A club designed to spark girls' interest in programming, website design and database techniques is proving a huge success, as Patrick Kelly reports
It's late on Friday afternoon. While most of their friends have long since flung their bags over their shoulders and gone home, Laila Hadjini and her friend Derya Yesilyurt are in the ICT suite of Skinners' Company's School for Girls in Hackney.
Laila and Derya might not know it but they have been pioneering a revolutionary new approach to ICT in education for girls. It's an approach which seeks to mould ICT learning to the hopes, aspirations and interests of 10 to 14-year-old girls and, more ambitiously, to topple the twin pillars on which the industry's masculine image rests - macho games mastery and computer geekiness.
Along with 30 other girls in Year 7, Laila and Derya attend a computer club for girls from 2.30 to 4.30pm every Friday. It's a popular club at the Hackney school as it is in the 124 schools across south-east England where the concept has been pioneered. Now the idea is being taken up by schools all over the country - more than 200 have signed up since term began.
CC4G, as it has now been branded, is a self-contained resource with 120 hours of curriculum-linked creative activities - including 40 hours of e-learning and 55 hours of off-line projects - all mapped to the ICT curriculum.
It has several modules - Celebrity Interview, for example, introduces interviewing techniques, magazine design and the production of advertising material. Sounds Gr8 allows pupils to set up a mixing desk and compose riffs and jingles. Game Girl allows them to create board and computer games, using program source code. Communic-K8 introduces them to digital video and encryption techniques, while Designtime gets them designing the perfect room for a teenager.
To some eyes the whole thing might appear a little on the pink and fluffy side, but the girls are learning programming, website design and database techniques. It is also a huge hit with students and teachers. Two-thirds of the girls at the pilot schools say they would be more likely to consider an IT career after their involvement in the clubs. The teaching staff claim that joining the club has a positive impact on members' achievements at key stages 2 and 3 in ICT, and that members' ICT confidence levels have improved.
Evaluation of the scheme is continuous and there are plans to introduce modules covering environmental issues and a "scene of the crime" investigation.
Skinners' headteacher Jenny Wilkins admits that she wasn't sure how much impact the scheme would have. "Clubs tend to come and go and it's often hard to sustain interest, but the girls just keep coming back to this one.
It's a valuable learning style for girls in particular. It's collaborative, involving a lot of peer teaching and avoids the off-putting effect of acres of lacklustre spreadsheets. It also allows them to be willing to take a little bit more risk."
As it has been designed to allow girls to work independently, teachers tend to act as facilitators rather than ICT experts - and pilot schools report that staff ICT skills are improving, too.
CC4G runs induction sessions for teachers - in school time and in twilight sessions, as well as online or over the phone. Lesson plans, support materials and other assistance are also available, including a help-desk facility. All teachers have to do is register at www.cc4g.net.
Headteacher Deborah Forster has become a passionate advocate of the girls-only club since it piloted at Trinity School in Newbury. Taking boys out of the equation is what has made the difference, says Deborah. In mixed classes there was too much of a tendency for girls to sit back and let the boys show them how to do things.
"We have seen a real leap in the expertise of the girls in ICT since we started the club. Most pupils at KS3 learn web design with FrontPage, but the computer club girls are programming in HTML because they learned it at the club, and some of them had no previous experience in computers."
She adds that the confidence acquired has had a knock-on effect across the curriculum. "We are looking at using a similar model in maths and science."
Back at Skinners' Akeena Smith, who has just recorded her interview with her favourite rap star, says: "You just do more interesting stuff in the club, compared to regular ICT classes, and you get to do it with your friends."
Shamara Adams, who is putting the finishing touches to her fanzine cover, agrees. "You don't mind being here, even on a Friday afternoon, because it's fun. It's not as rigid as the curriculum stuff in ICT. I have learned so many skills that I didn't have before."
Both of them are now thinking about working in ICT when they leave school - a thought that would never have occurred to them before.
It's little wonder that CC4G is winning the backing of employers, including computer giants Cisco and IBM, the Ford Motor Company and British Airways.
All have offered employee time and advice, while software companies Serif, Gale and Idigicon are donating software.
Business interest is not surprising as firms wake up to the huge gender imbalance in the IT world. Karen Price, chief executive of e-skills UK, the not-for-profit training body which came up with the CC4G concept, says:
"Women make up only 20 per cent of the IT workforce, and only 20 per cent of those taking IT-related courses are women. We need more women to consider technology-led careers, and to do so we need to show young girls what an exciting and varied career they can have."
The CC4G site has details of how the scheme works, what it can do and how you can register. It also contains contact details and a timetable of induction events around the country.
An employer-led, not-for-profit organisation. Site includes details about training schemes, qualifications, careers advice and computer education.
Serif is one of the software backers of CC4G. The packages used include the suite of graphics, web design and video-editing software DrawPlus 7, PhotoPlus 9, WebPlus 9 and MoviePlus 4.
The site features mindmapping software from Gael, as well as guidelines for use in the classroom.
* Many CC4G pilot schools report that girls go on to design their own websites using the the CC4G package skills.
* Trinity School in Newbury is considering extending the computer club concept to include its partner primary schools, with Year 10 girls helping the younger children as facilitators.