Narrowing the Gap

Can leadership skills help narrow the gender gap

in GCSE Computing?

Dan Gardner



  • Computing has only recently been available as a GCSE course (since 2010).

  • Study of GCSE Computing at Perins is entirely optional.

  • Gender imbalance in Computer Science is a national issue in schools, colleges, universities and industry.

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.

The Problem: Nationally

Good News: Increasing Uptake




Bad News: The Gender Gap




Is It Just Preference?

  • Is Computer Science a topic that is of little or no interest to girls?

  • Although only three girls are currently studying Computing at Perins, they enjoy it and do well in assessments.

  • They are also keen to encourage other girls to consider studying Computing.

  • Positive feedback from parents…

Dear Mr Gardner

My daughter is really enjoying her Computing GCSE and is thinking about a possible career in IT.

I wondered if you know whether there are any opportunities to do work experience at IBM Hursley?

Thanks very much.

The Process for Change

  • Need: Observable gender gap.
  • Urgency: Before Year 8 select their GCSE courses.
  • Build Time: Put intervention events in the calendar.
  • Plan: Arrange realistic interventions.
  • Communication: Share plan with parents & students.
  • Manage: Ensure interventions are attended.

7. There was a 7th step – but will come on to this later!

Action Plan

Visual representation of Action Plan

Divided into four stages:

Identification: Logical Thinkers

  • Noticed that many of the best students in my first GCSE group were very logical thinkers.

  • Observed a positive correlation between high scores in “non-verbal reasoning” (logic) tests and ability with practical programming tasks.

  • Used Cognitive Ability Test data to identify 20 most “logical” girls in Year 8 (students about to choose GCSE courses).

  • Not the same as able maths.

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.

Intervention: Raising Awareness

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.

Intervention: Experiencing Computing

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.

Intervention: Dialogue with peers

  • Year 10 girls already studying Computing invited to help run a stand at the GCSE “choices fair”.

  • These girls spoke confidently and enthusiastically to younger children (and parents) about their positive experience of Computing.

Communication: Email to Parents

Dear Parent,

I am writing to you because I believe your daughter would enjoy taking Computing as one of her GCSE choices next year…

Thanks for your email.

We spoke at the Choices Evening and I am pleased to say that Holly is very keen to take GCSE Computing!

Letter to parents in advance of “choices fair” and parents evenings (so that things could be discussed face to face)

Dear Parent,

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…

Measurement: Student Survey

Measurement: Survey Results

How much do you know about GCSE Computing?

This intervention has raised awareness (good).

Does this mean that more girls will consider studying Computing though?

Measurement: Survey Results

How likely are you to study

GCSE Computing next year?

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).

Has the gap been narrowed?




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.

Learning Log

  • Published online as a blog for anyone to view.

  • Will distribute report through Computing At School network in the hope that other schools might benefit.

The Process for Change

  • Need: Observable gender gap
  • Urgency: Before Year 8 select their GCSE courses
  • Build Time: Put intervention events in the calendar
  • Plan: Arrange realistic interventions
  • Communication: Share plan with parents & students
  • Manage: Ensure interventions are attended

  • Anchor the change: what about next year?

Narrowing the gender gap in GCSE Computing - Google Slides