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UK government funds innovative project to involve more girls in joining computing courses

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The UK’s Department for Education has given £2.4 million of funding to the ‘Gender Balance in Computing’ research project, which will trial a number of new initiatives aimed at improving girls’ participation in computing. This award comes at a crucial time in computing education, after research by the University of Roehampton and the Royal Society recently found that only 20% of candidates for GCSE Computer Science and 10% for A-level Computer Science were girls.

Barriers which may impact girls’ engagement with computing in schools include lack of role models in computing, and a perceived lack of relevance of computing to students’ future lives. The project will respond to these and other challenges through a range of tailored control trials. The effectiveness of each intervention will then be measured and added to the evidence base of how to support more girls to study computer science.

Over 15,000 students and 550 schools across England will be involved in the trials, which will run from 2019–2022 in key stages 1–4. The study represents the largest national research effort to tackle this issue to date.

‘Gender Balance in Computing’ is a collaboration between the consortium of the Raspberry Pi Foundation, STEM Learning, BCS, The Chartered Institute for IT, and the Behavioural Insights Team. Apps for Good and WISE will also be working on the project. ‘Gender Balance in Computing’ is one of the programmes associated with the wider National Centre for Computing Education – as part of an overall £84 million package to improve computing education in England by providing support for computing teachers at all levels, from primary to A level.

Sue Sentance, Chief Learning Officer at the Raspberry Pi Foundation, said: “The challenge of encouraging more girls to take up the subject has long been a concern, and overcoming it will be critical to ensuring that the nation’s workforce is suitably skilled to work in an increasingly digital world. I’m very proud to be working with a range of excellent organisations on this important research project on such a scale, and together, we have the opportunity to rigorously trial a range of evidence-informed initiatives to improve the gender balance in computing in primary and secondary schools.”

Helen Wollaston, Chief Executive of WISE, said: “Technology is transforming every aspect of our lives, and we will need more people with an excellent mix of technical and interpersonal skills. With so many new opportunities and career paths, it is essential that we engage more girls in computer science at GCSE and A level so that they can fulfil their potential. WISE is excited to be working on this project, bringing our knowledge and experience of engaging girls in STEM to the programme and working towards evidence-based solutions that make a real difference to the number of girls choosing computing. It is vital that we show girls the skills required for opportunities in computing now, so they can make well-informed decisions about their future.”

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