An initiative to make girls more enthusiastic about IT has taken off to such an extent that it is now seen as a model for the Scottish Executive's curriculum reforms.
The Computer Clubs for Girls project, or CC4G, has been piloted in five secondary schools in Fife, with another seven schools involved in Glasgow and Renfrewshire; five Highland schools are to begin a similar pilot shortly.
A survey of CC4G found that 66 per cent of girls were now more likely to choose a career in IT. As a result, the initiative is being extended to all 19 of Fife's secondary schools. The project, led by e-skills UK, aims to combat the gender imbalance within information technology: women make up only 28 per cent of the IT workforce in Scotland. CC4G aims to attract more girls into IT beyond Standard grade.
Magnus Latona, development officer for CC4G in Fife Council, said that girls appeared to find the computing content in the formal S1-S2 curriculum "uninspiring".
Addressing a conference on out-of-school learning this week (page six), David Cameron, head of children's services in Stirling Council, commented:
"Who gives a damn what they get in Standard grade computer studies because the sheer volume of what they have learnt in CC4G and the experience are worth much more than better qualifications."
Feedback from staff, pupils and parents in the Fife schools was overwhelmingly positive, Mr Latona told the same conference. After watching some CC4G girls editing film, Walter Patterson of HMIE commented: "What I saw there blew my mind. What those girls were learning in minutes would have taken me days."
Pupils were said to enjoy having "ownership" of their activities and final outcomes: the content was designed in consultation with the girls as well as IT employers. This was the key, Mr Latona said.
The club deliberately used cultural "hooks" to get teenage girls interested, such as fashion, celebrities and pop music.
"Research has shown that it was at the age range of 10 to 13 that girls became disengaged from using IT," Mr Latona said. "They saw it as being a bit geeky."
Club activities range from interactive simulations to project challenges such as celebrity interviews and making their own videos and DVDs. Teachers were said to enjoy the opportunity to teach unconstrained by curriculum pressures and were more able to "go with the flow" of the pupils.
E-skills UK aims to have 150,000 girls in 300 CC4G clubs in England and Wales by 2008. It is expected to launch the scheme officially in Scotland later this month, with a target of having 1,200 girls aged 10-14 from 40 schools in after-school computer clubs.
Mr Latona said the initiative tied in with the Executive's national priorities for education, particularly achievement and attainment by raising the standard of IT skills. It improved the framework for learning by fostering a good social climate, and promoted teamwork, problem-solving and other life skills.
The clubs also met the enterprising criteria set by Determined to Succeed, and the "successful learners" criteria from A Curriculum for Excellence.
Mr Cameron, said: "What appals me is that we can sit and listen to a presentation like that and use it as a platform to argue for more computer clubs for girls, rather than about the 15,000 hours of learning we have got. Let's bring the clubs into mainstream learning."
Mr Cameron added: "We are truly shafted if we are only thinking about this after 4pm. We need to be thinking about it from 9am to 4pm."
He said that if the curriculum or assessment have become constraints, there had to be a fresh look at how things were being done, whether it was girls learning IT or anything else.
"If I am tied up, I want someone to cut the ropes," he observed. "We need to change the jumps, not become obsessed with the heights."