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Girls’ perceptions of ICT as a subject at Key Stage 3


Abstract and Figures

The reform of the digital curriculum in England from ICT to Computing had led to growing concern regarding the lack of girls choosing to study computer science as an examination subject. This survey presents data outlining the kind of digital curriculum girls may value. The results also cast doubt on some of the claims about the previous curriculum which underpinned the curriculum reform process. It outlines implications for future curriculum development suggesting a broader, socially relevant and inclusive curriculum would be more appropriate for pupils of compulsory school age.
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Sources significant in the curriculum reform process
The English National Curriculum for ICT at the time of the survey (2012)
The speech by the Secretary of State for Education removing the ICT curriculum in 2012
Shut down or restart? January 2012 The way forward for computing in UK schools
Next Gen. Transforming the UK into the worlds leading talent hub for the video games and visual effects industries
Girlsperceptions of ICT
as a school subject
A survey of 150 KS3 girls aged 11-13
From ICT to Computing
In 2013 the English government replaced the existing ICT curriculum
with Computingamidst claims that the subject was perceived as
boringby pupils, was irrelevantto their needs and consisted of little
more than being taught how to use Word and Excel’. This picture of a
narrow curriculum and ICT classrooms full of bored pupils was at odds
with the authors regular observations in schools and conversations
with pupils and teachers.
After almost seven years of the new Computing curriculum and the
coding revolutionthere remain long standing concerns regarding the
relatively small number of girls choosing to study a qualification in
computer science in comparison with those who had chosen ICT.
This study presents data gathered in 2011 on how 150 girls aged 11
to 13 perceived ICT as a subject. The findings suggest that assertions
regarding the breadth of pupilsexperiences and their perceptions of
the value of the ICT were at odds with the claims which underpinned
the justifications for reform.
The study offers insight into:
1. Girlsperceptions of the subject ICT in comparison with other
school subjects.
2. The intention of girls to study ICT beyond school, the desirability of
ICT related careers and the value of their ICT lessons in supporting
their wider learning.
3. The breadth of the ICT curriculum encountered by the girls and
their level of interest in each topic.
Research briefing—June 2020—Adrian Mee
Girlsperceptions of ICT as a subject at Key Stage 3
Survey outline
This survey of female pupils was
undertaken in 2011 prior to the reforms
which replaced the subject Information
and Communication Technology (ICT)
with Computing.
The survey elicited data from 150 girls in
years 7 and 8 (aged 11 to 13 years).
Responses were from 5 secondary
schools. The survey consisted of three
1. A rating scale asking the
respondents to indicate, for a
range of school subjects, how
interestingthey felt each
subject was and how usefulthey
felt each subject to be.
2. A Likert scale eliciting pupils
perceptions of:
- the value of ICT in supporting
their wider learning.
- the desirability of ICT as a
subject for further study.
- the desirability of careers in ICT .
3. An open response section where
pupils were invited to outline what
aspects of the ICT curriculum they
enjoyed and felt to be useful.
Attribution Non-commercial
No Derivatives
I denitely
Curriculum focus
Technological envi-
Girlsperceptions of ICT as a subject at Key Stage 3
England's digital curriculum in context
Between the mid 1980’s and 2020 the school curriculum response to
digital technologies in England went through several phases. Prior to
1989 some pupils engaged with qualifications in computer studies
focussed on the computer as a device and its associated hardware,
computer science theory and computer programming. The
introduction of the subject IT and subsequently ICT sought to
respond to the emerging social context as the computerwas
transformed from a specialist tool to a common feature of the office
and commercial environment. The growth in office and then home
computers was closely followed by widespread access to the Internet
and WWW. Revisions to the IT and then ICT curriculum sought to
respond to and accommodate rapid changes in the relationship
between digital technologies, society and the individual, described by
Cordoso & Castelles (2006) as a network society’. The decade 2000
to 2010 saw the emergence of such concepts as Web 2.0’ and
social mediaas Habbo (2000), Myspace (2003),YouTube (2005,
Facebook (2006) and Tumblr (2007) created a new socio-
technological context for the school curriculum to respond to. Such
digital platforms, along with the growing ubiquity of the smart phone,
changed the social landscape of young people and the 2007 National
Curriculum for ICT sought to respond with the inclusion e-safety and
enhanced reference to digital technologies in their social context.
