Association of Colleges (AoC) chief executive Martin Doel has criticised the government after it was announced that new rules requiring learners without GCSEs in English and maths will come in two years earlier than expected.
Skills Minister Matthew Hancock has announced that from August 2015, it will become a funding condition that all full-time learners with grade D or below in English or maths GCSE will have to study the subjects at that level as part of 16 to 19 study.
But Mr Doel, who said his organisation was expecting the reforms in 2017, has raised concerns about the readiness of colleges to deal with increased pupil numbers.
It comes after a government document revealed that 40,000 learners would need to study GCSE English in 2015 and 26,000 students would need to study GCSE maths.
Mr Doel said: “We urged Government to ensure sensible timescales were agreed for the introduction of the new GCSE qualifications into colleges in 2017 – two years after their introduction in schools – in order to allows us the opportunity to judge their effectiveness in contributing to the improvement levels of underlying numeracy and literacy in young people. This, after all, should be the ultimate objective of these reforms.
“We are therefore disappointed by today’s announcement which accelerates the changes and means that colleges will be required to enter 16 and 17-year-olds who fail the old GCSEs onto the new qualifications in 2015. As with any proposal to change curriculum rules, DfE needs to take notice of those running and teaching in colleges and schools and work out the best approach for 2015-16 that achieves our shared objective to raise maths and English standards.
“Our experience with young people who’re failing to make the grade with the current qualifications is that colleges need to use approaches that are different to those used in schools to ensure students remain motivated.”
He added: “Simply doing more of the same won’t work with some students – contextualized learning alongside vocational studies can be very effective. For this reason we believe that colleges and their students should continue to benefit from having a mixture of ‘stepping stone’ type courses to re-engage some young people in order to help them achieve a GCSE C grade by the age of 18 or earlier.
“We believe college staff are best placed to decide which courses and approaches are most likely to be successful. We’re therefore disappointed that, despite our advice, it’s been decided that all students who achieved a grade D in maths or English must be placed on a GCSE course and that this will be a condition of funding.”
According to the government’s equality analysis, the funding condition “would not apply to students with the lowest grades, as these students are more likely to benefit from alternative courses”.
It adds: “While this may reduce opportunities for some of these students to study GCSE, providers are free to offer GCSE to students with lower prior attainment where appropriate.
“Progression for students with prior attainment of grade E is currently low for both males and females and many currently study ‘stepping stone’ qualifications. Effective teaching that motivates and engages low attainers will be important to raising standards in English and maths GCSEs in 16-19 education and should help close the overall attainment gap between males and females.”
Of those aged 18 during 2013, 73 per cent of girls had achieved a grade C or above in English at aged 15, and 59 per cent of boys achieved that benchmark.
In maths, the figures for the same period were 62 per cent for girls and boys.
The news comes after the government announced incentives for new maths and English teachers in FE in a bid to boost the workforce.