What's the story?
With another years' worth of A-Level results gone, students across the country can look forwards to taking their next steps in life. Regardless if they are bound for university or heading straight into the workforce, the latest batch of secondary school leavers should be confident they have been equipped with the skillset they need to succeed in whatever they want to do.
However, 'should' is the key word here. As technology has seeped into seemingly every aspect of the work environment, for students to be employable today, companies require them to possess at least a basic understanding of how to use software for all sorts of tasks.
To keep up with this demand, the curriculum has been adjusted accordingly to incorporate a greater emphasis on IT systems. Using this infographic, we can see that students have recognised the importance of possessing IT skills, with the level of students completing some form of computing A-Level having risen by 16% compared to 2015. Yet according to the same source (information taken from JCQ - the singular voice of UK exam boards) , 90.2% of those who took Computing as a subject throughout their secondary education were male, whereas, in comparison, females dominated more artistic subjects, to the tune of 89.8%.
What are the repercussions?
So the key question is not necessarily what has caused this split, but rather what does it mean? Whilst hard fact based subjects such as Computing, Economics and Law have all seen a rise in popularity across the board, less 'definitive' subjects such as Performing/Expressive Arts, Music and Drama have gone the other way. Perhaps, this is indicative of what skills employers are increasingly looking for, which would imply that female students on average will face a harder time finding employment as the subjects they dominate are becoming less relevant.
Furthermore, again looking at the infographic, mention is made of A/A* grades in Critical Thinking falling by 3.9%. As additional emphasis has been placed upon following rules and routines amongst those studying Computing, Maths etc., a scenario has arisen where they don't question the purpose or methodology behind what they are doing. Asking why, what, who, how and where are all elements that go into making up the Arts, so one could argue the case that as interest in them has waned, these questions are no longer being asked as frequently by pupils who would rather take up less 'artsy' subjects.
Therefore, it comes as little surprise that it was numeracy and language based subjects that posted the highest percentage of A/A* grades. Whilst it would be wrong to suggest that those students in this category are not incredibly hard and skilled workers, much of their understanding of these disciplines comes from repetition and regimentation.
What can teachers do to deal with this issue?
Should this trend continue, we could end up in a scenario where we have a workforce who excels in executing commands but struggles more so when formulating them for others to follow. With more females having a background in using cerebral skills to independently conceive of ideas, will a greater proportion of them end up in authoritative roles which require decision making? Whilst, of course, technical ability is a key component of any senior position, an effective manager will understand how it is not the be all and end all. Here, critical thinking is key for understanding how said knowledge fits into the bigger picture and both schools and employers need to realise that knowledge on its own is limited.
True wisdom comes from knowing how to apply it and it is only by striking a balance between educational elements that our schools will produce the most well-rounded pupils with the most diverse set of skills.
Yet there are some simple yet effective moves that teachers and prospective teachers can make in order to do away with such a bleak portrayal of their student's futures. Rather than simply repeating the curriculum ad verbatim, teachers have a responsibility to their students to encourage them as to the purpose of their work.
Even before taking up a teaching position, prospective educators need to do their research and think to themselves 'is this an environment in which I can coax the maximum of potential from my class?' Predating the latest findings but forewarning today's issues, Anthony Seldon, master of Wellington College has previously called for reforms to a system in which 'creative teaching is sacrificed to instruction and transmitting the right or approved answers'.
Whilst technology does help create a uniform experience for students, it will never be able to match the unique human interaction that teachers provide. Diverse in background as much as they are in operating style, the most successful teachers are those who best identify the optimal conditions to promote the student-teacher relationship.