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Comments on DfE A-Level Gender analysis

A-Level equality analysis by DfE (April 10th 2014)

It is very welcome that the DfE has looked at the equality of access for qualifications at A-Level.


How are we here?

In March 2012, the Secretary of State for Education set out a programme of reform for A levels. In line with the Government’s commitment in the 2010 Schools White Paper, The Importance of Teaching. He suggested that universities should be more involved in the design of A levels to ensure that the qualifications are equipped for HE.

He also confirmed the Government’s ambition for A levels to be linear, with all examinations at the end of the two year course. Subsequently, in an exchange of letters with the Ofqual Chief Regulator, he confirmed that the AS should become a separate, stand-alone qualification, also taught and assessed on a linear basis

Computer Science

Our analysis suggested that an increase in quantitative content may make it less accessible to pupils with a disability such as dyscalculia and may have an impact on female engagement. I think this is quite a generalisation and we need to be clear that quantitative content ‘may’ make is less accessible. Although CS does have close links and a basis is mathematics the course content of A-Level specifications vary in their mathematical content.

A very small number of respondents (3) thought that the increase in mathematical content would make it less accessible and a particular point was made of encouraging female engagement in computer science. One respondent offered a US as an example of encouraging female students in computer science. We would need a major on the engagement of mathematics and gender and then CS to correlate this as far as I am aware a study of this has not been done yet. It may be worth exploring in your own school. It may also be wise to discuss A-Level timetabling sympathetically with rather than against mathematics for example. Essentially do students who perfom highly in mathematics also perform in CS and how is the this reflected in the performance of gender?

In consultation with stakeholders, including subject associations, there was extensive support for the need for more quantitative skills in a computer science. This is a fair point and the close links between mathematics should be explored more in relation to computer science for example links to Algebra.

A level

The subject content introduces a new aim that A level specifications must encourage students to develop ‘mathematical skills’.

Setting these out explicitly within the A level subject content will strengthen the mathematical content of the qualifications and will address the concerns expressed by higher education representatives that the current content does not ensure that all students develop appropriate mathematical skills. No evidence was offered that an increase in quantitative content would have any major impact on take up by female students.

For those students with disabilities (such as dyscalculia) there will be some mitigation by access arrangements in some situations. It would be useful to understand the relationship between students with dycalculia and their performance with quantitative aspects of CS.

As set out above more than 70% of pupils already achieve at least a C in mathematics GCSEs with around 11,000 achieving what is currently

information technology/ A level computer studies/ICT A levels. It would have bee helpful to have student numbers rather than mixing percentages and numbers.

The arguments as set out for business A level on the teaching of mathematics prior to key stage 5 also apply here.  From what I can see this basically says “don‘t worry out new national currculum is more robust and more students are getting GCSE C grades in mathematics”.

In considering these responses the A level review panel concluded that increasing the focus on quantitative skills in response to the needs of higher education was important and out weighed potential risks.

We are satisfied that the proposed changes will have no major impact on those with the protected characteristics of disability or gender.

As set out above, one respondent offered a published study from a US university that has successfully turned this problem around so that 42% of their undergraduate computer science intake is female – it took active engagement at pre-GCSE and following that through:   – <This really is quite a useful project in my opinion

It may be that that there are positive lessons to learn from this study.  I will blog these for CAS include.  

In relation to securing greater female engagement which have the potential for a greater positive impact than can be achieved through the qualification content.

In consultation with stakeholders including subject associations there was extensive support for the need for more quantitative skills in the computer science A-level.I agree.

We believe that on balance the proposed changes are justifiable to meet the educational needs as set out above and that the majority of students are adequately prepared.

We have not identified any potential for a negative impact on students because of age, race, religion or belief pregnancy or maternity or sexual orientation or as a result of gender reassignment

For more links and inspiration on gender and inclusion in Compuer Science check out @CASInclude

The full DfE report can be found here


About danbowen

Educational technology learning and teaching consultant, support, training, change management, innovation and all things ICT and educational, father of two, guitarist, welsh rugby follower,

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