In 2010 a change of government in England saw a broad and rapid
program of educational reform including the removal of the ICT
curriculum with claims by politicians and business stakeholders that
pupils classroom experience of ICT was irrelevantconfined to
learning to use Word and Excel”, leaving pupils and teachers bored
out of their minds(Gove, 2012). The new subject of Computing,
focussing on computer science and a coding revolutionwas
introduced in 2013 and has yet to be formally evaluated despite
emerging concerns regarding narrowness, exclusivity (Kemp, Wong,
2017) and performativity (Mee, 2016).
Digital curriculum phase
Programming and
the machine
Responding to a network society
Returning to
Logo and microworlds
Scratch programming
Personal computer
Widespread Internet access
Web 2.0 and social media
Personal devices
Naonal Curriculum
Programming strand
Fig 1—Technology, curriculum and social context
The evolution of the school curriculum response to its socio-
technical context suggests an early phase focusing on the
functioning of the physical technology itself, the growth of a socially
situated curriculum and a subsequent reversion to a study of
hardwareand coding’.
Three layers of curriculum
The education policy process requires
broad consultation, reliable evidence and a
shared understanding of the meaning of
key terms (Haddad, 1995). The popular
policy discourse around the change from
ICT to Computing often failed to
differentiate between three meanings of
The curriculum defined by law.
The institutional interpretation of the
above by schools and examination
The curriculum as received by
different groups of pupils.
A failure to differentiate between such
levels and understand the forces acting to
transpose, refine and regulate content and
access can lead to unintended
Curriculum as legislated
Curriculum as implemented
Curriculum as received
Girlsperceptions of ICT as a subject at Key Stage 3
Girls interest in ICT lessons and their perceptions of usefulness
Figure 2 maps girls perceptions of the usefulness of ICT as a subject and the degree to which they found lessons
interesting. Whilst claims that pupils found ICT lessons boringand demotivating were used by politicians to justify
the removal of the harmfulICT curriculum. The data seems to offer a more complex picture. Whilst pupils suggested
that they found English, science, art and PE to be more interesting than ICT lessons, the mapping suggests that ICT
was perceived to be as interesting as mathematics and significantly more interesting that modern foreign languages
(mfl), history and geography. As the government at the time were justifying the removal of the ICT on the grounds of
a lack of pupil interest they were also introducing the new English Baccalaureate (EBacc) strongly directing pupils to
study MFL, history and geography.
The evidence offered to support the removal of the ICT curriculum also presented a picture of learning which was
irrelevantand narrow, focussing only on learning application skills such as Word and Excel”.
The girlsresponses suggested that they perceived ICT to be a usefulsubject making reference to supporting their
learning, improving their appreciation of on-line safety and skills for employment. The aggregate perception of
usefulness placed ICT lessons behind the core subjects of English, mathematics and science but higher than all of
the other subjects included in the survey.
The data presented here on pupil perceptions of ICT lessons raises a number of questions regarding the evidence
offered to support the unprecedented policy decision to remove the
programme of study.
Core subjects—Perceived by pupils as interesng
and useful. These subject are compulsory and
heavily promoted as part of the school
performance system
ICT—Compulsory for pupils in years 7 to 11.
Removed by the government in 2012
EBacc subjects heavily promoted by government
Fig 2—Interest in ICT lessons and perceptions
of usefulness
Survey outcomes
I strongly
I mostly
I dont
I denitely
I would like to
do a job where
I use ICT
I would like to
study ICT
further aer
I apply the ICT
skills I learn in
other subjects
Girlsperceptions of ICT as a subject at Key Stage 3
Career intentions, further study and ICT for learning
The respondents were asked to offer their views on the desirability
of ICT as a career, the further study of ICT and the degree to which
they applied their ICT skills in other subjects.
