There has, rightly, been a lot of focus on STEM subjects over the last few years. The government’s Industrial Strategy Green Paper drew attention to the importance of the subjects and the need for skills in these areas highlighting STEM skills as one of the ten key pillars. This blog focuses on the T of STEM, Technology, using the 2017 UK A level results and UK Government Statistics data.

How many female students got an A* in Computing in Wales in 2017?

The UK is looking for ways to increase productivity; one way is to increase the number of higher paying roles such as programmers, data analysts, designers, data architects and security analysts who are all paid above the national average salary. That computing skills are vital has widespread agreement – the new Computing Curriculum launched in Sept ’14 followed industry consultation meaning coding is now introduced across all schools.

Computing teaches how to design and code technology solutions, rather than how to use them. It’s that knowledge which helps people become programmers, analysts, designers and many other roles.

There is a skills crisis in the UK and many other countries with lots of unfilled roles in technology companies. Adam was CEO of the fastest growing software company in the UK, Fairsail. Fairsail engaged agencies to find programmers in Italy and Spain to relocate them to the UK as there were so few people available. Jurek was CEO of several biotechnology companies and today mentors many technology companies, which hire from across Europe and Far East.

Many more young people are leaving full-time education at 18 and if they don’t get the opportunity to learn these skills and to become comfortable with designing and building technology in school, they may never get the chance.

In 2017, there were 18,617 A levels taken by all female students in Wales in 2017. 7.8% of them were A*s, that’s 1,452.

So, to answer the question of how many female students got an A* in Computing in Wales in 2017?


So it’s just that an A* Computing is impossibly hard, right?

Not exactly. Today’s students are digitally literate but they are not taking Computing A level. Getting an A* in any subject is some achievement, but that’s not the subject of this blog. We are most concerned about the total number of people of both genders taking Computing. So how does Computing stack up against other subjects across the UK (excluding Scotland they have ‘Highers’ a different system):

Maths was the most popular with 95,244 students (plus another 16,172 who did Further Maths which is really hard). That’s the M in STEM.

Gender balance in Maths is more even, with 39.1% females.

Biology came second with 61,908, Chemistry 52,331 and Physics 36,578. They make up the S in STEM. You could add in Psychology with 58,663.

Engineering, the E in STEM, is taught after school using skills learnt in Maths and the Sciences. In total, well over 200,000 papers were taken in these subjects. So how about Computing?

8,299. Across the country. That is up 33% from 2016 which is a substantial increase, however even if it continues to grow at this rate it won’t be until 2024 that over 60,000 people will be taking it.

Of that total, 816 were female students, an increase from 609 last year.

There were only three subjects out of the 35 recorded which had fewer female students than Computing: Critical Thinking, Irish and Welsh First Language. Those three subjects combined had fewer than 1,000 total students in the UK, meaning that Computing has the lowest number of female students of all statistically meaningful A levels.

What next?

The authors wholeheartedly support the Government’s forward-looking Industrial Strategy, especially the second pillar which calls for developing STEM skills.

We believe this represents one of the more serious issues facing the UK. A moment of honesty is needed to recognise the issue. We need to form a group of institutions and organisations to help. Business wants to help; the Tech industry wants to help and so do Universities. It’s hard for schools now, if rapidly growing businesses find it hard to hire programmers then think how hard it is for schools in Swindon, Stockport or Birmingham to hire good Computer Science teachers.

“We are seeking your support to build a network to promote the adoption and teaching of Computing in schools that will help fill the skills shortage that businesses need to compete in a global economy especially as we are now leaving the EU. Let’s be entrepreneurial in our actions to attract students to the STEM subjects and Computing in particular… their careers and livelihoods as well as the success of the economy depends on it. It’s T time.”

The UK is not the only country struggling with this area. As they say in China, a journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step. We believe that acknowledging the scale of the issue is that single step.

By Adam Hale and Jurek Sikorski – Executive Director Henley Business School

We welcome your comments and involvement so do get in touch. Contact Jurek Sikorski at the Henley Business School, University of Reading or call on 0118 378 8188.