A major new study considering, ‘The Future of Computer Education’, has studied the availability of Computer Science qualifications, and the profile of students who sit the exam. It found that girls participation in computing courses has fallen significantly, and that schools with more advantaged intakes were more likely to offer a Computer Science GCSE than those serving disadvantaged communities.

 Somewhat unsurprisingly, grammar schools are highly likely to offer a GCSE in Computer Science, with 95.7% offering the subject compared to non-selective schools where the figure is 79.6%. However, as the following map of Lincolnshire shows, there can be a stark divide in the opportunity to learn digital skills. Pupils attending a grammar school will usually have the option to study computing, while pupils in de facto secondary modern schools, will rarely have this option.

Computer Science GCSE provision in Lincolnshire. Dark Blue shows grammars with computing provision, a light blue stripe shows secondary modern schools without computing provision.

North East Lincolnshire has the lowest provision of GCSE computing with only 3.5 % of students taking the GCSE and just 30.5% of students attending a school offering the subject. Selective Slough, has the highest number of pupils taking the subject, with 26.6 % of all students taking the qualification. This may well be due to the high number of grammar school places in Slough, and the number of high attaining pupils they import. Slough grammars typically admit 50% of their pupils from outside the local authority area.

Digital skills are hugely important, but Computer Science is more likely to be offered in schools with affluent intakes. If we look at Computer Science uptake by school FSM decile, we can see that 96.3 % of schools in the wealthiest decile offered computer science GCSE but amongst the schools in the poorest decile the provision was only 60.2 %. Grammar schools are, of course, wealthier schools, while secondary moderns admit high proportions of pupils from disadvantaged backgrounds.

The project also has an interactive map showing which schools offer Computer Science GCSE and A level and the size of the cohorts. In Kent 42 of 111  providers offer A level Computer Science, with it highly likely that the 32 Kent grammars offer this subject, meaning pupils with slightly lower attainment, attending non-selective schools, have limited opportunity to sit this A level.

In large parts of Kent pupils need to attend a grammar school to study Computer Science A level.

Digital skills matter, and it is yet another unfairness of academic selection that the pupils admitted to grammar school are likely to win the opportunity to study computing, while those in non-selective schools will not have this option. Many pupils might have their career prospects limited because they didn’t have the opportunity to experience this important subject.

Images and stats from Kemp, P. E. J., Wong, B., Hamer, J. M. M., & Copsey-Blake, M. (2024). The future of computing education: Considerations for policy, curriculum and practice. King’s College London and University of Reading.


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