Government research finds colleges must do more to motivate GCSE resit students

Government research has found that colleges need to do more to motivate GCSE maths and English resit students. 

“Motivation is low for many students,” a new report out today has found, which notes that “providers almost invariably state that motivating students to learn English and mathematics is a major challenge”.

CFE Research was commissioned by the DfE to look into effective English and maths teaching for 16- to 18-year-olds resitting these subjects at FE and sixth form colleges.

Researchers determined that “for those who did not achieve the accepted standard of a GCSE grade C previously, this apparent ‘failure’ can lead to contrasting attitudes and different levels of motivation to re-engage with learning the subjects”.

“Providers often need to cultivate a positive mental attitude among students to increase motivation and confidence to retake their English and mathematics qualifications,” it explains.

Since 2014 all learners aged 16 to 18 without at least a C, or now a four, in both English and maths at GCSE have had to keep the subjects on as part of their study programmes.

In 2015 the policy was tightened so that learners with a grade D at 16 must resit the GCSE rather than an alternative qualification, such as functional skills.

The research claims the policy is “demotivating for some students as they are being asked to continue with a qualification that they perceive they have ‘failed’”.

In fact, it states, “motivating students in English and mathematics lessons is a central feature of further education teaching”.

Strategies adopted by colleges to encourage learners’ interest in the subjects include an “adult-to-adult relationship”, making use of the “different environment compared to schools in an attempt to change sometimes deep-rooted attitudes”, and “trying different methods” to “develop subject understanding”.

“Colleges also appear to operate more effectively when curriculum managers and teachers in other subjects value English and mathematics teaching,” it states.

It also questioned the “blanket policy” of forcing all D-grade learners to resit “regardless of their knowledge of English or mathematics fundamentals”, which is “problematic” for some learners.

“There were many examples given as evidence of students who lacked some primary school level knowledge on some topics, even for students with a D grade,” researchers say.

Other issues raised in the report, which is based on data, interviews and lesson observations from 45 FE colleges and SFCs, include the high numbers of learners with “additional support needs” such as dyslexia, autism or mental health issues for whom “additional resources and support are required”.

“Providers with large numbers of ESOL [English for speakers of other languages] students can struggle to provide the additional support that they require,” it finds.

Travel poses an additional challenge for colleges “in coastal or rural settings”.

The GCSE resit policy has proved controversial since it was first introduced.

After last year’s GCSE results – the first since the policy was tightened – showed large number of learners aged 17 and older had failed to improve their grades in resits, many in the sector demanded the government scrap the policy.

Last week’s budget included £8.5 million to pilot innovative approaches to improving GCSE maths resit outcomes.

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  1. Lo it came to pass…

    They were told when the policy was introduced that the issue of motivating those young people who had failed GCSE with exactly the same qualification would prove to be impossible. However, here we are, years later, reading a report that simply confirms what professionals said when the policy was being formulated. They never learn do they?