Are you looking for signs that education is changing? Do you think girls are now more eager to study subjects such as maths and computing? You might want to reconsider that after checking the latest GCSE results.
Overall UK GCSE pass rates have fallen this year amid the biggest shake-up of exams in a generation.
The results follow a major government reform to make GCSEs more challenging. Under the changes, traditional A* to G grades have been scrapped in favour of a wider, numbered system, allowing greater differentiation between the brightest students.
The numeric system now ranges between 1-9, with 1 and 9 being the lowest and highest grades respectively. While students will only receive numbered grades for English language, literature and maths this year, letter grades will be completely phased out by 2020.
While 3.5% of the students who took the exam got a top grade, 4% of boys achieved the top grade compared to 2.9% for girls.
In addition, the demographic revolution in computing education has slowed down. Now the GCSEs, combined with the recent A-level results, offer more evidence for these concerns.
In England, entries for the new computer science GCSE, which is supposed to replace ICT, rose from 60,521 in 2016 to 64,159 this year. Female students represented only 20% of entries, and the proportion was a slightly lower than last year.
ICT entries tumbled from 84,120 to 73,099, which you would expect as the subject is vanishing from the national curriculum. However, it was more attractive to girls. Even there, the proportion of female entries fell from 41% to 39%.
If you combine the two subjects, the numbers studying these subjects has fallen by more than 7,000 students. In 2015 more than 47,000 girls were getting some sort of computing qualification, and that has fallen to about 41,000 – just 30% of the total. It may be a hard task to help girls see computing as an important subject for them. Nevertheless, we should be ensuring they do not feel limited.
The figure for the engineering GCSE is even worse, with girls making up just 10% of the entrants. It is a blunt reflection of the challenges the tech industry faces with regards to diversity.
Girls are turning away from STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Mathematics) subjects at an early age. This is due to several contributing factors, such as stereotypes, negative perceptions and poor understanding of prospective career options.
The UK government has emphasised its determination to keep the country at the cutting edge of the digital revolution after Brexit. But, the message from the exam system is contradictory. Unfortunately, it is clear that few will leave school with the skills needed to fulfil that promise.