Why I think A-Level Computer Science is important to consider for careers in both Computing and other STEM* subjects

I am writing to offer extra information to those of you who have taken GCSE Computer Science and are now working out which A-levels would be most useful to succeed in science, engineering and technology careers.

You need to consider where jobs will be available in the future and what skills and qualifications will enable you to be successful in your choice of career. Computer Science is important in its own right, but also as an enabler for other subjects, especially STEM (Biology, Chemistry, Physics, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics).   These advantages start with A-level, not just at degree level.  This web page – www.gr8computing.com/why-consider-computer-science gives working hyperlinks for the information below. 

Straightforward reasons for taking a degree in Computer Science are outlined first, including that there are well-paid jobs and you can make a positive difference in the world.

If you need convincing of where the most job opportunities will be, then this recent article (Jobs of the Future produced by EDF in January 2017) suggests there will be 142,000 new jobs in science, research, engineering and technology from now to 2023.  Computing skills will be the most in demand, with 22,000 job openings and the highest number of new jobs.  The number of jobs in other occupations actually fell between 2008 and 2010. Over the last 16 years, science, research, engineering and technology jobs outpaced average growth in employment, growing by 200% more than other occupations (49% vs 16%).

If you agree Computing skills are important, but you are thinking you will leave it until University, then please read here why A-level computing is important for Russell Group Universities.  Chris Power is a lecturer in the Computer Science department at the University of York and in his words “is someone who is leading the change at a Russell Group Computer Science Department”.  He says “On our admission pages at York, we have statements encouraging students taking the A-Level, and say that we will look favourably on that in interview and offer stages.  Last year, there was an audit by the CAS higher ups of our response across the country, and most CS departments have such statements”. And “Most CS departments do not have a mandatory CS A Level.  We can’t do that, because that would put two required A-levels because all CS departments require Mathematics at A-level.  Requiring both would drop intake levels substantially.  We would also lose students who didn’t plan to go into CS, have the math, but decide they want us over Math or Physics on an open day (a more common thing than you think)…”.  This explains why Computer Science is quoted often as “useful” in the Russell Group’s Informed Choices document whilst Maths remains as essential.

If you are intending a science career then Computer Science is becoming more and more embedded into the sciences at University level and beyond.  This Royal Society publication, Science as an Open Enterprise (June 2012), explains on pages 35/36 “Computational thinking is fundamentally transforming scientific research. Today’s [computer] simulation techniques so pervade scientific practice that they have added a third basic tool to those of theory and experiment”.  Computational thinking underpins A-level Computer Science and in my opinion you cannot afford to miss out two years of developing these skills and understanding.   In the BCS publication “The case for Computer Science as an option in the English Baccalaureate” (2012) they say “Clearly, a student now wanting to follow Biology as a career should have a sound understanding of computing in the same way that they need a sound grasp of mathematics.  The same case is equally valid for other sciences, such as Chemistry or Physics.”  They give a case study of why scientific computing is included in four out of the six bullet points for Basic Qualifications for a 2011 research post.  And this was six years ago.

Computer Science provision at Lady Lumley’s School remains strong.  Mr Shaw is very highly regarded by other North Yorkshire Computer Science teachers with excellent programming skills and a recognised willingness to help students. The Eduqas AS is definitely going ahead with details here.  We will also be building in creative problem solving, communication skills and teamwork – essential skills recognised in earlier articles.

Many thanks for taking the time to read this letter.  Further information is available through the first link and www.gr8computing.com/A-Level-Computing.  I will be available on GCSE results day (Thursday 24th August) to answer any further questions.

Kind regards

Chris Sharples

Head of Computing,

Lady Lumley’s School