AELP questions sense of GCSE maths and English resits after fall in pass rate for 17-year-olds

The Association of Employment and Learning Providers (AELP) has questioned the sense of forcing resits on learners who fail maths and English GCSE after the pass rate fell for 17-year-olds.

The 2014/15 academic year was the first in which learners who previously had not achieved a grade C in either subjects, but had continued onto post-16 study, were required to either resit their GCSEs or equivalent level functional skills exams.

It is a key reason why the number of 17-year-old learners across FE and schools who sat maths GCSEs increased 30.2 per cent from 100,587 last year to 130,979 this year, while the number sitting English rose by 22.9 per cent from 79,045 to 97,163.

Meanwhile, the A* to C pass rate for that age group fell from 38.9 per cent last year to 35.8 per cent for maths, and from 37.9 per cent in 2014 to 35.1 per cent this year for English.

An AELP spokesperson said that this fall strengthened its view that more post-16 learners who failed maths and English GCSE first time round should do functional skills instead of GCSE resits for FE and skills courses.

Paul Warner (pictured above), AELP director of employment and skills, said: “At the moment there’s a bit of an assumption that the government considers GCSEs as the be all and end all when it comes to resits, which is why so many learners on FE courses are made to do GCSEs when there are other options such as functional skills that may be more suited to them.

“The fall in the pass rate for 17-year-olds suggests that a lot of people who are being made to resit would be better off taking another route.”

At present, learners who get a D for maths and English GCSE first time round have to keep resitting GCSE exams throughout their FE courses until they pass.

Learners who get below a D can take functional skills exams instead.

The Department for Education (DfE) confirmed today that this will continue in 2015/16.

However, Mr Warner said: “We are not anti-GCSE, but I think in a number of cases, learners who get a grade D might be better off taking another option for English and maths.

“AELP training provider members engage with thousands of employers every day with the running of apprenticeship and traineeship programmes.

“Many of these employers are now happy to recognise functional skills for English and maths as an alternative to GCSEs because they provide the applied skills which the apprentice or trainee needs to do their job.”

Martin Doel (pictured right), chief executive of the Association of Colleges, said: “We would urge the government to work with closely with employers

Martin Doel
Martin Doel

and colleges to ensure maths and English qualifications reflect the workplace and everyday life.”

He added: “Colleges supported an increased number of young people re-sitting GCSE English and maths this year with a third of students over 17-years-old achieving an A* to C grade.

“It is a great result for those thousands of students who’ve spent time re-sitting these exams.

“It is important for everyone to achieve a good standard of spoken and written English and the ability to do simple calculations but GCSEs aren’t suitable for everyone.

“Congratulations to all students who received their GCSE results today and whatever the grades, there are a host of options open to them and they should calmly assess their personal situation, look at what they want to achieve and decide on the best route for them.”

A DfE spokesperson said: “Post-16 schools and colleges are making good progress in ensuring all 16-19 year olds are given the opportunity to achieve good GCSEs in English and maths by age 19.

“For the 2014/15 academic year, we know the vast majority of colleges enrolled nearly all their students without A*- C GCSE on approved English and maths courses.”

y all their students without A*- C GCSE on approved English and maths courses.”

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  1. This is just the starting point of a continuing debate that will feature heavily over the next academic year and beyond. When I worked in colleges, if I had been managing a course where the success rate was 35% I would have self-assessed it as ‘inadequate’ in an end of year review, no matter what the circumstances of the prior experience of the student cohort was. If a group of 20 potential students today asked what the likelihood was of them getting their target qualification, based on the previous cohort, the answer would be SEVEN. We know that many young people are turned off Maths and English by the teaching received in schools. We also know that every college and training provider struggles to recruit good teachers in both areas as there is far more demand than supply. Some of the schools local to me have already told pupils who did not get a C for English and maths that they have not achieved a place in sixth form. You can guess where they will be taking their resits next year.

    At interview, the most apt impartial initial advice and guidance, following a thorough diagnostic assessment, would be for many who have achieved a grade D, to take an alternative qualification or to take a resit over two years (statistics going back to the 1980s show that one-year resit courses have never been ‘good’ at getting students up one grade from a D to a C). Of course, from this September onwards, colleges will be expected by Ofsted to place those with a grade D onto resit courses regardless of diagnostic assessment. Okay, this might be government policy, but if an inspector were making an accurate professional judgement based on initial assessment results, rather than checking whether a college was blindly following policy, they would surely say that was poor IAG? Government needs to really think and understand what employers require of their future workforce in terms of their English and maths skills. Those I have spoken to over the last year have often expressed their disbelief at the lack of basic English skills (setting out a letter or speaking on the phone) and mathematical abilities (adding without a calculator or estimating) of those they interview, despite having certificates for grade C and above in English and maths.

    If things go ahead as planned, the majority of colleges will have large resit cohorts, who will not do well come next summer, and which Ofsted will use damningly in their outcomes judgements from September 2016. FE does a good job that needs to be recognised and promoted, rather than being continually hampered by cuts and unachievable policies.
    As a related aside, I noted that on the list of GCSE results at a local school GCSE maths was the only subject not to show what the actual marks for the individual papers and the overall qualification was (Edexcel being the examining board). Along with the GCSE results was an invitation for parents to ask and pay for re-marks if their child was close to a grade boundary. Clearly, something is not right if candidates do not know what their marks were for such a key subject? My query is has this happened with colleges as well as schools and what is behind the lack of actual marks not being given?

