Coverage

28 May 2019

Analysis shows computer science take-up in Yorkshire schools is lowest in country

Schools and colleges in Yorkshire and the Humber have the lowest student uptake of computer science at GCSE and A level in the country, according to new analysis for the David and Jane Richards Family Foundation (DJRFF).

The UK charity was established to advance the education of computer science in state schools. It is working with its first cohort of pupils at Tapton School in Sheffield and plans to roll out its groundbreaking data science curriculum to new schools in the next academic year.

DJRFF has analysed data in the authoritative Roehampton Annual Computing Education Report, which is based on studies of the Department of Education's national pupil database and schools information service.

The analysis reveals the following:

  • Just 10.2 per cent of the region's students choose the subject at GCSE level, compared to 11.9 per cent across England.
  • Yorkshire and the Humber also has the lowest proportion of students (2.1 per cent) selecting computer science at A level, compared to 2.7 per cent across England.
  • The region has the lowest proportion of computer science providers at A level with just 29.1 per cent of schools and colleges offering the subject, compared to 41.3 per cent in the neighbouring North East and 36.3 per cent across England.
  • The average cohort size at the region's A level providers is 6.9, which is well below the Department for Education guidance of 12 for viability.
  • At GCSE level, 52.5 per cent of the region's providers offer the course, compared to 55.4 per cent in the North West, 55.2 per cent in the North East and 52.6 per cent across England.
  • Yorkshire and the Humber has England's second lowest levels of female participation in computer science at GCSE and A level.
The UK charity was established to advance the education of computer science in state schools

Peter Kemp, lead author of the research and senior lecturer in computing education at the University of Roehampton, said: "With digital skills becoming increasingly important to employment and the understanding of the world around us, it's deeply concerning that only a small percentage of students in Yorkshire and Humberside are taking computer science GCSE and A level. Initiatives such as those being run by the David and Jane Richards Family Foundation are important in making sure that all students have access to a world class computing education.."

DJRFF will gather qualitative data from the schools it is working with to increase the understanding of how and why students choose computer science as a subject at GCSE and A level.

The data will include feedback from students, teachers and parents on decision-making processes and the level of information available to them about skills acquisition and paths to employment.

Jane Richards said:

"We launched the David and Jane Richards Family Foundation to advance the education of computer science in state schools and these figures clearly illustrate why our help is desperately needed.

"We are very concerned at the low take-up of computer science at GCSE and A level, particularly among young women and people from BME backgrounds, and at the financial sustainability of these courses in Yorkshire and the Humber.

"We know education providers in our region are suffering from deep cuts with research suggesting that schools in Yorkshire and the Humber have lost an estimated £444.9m between 2015-19.

"Conversely, the tech industry is growing very quickly and creating huge numbers of exciting job opportunities for young people with the right skills and abilities.

"These attributes can be just as useful in other fields such as social justice, the creative industries and the environment."

Research by Accenture has estimated that outdated education and workplace training risks £141bn in UK economic growth promised by new technologies.

David Richards said:

"The need for change was brought home to me when I met year 9 students at my old school and asked how many were planning to study computer science at GCSE. Nobody put their hand up.

"Given that our economy is becoming more reliant on big data and the enabling technologies, it is alarming that students are not opting for computer science and developing related skills that will support us on the other side of the industrial revolution.

"Having been brought up in Sheffield, I witnessed the effects of new technology on the steel industry and saw automation lead to thousands of job losses.

"We need to equip the next generation with creative and imaginative skills and abilities to analyse, interpret and manipulate data for social and economic benefits."

The analysis for DJRFF shows six local authority areas in Yorkshire and the Humber are in the bottom 30 league table for student uptake of GCSE computer science across England.

They are Rotherham (9.7 per cent), Barnsley (9.6 per cent), East Riding of Yorkshire (9.5 per cent), Bradford (7.9 per cent), Calderdale (7.9 per cent) and Kingston upon Hull (3.9 per cent).

Sheffield (1.8 per cent), Bradford (1.5 per cent) and Rotherham (0.8 per cent) are in the bottom 30 local authorities for computer science uptake at A level across England.

The findings also highlight a gender gap. At GCSE level, just 17.2 per cent of females choose the subject in Yorkshire and the Humber, compared to 26.7 per cent in London and 20.3 per cent across England.

At A level, just 7.4 per cent of females choose the subject in the region, compared to 13.2 per cent in the capital and 9.4 per cent across the country.

In addition, computer science students are likely to come from relatively affluent families and while the subject is popular among Chinese and Asian students, black students are underrepresented at GCSE and A level.

About the David and Jane Richards Family Foundation:

David Richards, the founder and chief executive of WANdisco plc, set up djrff.org with wife Jane to educate, empower and improve the lives of children. The foundation is registered as a charitable incorporated organisation to operate throughout England.

Its trustees are Professor Chris Brady, director of the Centre for Sports Business at the University of Salford, Lord Kerslake, the former head of the civil service, and Herb Kim, founder and CEO of Thinking Digital.

Its aims are the advancement of computing and ecology education in state schools and the advancement of environmental protection and improvement.

The foundation is also supporting the installation and running of beehives at a number of state schools in the Sheffield area.  David and Jane Richards have donated shares in WANdisco to fund its work.