Raising profile of Computing for Girls in the NoE
Computing is too important to be left to men. (Karen Sparck Jones)
The mythical silver bullet for encouraging girls to study Computing has been long sought. This article does not provide the solution but points to a variety of activities being undertaken by Computing At School through the DfE funded ‘Network of Excellence’ activities of the CAS Regional Centres (CRC), CAS Hubs and CAS Master Teachers.1 Links to many resources are also given.
CAS believes addressing the gender gap as an important issue, and one that directly impacts on recruitment of young woman into university and industry. In 2016 more than 12,500 girls took GCSE Computer Science which is a step up from the 5,700 from 2015 but that is still somethng like 20% of the overall number, up from 16% in 2015. Girls outperformed the boys with 24% achieving A or A* (vs 20% of the boys). But just under 27% of mixed schools that offered GCSE Computer Science had no female students at all. This grows to 65% for A Level so one can hardly get complacent with the growth in 2016.2
The CRCs are based in some of the leading univeristies in England so they keenly appreciate the need to raise the profile of computing and computer science for girls. Each are engaged in a variety of activity ranging from outreach work in schools to research (by their PhD students) on the underlying causes of the disparity of take up between girls and boys.
The CRCs are experimenting with a variety of activities and the following sections include some illustrative examples and links to further reading and resources:
CAS London supported the team organising a conference inspiring your women in digital and STEM work, by providing speakers and marketing support. Other initiatives include supporting the Barclays IT Girls Allowed Programme which aims to demonstrate that IT careers are accessible to girls and to inspire girls to consider IT as a subject choice in the short term, and as a career choice in the long term. , The Sutton Trust’s Pathways to Coding (being run by Queen Mary University of London), Imperial Universities Aspire for Girls.
In CAS North East, Newcastle University School of Computing Science and Thinking Digital teamed up to host the first “Thinking Digital Women” event. This focussed on women in STEM and had a range of male and female speakers.
CAS South East has a session at its conference in Reading from the CAS Include team and is at the planning phase for a day session aimed at encouraging girls into computing. They are exploring a collaboration with the Rutherford Appleton Laboratory, Didcot, and should be running joint provision this year.
CAS North West (Manchester) has have developed activities for schoolgirls to involve them in computing. There is a North West Action Group of teachers and university staff which is developing guidance for all schools in the UK on ways of engaging girls in computing. CAS Girls events are now a regular feature of the Manchester CRC calendar e.g. #CASGirls, with events being it great demand - all fully booked. Resource and materials are shared with teachers for use in schools.
The School of Computer Science at the University of Hertfordshire ran a ‘Girls in Computing’ afternoon for schoolgirls aged 11 - 17. This free event was jointly funded by the University’s School of Computer Science and Computing At School (CAS). The purpose of this event was to encourage girls to consider Computer Science as a subject and the girls will give a presentation to their class on their return to school.
CAS London is preparing an issue of its ‘Computer Science for Fun’ magazine on Women in Computing which will be mailed to over 2000 school subscribers nationwide later in the year.
CAS Include produced their diversity toolkit earlier this year. This toolkit has been designed by teachers for teachers to encourage diversity within the subject. It includes:
- A workshop plan and presentation for hub leaders, teacher trainers, master teachers and computing educators.
- A literature review of articles and research
- A list of free classroom resources for encouraging diversity in computing.
It aims to provide training that:
- explains the problems in recruiting diverse groups of students into computing and STEM subjects and why it is important
- covers the research on unconscious bias and its influence in schools and society
- encourages all to commit to taking at least one action to improve diversity in your computing department.
It’s well worth downloading this and using it as part of staff departmental training or a hub meeting!
Planning an inclusive curriculum
CAS Master Teacher Pete Dring recommends 6 ingredients to consider using when planning a project or schemes of work so that every student can enjoy making progress in computing regardless of gender, race, religion, ability or background. Find out more here
CAS North West (Manchester) regional conference hosted several workshops targeting engaging girls in computer science, such as one involving programming and dance.
CAS Yorkshire and Humberside is introducing a gender focus into its CPD offer where are the links to events
A Guidance Booklet on methods of engaging girls in computing is being developed in collaboration with academics from The University of Manchester, Master Teachers and CAS. The aim is to deliver this widely to schools in the UK.
The new CAS Master Teacher induction includes unconscious bias awareness training using this video and other resources.
The University of Newcastle (CAS North East) has begun research and other work with industry in the School of Computing Science on gender issues, and the keynote speaker at its regional conference was the woman founder and director of a local IT and services consultancy. Her talk went down very well with teachers and we are considering how to better facilitate contact between teachers and industry.
None of the above are silver bullets! But, they do provide pointers to ideas, material and resources as well as evidence of positive activity to promote computing and computer science to girls. Of course, it’s not just Computing affected by an under representation of girls. For more then 20 years the number of girls taking Physics, post-16, has remained constant at 20%. The Institue of Physics has published several excellent reports from which we, in Computing, can learn:
- Improving Gender Balance - Reflections on the impact of interventions in schools (2017)
- Improving Gender Balance - Results and recommendations from the IOP’s work in schools (2017)
- Opening Doors: A guide to good practice in countering gender stereotyping in schools (2015)
- Closing Doors: Exploring gender and subject choice in schools (2013)
The recommendations from he IOP in their 2017 report are:
- Appoint a gender champion: For any issue to be taken seriously by a school, someone in the senior leadership team needs to be given responsibility for it, and for impressing the importance of it on the school.
- Train teachers: Teachers, like all of us, have unconscious biases, which can affect the experience of different groups in the classroom – what is said to students, feedback on their work, expectations of them and career suggestions. Training can raise awareness of unconscious bias and its potential impact in the classroom, allowing teachers to reflect on their practice and adjust to ensure the best experience for all students. It can also help teachers deal with sexist and sexual comments or inappropriate behaviour.
- Use data and evidence: By comparing the progression in traditionally gendered subjects to the national average, schools can get an idea
how their schools compare to the national average in terms of gender equality in subject choice. This can help identify areas for concern and provide incentives for action.
- Rethink science clubs: Science clubs are often quite boy-heavy, which can put interested girls off. Research projects such as Cern@school
and Crest awards attract a better gender balance, as do science ambassador schemes – in which students are doing outreach with primary schools.
- Increase students’ awareness and engagement: Ask students to challenge their biases and the biases of others around them. Engage them in the issues and encourage them to think of ways to combat them.
We all know we are a long way off from solving the problem but each of the steps above are small steps in the right direction and if only a handful of girls choose computing as a result of these activities then the efforts will not have been wasted.
What have you tried in your school/institution to address the gender imbalance in Computing?