.2%), and so now there’s a good chance that a student will find CS on offer at their school (76.3% at GCSE). However, relatively few students choose to take the subject: at GCSE, only 11.9%, and at A level, just 2.7%. Provision though remains ‘patchy’: grammar schools are more likely than comprehensives to offer CS, independent schools rather less so. Similarly, some local authorities and multi-academy trusts leading the way, and others lagging behind. Numbers taking the subject continue to rise, although not as rapidly as in the past. We now must rise to the challenge of encouraging (or perhaps allowing) more students to have a go at CS, learning from the good practice in schools, local authorities and trusts that are already succeeding here. This issue is particularly acute at A level, where less that 15% of colleges or sixth forms have cohorts that the DfE would regard as viable.

At GCSE, the typical CS student is academically strong, mathematically able, likely to be taking triple science (despite CS counting as a science for the EBacc), from a relatively affluent family, and overwhelming likely to be male (even if the smaller number of girls taking the subject do better in the exam). Some schools and local authorities are doing well in addressing the gender gap in CS, but there are 382 mixed schools where the CS students are all boys.

A level CS remains a niche subject: students typically have good maths grades, but their overall academic performance is not strong. CS is often taken in combination with maths and physics. 90% of entries come from boys, and boys are now outperforming girls at the top grades. In 25 local authorities, all the CS entries come from boys. Again students are likely to come from relatively affluent backgrounds, but rather more of these students will be on the school’s SEN register than for most subjects.

GCSE and A level CS are hard! At GCSE, students typically get half a grade lower in CS than in their other subjects; at A level, CS grades are also a little lower (about a sixth of a grade) than those students get for their other subjects. CS and ICT are quite different qualifications, and thus are taken by quite different students: the latter are (on average) from less affluent backgrounds, weaker academically, closer to a typical mix for ethnicity, and more likely to be female: the decision to remove ICT as qualifications at GCSE and A level, seems likely to result in fewer, and rather less diverse, students overall taking qualifications in computing.

Originally published as the executive summary to The Roehampton Annual Computing Education Report (2017 data)