Fig 3 suggests that only 17% of the girls aspired to jobs where
using ICT was central to the role and over 40% stated a negative
perception of such roles. Further research would be required to
ascertain if this view results from an informed consideration of the
nature of ICT related employment or inaccurate perceptions of such
Fig 4 indicates that the relatively negative view girls held in relation
to ICT related employment is translated into a reluctance to
consider further study of ICT beyond school with 45% expressing
no desire to take ICT related qualifications.
Fig 5 suggests that girls perceived ICT in a more positive light when
it was seen a functional tool to support their wider learning. Well
over half of the girls recognised that the skills they had learned in
ICT lessons contributed to their learning in other school subjects.
The data suggests that girls in the sample saw the study of digital
technology as a means to an endsrather than as an area of study
in its own right. This might be seen to imply that where ICT related
learning is approached from the perspective of situated learning
combining authentic contexts and tasks, a constructivist approach
to pedagogy and collaborative learning approaches, girls are more
likely to value their technology related learning and have a positive
attitude towards ICT related careers and further study.
Whilst the ICT GCSE was undertaken by a greater proportion of
girls than the current GCSE in Computer science it must be noted
that these two subjects occupied significantly different positions in
the institution level curriculum.
The data suggests that a broader and more applied digital
curriculum at KS3 followed by a general and specialist strand at
KS4 might address the gender gap identified above.
Fig 3 — I would like to do a job where I use ICT
Fig 4—I would like to study ICT when I leave
Fig 5—I use the skills I learn in ICT in other
Girlsperceptions of ICT as a subject at Key Stage 3
What did OFSTED say?
The argument for the withdrawal of the
ICT curriculum was often supported by
reference to the OFSTED 2008-2011
subject review. However, engaging with
the report first hand reveals a more
nuanced picture. With reference to the
three layer curriculumoffered on page
2, OFSTEDs remit is to offer a critique
of the curriculum as implementedin the
school and the curriculum as received
by individuals and groups of pupils. As
such OFSTEDs remit does not extend
to offering a criticism of the curriculum
as legislatedi.e. the Programme of
Study specified by the secretary of state.
Specifically, OFSTED offered as
the degree of challenge posed by the
Key Stage 4 vocational curriculum
the lack of effective challenge for higher
-attaining students
nearly half of the secondary schools
surveyed were not meeting the needs of
all students, especially at Key Stage 4”
Current evidence on the implementation
of the ComputingProgramme of study
2013 to 2020 suggests:
GCSE Computer Science at KS4
curriculum is now too challenging
for many pupils.
Lower attaining students are often
excluded from the GCSE in
Computer Science.
Many schools do not provide any
form of teaching and learning in
Computing at KS4 for large
numbers of pupils.
As such it might be argued that the
undeniable problems with ICT were
misdiagnosedby suggesting the root
cause as the Programme of Study rather
than the curriculum implemented at
school level and the forces of
performativity which led ironically to the
ECDL surge and subsequent rapid
decline and an exclusive rather than
inclusive KS4 curriculum offer.
OFSTED has yet to offer Computing in
schools 20132020”.
What aspects of ICT lessons did girls enjoy?
Respondents were invited to describe what aspects of their learning
in ICT lessons they enjoyed. A thematic analysis of the open
responses describes their encounter with a curriculum, far broader
than the Word and Exceldescribed by ministers when announcing
the removal of the ICT programme of study.
