Narrowing the Gap
Can leadership skills help narrow the gender gap
in GCSE Computing?
There is a move towards the teaching of Computer Science in schools, but GCSE Computing has only been available since 2010. Students and families are generally not aware of the subject.
GCSE Computing is not compulsory at Perins – students can choose to study it if they wish.
The gender gap in the study of Computer Science is not only evident in Perins (as we will see), but nationally in many schools, colleges and universities. There is a similar gender imbalance in the technology industry – addressing the issue in schools could help change this.
7. There was a 7th step – but will come on to this later!
Visual representation of Action Plan
Divided into four stages:
In my first ever group, the mix of students who had chosen to study Computing had some observable traits. This included an above-average number of dyslexic students. I also observed that students seemed to be very logical thinkers.
I looked at the NVR CAT test scores for my class. Some of the most logical thinkers in the year had naturally chosen Computing as a GCSE subject, and did well – particularly with programming.
I used this data to proactively identify the 20 most “logical” girls in Year 8 based on their NVR test scores in Year 7.
Interestingly these students were not necessarily in one of the top maths classes.
Invited students (and headteacher) to a lunchtime meeting.
Introduced the project, and showed a short video that highlighted the value of programming and the potential skills shortage that we face.
Explained that we would explore Computer Science a little more over the coming weeks, in the hope that some might consider it as a GCSE course next year.
Made use of an education-business partnership with a Basingstoke technology company.
A registered STEM ambassador created a set of practical activities to give experience of programming using LEGO robot kits.
Girls had to construct the robots first, then use logical thinking to create simple programs that would control the robot.
All 20 of the girls attended, and were engaged by the activity, giving very positive feedback.
Letter to parents in advance of “choices fair” and parents evenings (so that things could be discussed face to face)
I am writing to you because I believe your daughter would enjoy taking Computing as one of her GCSE choices next year.
This GCSE Computing course is proving very popular, with an increasing number of students choosing to study it each year since its introduction (both nationally and at Perins) in 2011. We are getting very positive feedback from parents and students – it is often listed as a “favourite subject” during discussion at Parents’ Evenings. Sadly, however, there is a significant gender imbalance and I am trying to address this (also national) problem in our school.
School “ICT” courses have typically involved software skills training, often focusing on office software such as Word and Excel. Over the past couple of years this approach has received a lot of criticism and there is now a national move, backed by the government, towards Computer Science in schools. This is because:
· it is more useful to employers than mere software training (it develops a deeper understanding).
· computational thinking skills can be applied elsewhere (breaking a problem into logical steps).
· it is a “science” and so recognised as a high-quality academic subject (included amongst the science subjects in the Ebacc and held in high regard by Colleges and Universities).
I have evidence that students with strong logical thinking skills do well in GCSE Computing, and I have identified a small group of girls in Year 8 who are the most “logical” thinkers (based on data from Cognitive Ability Tests taken in Year 7). Your daughter is one of these students and the group has taken part in some voluntary activities this year, to give them increased awareness of Computer Science as a school subject. I hope that a number of them, including your daughter, will consider taking GCSE Computing next year.
Included some detailed info about the course, and invited parents to contact me for more information.
Positive feedback from some parents, but not the full picture…
This intervention has raised awareness (good).
Does this mean that more girls will consider studying Computing though?
Quite a few of these girls would not have chosen GCSE Computing before this intervention.
Pleased that none would dismiss it now.
An increased number indicate that they will take it, but this is only a survey (no commitment).
Very recent data!
Good uptake again this year (39 students, two classes again, and one more student than last year). But… what about the gender balance?!
We now have 17 girls! Not all of them are from the intervention group.