Scotland politics

SNP urged to tackle digital skills 'gap' in science and computing

Computer class Image copyright Thinkstock
Image caption There has been a drop in the percentage of girls taking computing Highers, according to SQA figures

Scottish Labour has called on the Scottish government to do more to encourage young women to study subjects like computing and the sciences.

The party's Iain Gray said Scotland faced a skills gap of 10,000 digital jobs over the next decade.

He claimed numbers of girls studying physics, biology, chemistry and computing Highers had fallen.

But the SNP later said the number of girls studying physics, biology and chemistry had actually increased.

And it said Labour only counted the old Higher in their figures, excluding the Revised Higher and the new CfE Higher, and had therefore presented a "highly misleading picture of Scottish education".

SQA figures show a decline in the percentage of girls taking computing over the past 16 years, with the number dropping from 27% in 1999 to 24% in 2007.

Last year, 19% of the 3,008 pupils who took a computing Higher were girls.

The percentage of girls taking physics has changed very little since 1999 - it ranges between 27% and 29% - but is a subject much more popular with boys.

The biology Higher is dominated by girls, though there has been a small decline in the percentage of them taking the course, with a high of 70% girls in 2001 and 2002, to lows of 64% in 2012 and 2013.

In chemistry, there has broadly been a 50-50 split between boys and girls since 1999.


Percentage of girls taking computing and science Highers 1999-2015

Source: SQA


Mr Gray said the single most important economic investment that could be made was in education and ensuring more pupils were studying key subjects.

"Scotland faces a skills gap of 10,000 digital jobs over the next decade. Filling in that gap will mean a huge windfall for our economy, but missing out will mean Scotland lags behind the rest of the UK," he said.

"The SNP government should be doing more to encourage young women into subjects like computing and the sciences, but that will be made all the more difficult by hundreds of millions of pounds of cuts to schools and local services in the SNP budget."

Mr Gray added that the SNP had a choice to work with centre left parties like Labour to reject Conservative cuts - or work with the Tories to force them through.

Gender stereotypes

According to Scottish Labour, spending on education and training in Scotland fell from £8.55bn in 2007/08 to £7.69bn in 2014/15 in real terms.

In a statement, the Scottish government said: "We have seen progress in the promotion of Stem [science, technology, engineering and maths] careers to girls and women through modern apprenticeships, college and university courses but these are still areas that see higher than average rates of gender segregation.

"Tackling these stereotypes will help us reduce the gender pay gap and see more women reach the higher levels in these professions."

A spokeswoman said that the Developing Scotland's Young Workforce scheme would also address gender balance in the workforce.

An additional £1.5m for the teaching of these subjects in 2016/17 had also been announced, she added.

This story was amended on 9 June, with the fourth and fifth paragraphs added in order to clarify the original story

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