Subject choice exploratory research
Options booklets and evenings both play a key role in GCSE selection. Pupils often learn more about Computer Science through these materials, which may influence their perceptions and ultimately, their GCSE choices. Small details in presentation could make a difference to girls’ subject choices.
The Behavioural Insights Team explored how Computer Science is presented in options booklets and at options evenings. Using these findings, they suggest practical changes to encourage more girls to choose computing.
The team conducted five types of exploratory research from October 2021 to July 2022 to understand the effects of how Computer Science is presented in options booklets and at options evenings:
- A review of the academic evidence on how pupils choose subjects, perceptions of computing, and the influence of gendered language on decision-making.
- Interviews with Year 8 and 9 pupils, teachers, and parents from 20 schools.
- Observation of options evenings at ten schools.
- Analysis of the readability and language of Computer Science descriptions in 230 options booklets, comparing this data to Geography descriptions (a GCSE subject with greater gender balance).
- Surveys of 4,150 teachers on the options process at their schools.
Many barriers that may discourage girls from choosing Computer Science GCSE were identified, including:
- Complex and masculine language in descriptions of Computer Science in options booklets — the language was significantly more ‘male’ than Geography descriptions
- Many parents do not understand Computer Science well, and guide their children toward subjects they are more familiar with
- Some pupils are unaware of the range of careers that Computer Science could lead to
“For me, [the Computer Science booklet] it’s like talking another language… we Googled some of it…If I’m honest it could well have been written in a foreign language for as much as I understood it." - A parent
To address these barriers, teachers could consider using this checklist when shaping the Computer Science sections of options booklets and evenings. The checklist is based on our findings and is designed to encourage more girls to choose Computer Science GCSE.
What this looks like in practice
This example resource is a slide to use at an options evening. The slide follows the checklist and is designed to be more appealing to girls.
Find out more about Gender Balance in Computing.