Rayner: Labour would scrap GCSE English and maths forced resits policy

The controversial GCSE English and maths resits policy would be scrapped under a Labour government, Angela Rayner is expected to announce.

The shadow education secretary will tell the Association of Colleges conference this afternoon that her party’s National Education Service would “reform” FE.

As part of a “series” of changes, she’ll tell delegates that Labour would ensure the boards of the Institute for Apprenticeships and Office for Students have an FE student placed on them.

The IfA would also be required to report to Parliament “on the quality of completed apprenticeships”.

Today’s announcements appear to be the first bit of detail about the NES’ FE policy, after Ms Rayner was criticised for falling short of revealing any during her Labour party conference speech in September.

However, she refused today to be questioned on her plans for other areas of interest including apprenticeships, T-levels, or bringing colleges back under local authority control, an idea which Jeremy Corbyn floated in an interview with FE Week at last year’s AoC conference.

“We won’t just make sure that FE has a voice. We will also listen,” Ms Rayner is expected say today.

“Recently, bodies from across the sector, including the Association of Colleges, have raised concerns about students in both the 16-18 and 19-25 age ranges who are being forced to re-sit English and Maths GCSEs over and over again due to ESFA funding requirements, even where other equivalent qualifications are available.

“So I can announce today that we have listened and we have heard. A Labour government would end that requirement.”

The move would include the opportunity for students to “pursue other courses that enables them to attain level 2 qualifications in English and Maths, such as functional skills”.

The current condition of funding rule, introduced in 2014, means that all students without at least a grade 4 – or a C, under the old alphabetical grading system – in English or maths must continue to study these subjects as part of their study programme.

Those with a grade 3, or D in the old system, must resit the GCSE exam rather than an alternative.

The requirement remains in place until the young person has completed 16 to 19 education, or achieved at least a grade 4.

A Labour spokesperson said the current system is “failing to improve grades for many students while creating serious issues for further and adult education which have faced real terms funding cuts of over £3 billion since 2010”.

Many FE representative bodies have asked the government to review the resits policy, mainly because of the sector’s tight resources due to the increasing number of students required to retake the qualifications, and they find that resitting a GCSE over and over again demotivates learners.

According to data released by the Department for Education in October, the number of people aged 17 or above who took maths GCSE last year fell by 7,000 to 160,519. Of those, just 22.6 per cent achieved at least a grade 4 – considered to be a pass – down from 25.4 per cent the year before.

Meanwhile, 148,894 people of the same age took English GCSE last year – up from 135,888 last year. Of those, 33 per cent achieved at least a grade 4, up from 31.1. per cent the year before.

Commenting on Labour’s announcements, Julian Gravatt, deputy chief executive of the AoC, said: “We welcome Labour’s package of proposals, which will make a real difference to the education and skills training of millions of people across the country each year.

“We particularly welcome their position on English and maths GCSE retakes. It’s vital that every young person leaves education with strong foundations in these subjects – they are the basis for success in work and in life.

“Colleges have long called for flexibility in how to support learners to achieve this. A one-size fits all approach has not worked and does not work. Colleges know their students and what works best for them.”