The girls surveyed identified nine areas of learning which they had
enjoyed. In order of the frequency mentioned these were:
1. Data handling activities
2. Web design
3. Audio visual work
4. Desktop publishing and CAD
5. Programming with Scratch
6. Making presentations
7. Using the Internet
8. E-safety
9. Modelling and simulations
The myth of Officeskills
Pupils seldom referred to aspects of their learning in relation to
specific Officeapplications. Far more frequently they described
enjoyable classroom learning in relation to the particular activity and
the context within which tasks were embedded. For example, whilst
many pupils referred to activities which could be grouped together as
data handlingthey did not refer to specific software e.g. Excel or
Access. Instead they referred to the problem to be solved or the
situation being investigated. Where data was being collected,
processed and presented to explore the views of their classmates or
databases constructed around their own interests they saw
Pupilsresponses also outlined their enjoyment of activities which led
to tangible, personalised and creative outcomes. The pupils offered a
wide variety of examples of such projects. They were enthusiastic
about creating web pages where they were allowed to choose the
topic e.g. about their pet or football team. They enjoyed working
together to make audio visual artefacts such as advertisements for
products they liked. Some pupils described their enjoyment in
creating print media products like posters advertising real school
events which were used around the school.
Contrary to contemporary media sources reporting a coding
revolutionmany pupils were already engaged in making games
using Scratch. A survey undertaken in 2011 indicated that in around
50% of schools programming was part of the school curriculum but
this was lost at KS4 where the curriculum consisted of vocational
qualificationsfocussing on the use of applications.
The survey suggests a KS 3 ICT curriculum at classroom level far
broader and motivating than the claims used to justify its removal.
Creative teaching focussed on situated learning offered a pupil
experience which was largely enjoyable, perceived as relevant to
their needs and so valued (Denner, 2011).
ICT lesson activities enjoyed
by pupils
References and further reading
Cardoso, G., & Castells, M. (2006). The
network society: from knowledge to policy.
Massachusetts: Centre for transatlantic
Denner, J. (2011). What Predicts Middle
School GirlsInterest in Computing?
International Journal of Gender, Science
and Technology, 3(1), 53-69.
Gove, M. (2012). Michael Gove gives a
speech at the BETT Show 2012 on ICT in
the National Curriculum. Available on-line
Haddad, W. (1995). Education policy-
planning process: an applied framework.
Paris: UNESCO.
Kemp, B., & Wong, B. (2017). Is computing
education in England becoming more
exclusive? Hello World Vol 1. Available on-
line [Link]
Mee, A. (2011). Where Next for ICT?
Available on-line [Link]
Mee, A. (2013). Developing a curriculum
for a digital society. [Link]
Mee, A. (2016). Digital curriculum trends A
case-study of the European Computer
Driving Licence. Available on-line [Link]
The Digital Competence Framework 2.0.
Available on-line [Link]
What the study shows
The rapid and contentious change from ICT to Computing was
underpinned by a number of assertions which the survey data
does not support. The pupils surveyed suggested that ICT was
seen as being interesting and useful by most of the girls surveyed.
The mapping of the topics girls enjoyed in ICT lessons suggests a
broad curriculum as delivered at classroom level with an emphasis
on situated learning and relevant to a broad variety of needs and
interests. Whilst inspection findings noted a narrowing of the
curriculum and undemanding content at KS4 this appears to relate
to particular qualifications rather than the curriculum itself. As such
claims of pupils bored out of their mindsengaging with a harmful
and irrelevantcurriculum consisting of little more than Office
skills(Gove, 2012) seems at odds with the data presented here.
Whilst the girls expressed an interest in the subject there is a
noted lack of aspiration to study or work with ICTs suggesting that
many girls prefer a curriculum where digital technologies are a
means to an ends rather than an ends in themselves. Whilst few
saw career and study opportunities as preferred pathways they
showed a clear recognition of the value of what they learned in ICT
lessons for their learning in other subjects.
The girls surveyed noted enjoyment in a broad range of activities
from media production to programming but with a strong
preference for situated learning with real tasksand problems to
solve where learning allowed them to produce solutions and
artifacts in which they could invest their own ideas and exercise
their creativity. This approach to learning contrasts sharply with an
instructivist pedagogy associated with the transmissionof a
defined body of knowledgeor a fact based curriculumhowever
Policy implications
1. Since 1989 the digital curriculum has undergone review and
revision at least every seven years. Given the emerging
problems with the current model and a context of rapid
change the curriculum is due for review.
