The five-per-cent tolerance on the notorious English and maths condition of funding rule will apply “until further notice”, the Department for Education has said today – but exasperated sector leaders want the policy to be scrapped altogether.

The rule states that any 16- to 18-year-old student who does not have at least a C, or a 4 or above,  in their English and maths GCSEs, and who fails to enrol in the subjects, will be removed in full from funding allocations for the next-but-one academic year.

The tolerance was first introduced for the September 2016/17 allocations, based on enrolments for 2014/15.

The government said the penalty would be halved, and would only apply to providers where more than five per cent of their students (by value) did not meet the funding condition.

This tolerance was then added to the 2017/18 allocations, and the DfE has now extended it “until further notice, in recognition of the continued efforts of post-16 providers to deliver the 16-to-19 maths and English policy”.

“We expect that the clarity over the level of tolerance in future years will provide providers with increased certainty on which to plan,” it said in its announcement.

But Mark Dawe, the AELP’s chief executive, said that instead of extending the tolerance “it would be much better to simply drop the compulsory resits policy”.

“Let’s do an upfront assessment of learners to determine whether they should do GCSEs or functional skills,” he urged.

David Hughes, chief Executive of the Association of Colleges, said it was “good news that the government has extended the tolerance”.

But he added: “We still need a proper strategy from DfE about English and maths.

More discretion  is needed, he said “about the best qualification for each student, curriculum changes, new qualifications, designing a new transition year, investment in teachers, realistic success measures for colleges, and building understanding of what works”.

Meanwhile, James Kewin, deputy chief executive of the Sixth Form Colleges Association, said: “GCSEs are important for many of our students that have aspirations to progress to higher education and certain occupations, but they are not right for all young people and we would welcome the flexibility to offer alternative qualifications where appropriate.” 

And Gordon Marsden, shadow skills minister, said today’s announcement did not “address the real issue” and was “simply tinkering at the edges and leaving continuing uncertainty for providers, adding to the ordeal for  thousands of learners that the flawed resits procedure has become”.

He urged his government counterpart, apprenticeships and skills minister Anne Milton, to “have the courage of her convictions and finally order a fundamental review to see if a move to functional skills would address the negative and pressurised endless resits which are damaging outcomes for both providers and FE learners”.

Since 2013, all 16- to 19-year-olds without at least a grade C in GCSE maths or English have had to enrol in courses in these subjects alongside their main programme of study.

This requirement was tightened in 2015 to require all of those with a grade D – now a 3 –  in those subjects to sit a GCSE course, rather than an equivalent stepping-stone course such as functional skills.

But after last year’s GCSE results showed huge numbers of learners aged 17 and older failed to improve their grades in resits, many in the sector demanded the government to scrap the policy.

FE Week reported in December 2016 that colleges had lost almost £3 million in funding through failure to comply with the condition of funding rule.

The Education Funding Agency’s 2016/17 allocations, published in November 2016, revealed that £2,842,016 had been deducted across 26 general FE colleges, the first year deductions were in force.

And in December FE Week highlighted what was described as an “incredibly unfair” flaw in the rule, which made it impossible for colleges to achieve 100-per-cent compliance.

The Association of Colleges has previously called for the condition of funding tolerance to be made permanent.

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