Tens of thousands more students will need to resit English GCSEs

Tens of thousands more students will need to resit English GCSEs

Over 40,000 more students may need to resit their English GCSE next year than did this year, after failing to achieve the required grade 4 in the reformed exams.

There should be slightly fewer resits overall in maths, however.

Just under 160,000 pupils scored below the grade 4 threshold – equivalent to a D or below in the old-style grading system – in their English language GCSEs in 2017, while almost 145,000 achieved similar results in English literature.

In 2016, around 110,000 earned a D or below in English language, and almost 100,000 did the same in English literature – which represents roughly 50,000 and 44,000 more pupils falling below the 4/C boundary respectively.

The increase is due to both English disciplines being swelled by hundreds of thousands more entrants, after schools that used to enter their pupils into the iGCSE English exams opted for the regular GCSEs this year.

This influx of new pupils – around 150,000 more in English language and 120,000 more in English literature – makes comparative analysis difficult. What we do know for sure is that many more pupils in both disciplines achieved a grade 3 or under – a grade D equivalent – this year than did last year.

The total number of resits cannot be calculated accurately from these results, however, as students are required to pass only one English GCSE – either language or literature.

What also isn’t clear is whether the students who departed the iGCSE courses will do their resits at their schools, or whether they will flock to the nation’s college system.

The picture is different in the new-style maths GCSEs. In 2016, around 168,000 students achieved a D or below, but this year that figure is closer to 156,000 – meaning there will all-told be nearly 12,000 fewer resits in 2018.

The controversial resit policy is still relatively new; it was introduced in August 2013, following Professor Alison Wolf’s review of vocational education, using the core principal that any student who hasn’t achieved at least a C at GCSE maths and English by 16 must continue to work towards that grade.

It became a condition of funding a year later, and a year after that, it was extended to compel students with Ds to resit their exams rather than take a stepping stone qualification.

The skills minister both hinted at changes to the policy at the AoC conference in 2016

“It is clear that we need a credible, high-quality option for students for whom GCSEs are not appropriate or achievable,” said Robert Halfon.

His boss Justine Greening echoed these words, speaking of striking “the right balance” between pushing people to reach their potential and making sure “they’re not spending time running upwards against a brick wall that they’re not going to get over”.

Momentum for change appeared to have grown by December, when no lesser person than Ofsted’s then-chief inspector used his annual report to criticise the policy, saying: “While the policy’s intention to improve literacy and numeracy levels is well intentioned, the implementation of the policy is not having the desired impact in practice.” 

Nevertheless, in April this year, the DfE opted to maintain the status quo, claiming that “nothing has changed” and that it would “continue to examine” the policy “as stated in the industrial strategy green paper”.

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