2. A broad, balanced and socially relevant digital curriculum
can only be achieved through an inclusive and deliberative
review process decoupled from political ideologies or
sectoral and commercial interests.
3. The compulsory digital curriculum in schools must be
accessible and relevant to all and must encompass more
than the needs of pupils intent on specialisation. The EU
Digital competence framework for citizens and JISCs Digital
Literacy framework provide models for a curriculum
meeting a broad array of needs and the skills required for
further study.
4. A socially situated digital curriculum must recognise that
learning to thrive in a digital word means more than a
theoretical understanding of how a computer worksor
vocational skillsto use a particular application. This
redundant dichotomy lies at the core of the challenge of
defining a broad and balanced digital curriculum.
Conclusions and policy implications
Contact and disclaimer
The research outlined in this document was
undertaken as part of a wider programme of
personal research into the Digital Curriculum
in schools. The work was not funded or
commissioned by any organisation, awarding
body or government agency.
The content reflects the comments made by a
wide range of contributors and the views
expressed in their interpretation are those of
the author alone.
Adrian Mee
Girlsperceptions of ICT as a subject at Key Stage 3
ResearchGate has not been able to resolve any citations for this publication.
Full-text available
ICT as a central curriculum element of the National Curriculum is now approaching its 23rd birthday. It has long since passed the phase in its life where we can legitimately claim it to be a new subject. ICT is rapidly approaching that stage in its life when it needs to start making some serious decisions about its future. As the National Curriculum enters a period of major review which has at its centre the ambition to “slim down” and “revise” the programmes of study themselves, it would seem a good time to consider what role ICT has and might come to play in any revised curriculum. In this brief article it is my intention to avoid subject advocacy and seek to explore and outline some of the arguments about the subject which are too often neglected or engaged with at a level of criticality which does not support the development of an argument which outlines the value of ICT, its nature as a subject and therefore its potential future.
Full-text available
With ICT renamed “Computing” and refocused on computer science schools are facing a major challenge in shaping a curriculum experience for learners which meets all their digital technology needs. With some schools switching entirely to computer science there is a potential for ICT to become neglected although all schools, including academies and Free Schools must “offer a curriculum which is balanced and broadly based” (DfE, 2013). This paper explores how these challenges might be met.
Despite strong claims that middle school is a critical period for getting girls interested in computing, there is little research to guide the development of interventions. Many programs that target girls build on Eccles’ expectancy-value model, which focuses on expectations for success, values, and support from others. However, there is little research to justify the use of this model to guide efforts to increase interest in computing during middle school. To test the model, I analyzed data from 140 Latina and white girls in a California middle school collected on the first day of an IT-intensive after school program. The strongest direct predictor ofgirls’ interest in computing classes and careers was the extent to which they see value in computing, in particular their technological curiosity. Perceived support from school peers and teachers also had a direct effect, while perceived support from parents had an indirect effect via values. Expectations for success did notexplain interest in computing. Implications for interventions are discussed.
The network society: from knowledge to policy. Massachusetts: Centre for transatlantic relations
  • G Cardoso
  • M Castells
Cardoso, G., & Castells, M. (2006). The network society: from knowledge to policy. Massachusetts: Centre for transatlantic relations.
Michael Gove gives a speech at the BETT Show 2012 on ICT in the National Curriculum
  • M Gove
Gove, M. (2012). Michael Gove gives a speech at the BETT Show 2012 on ICT in the National Curriculum. Available on-line
Is computing education in England becoming more exclusive?
  • B Kemp
  • B Wong
Kemp, B., & Wong, B. (2017). Is computing education in England becoming more exclusive? Hello World Vol 1. Available online [Link]