  2. Gary Jones

    Analysis of the pass rate does not provide the full picture – within the overall pass rate there are likely to significant differences between GFEs, SFCs and Tertiary Colleges. There will also be significant differences in pass rates between colleges. Have a look at
    Given the number of students entering colleges with Ds in either English or Maths would expect the increase in entries to be higher

  3. Agree that post 16 should be able to take another route to achieve the grade to insist they take one route is insanity. It is the case that the basics of math are installed at primary level if these basics are not present it is impossible to replace without radical input, to insist they continue to take a route that has failed, It fails for a reason. My Daughter was put into the higher paper and achieved a D which for someone who has struggled is a brilliant grade but has has said that she has learnt all she can she needs something differeent to help she like many other are left feeling helpless and worthless and feels worthless to FORCE such a continued felling is nothing more that ABUSE and I as a parent i did this to her you would send in Social Services! It is about time our Government started to see people rather than Robots, This is why we have lost our way. When teaching maths why does it matter which way you get the answer? Apparently it does? If the answers right its right but unless you have got it the way you are told to get it you dont get the Mark! Well Humans have freedom of thought and we are able to function at many levels not just ONE!!

  4. I totally agree with Tracy. My friend’s daughter left school without achieving a level c in English. She went onto college to take childcare and this year was 11 points short of achieving the grade C. Because she failed, the college have said she cannot continue her course in childcare with them and said she cannot resit the english either ???? My own son who attends the same college was told last year that he could take functional skills alongside his carpentry and joinery course. He passed it and was then told he would have to retake a GCSE this year in English as the government have said they have just decided that the functional skills English will only be recognised as an equivalent GCSE level D. My son attained a level D GCSE at school !! It has been demoralising and a waste of his time and I can’t believe the government can say he needs to take this exam and then at the end tell him its worthless to him and make him do it all over again at a GCSE level. There is a reason why these children shouldn’t be made to do a GCSE because they can’t achieve the grades!!!!! This is why the access to the grade through functional skills was offered to these children in the first place no???? It means the 17 year old who do not achieve the grade, like my friends daughter, cannot get on an english course anywhere else even privately as she needs to do a course alongside it? Going round in circles !!!! By the time June comes she will be 18 and if she achieves the grade will have to pay to continue her childcare level 3 course. She cannot pay privately for an English course now as she is under 18 shes told !! She’s desperate to continue her learning in her chosen field and is so demoralised by being told she cannot continue at her college or resit the exam that she is now quite depressed.

    Shes looking at apprenticeships that are sadly offering three pound per hour 8 – 6 pm and she has to go to college one evening a week after work. Why is the government allowing slave labour like this? We’ve been transported back in time to chimney sweep days? Why can’t the college allow her to continue and to let her resit her English? She is a clever girl but freaks at exams. her coursework was of a good standard and level but she flips at exams.

    My son took English early in year 10. He got to one module towrads the end and the government changed the goal posts again and the whole of that work he’d done that year didn’t count!!! Twice my son has done hard work and has been told near the end or at the end that it was all for nothing!! What is the government playing at? Who’s making these ridiculous changes or rules? Whose allowing this to happen?

    The government needs to see that there are going to be a number of children falling through their net and not achieving grade C’s, getting depressed, etc etc. If my son doesn’t pass this GCSE this year at a level C, the college will do the same to him as they have done to my friend’s daughter and he will not be able to go ahead to year 3 carpentry and joinery and will probably not be allowed to resit the exam either. Where does all this leave our children?

    The government say our children must stay in education until they are 18! Why don’t they let my friend’s daughter then who is desperately trying to get trained and into work? Why are they not giving her any options? Extra help? Resources to pass? etc etc. Once they fail the GCSE a couple of times it seems they just set them adrift and ignore them and noone then is persuing us parents saying the child must be in education all of a sudden!!

    Let these kids just get qualified in their chosen field. Mb lower the level of the difficulty of the english exam – they seem to keep raising it often enough!!! What are the government hoping to achieve? A super power of intellectuals? What happens to the rest of the nation who don’t come up to scratch? There’s always been places for people who do not achieve good grades at school and have been able to work their way up in jobs through hard graft and experience. A lot of people in very good and well paid jobs are some of these very people. Our kids can’t even get into a trade without qualifications and a grade C GCSEs, so where will kids like my friends daughter go? They won’t have that opportunity We had years ago to hard graft it instead. A demoralised nation of disappointed young people who feel they don’t come up to scratch and unable to get into well paid work without being qualified to the governments specifications, who constantly raise the bar in exams just because some/more kids are achieving the grade each year and who also change their mind as to what exams count or are acceptable just as the young person has achieved the grade!!!! Something needs to be done!

    A very cross and frustrated Sara 🙁

    • I am having the same nightmare. My son attended college to study a media course and resit his English and Maths, having missed the higher English paper the first time by 1 mark! Sadly he didn’t pass the exams this year and because he only ‘passed’ his media course and didn’t achieve a ‘merit’ or ‘distinction’, he is not allowed to take on another course at the college as apparently he has used up all his funding credits!!! The college is now only offering evening classes for part-time maths and english and he has an evening job so cannot do this. I am at my wits end trying to find somewhere he can study as there has been a massive withdrawal of funding for these resits at all our local providers. I just don’t get it! He is 17 and can’t start his hospitality apprenticeship until he is 18, because he will be working with alcohol, so has a mindless 6 months ahead. I think it’s totally shocking how the Government can implement such ideas but there’s no funding to achieve it! A very cross and frustrated Jane!

    • Matthew

      I’m glad I saw this too. I am a 21 year old with learning disabilities who first got two E grades in school however I went to college for four years and well I did two years of functional skills in maths and English. This year I was able to retake my maths and English and well guss what I got only one better grade in English a D but a worst grade of an F in maths it just shows this system is dreadful the only way I would learn is through experience. I only stay in college as I want to do my dream course of games design but as it’s a level 3 and everyone saying I can’t do it I am just giving up on life.

  5. Vicky Bolster

    I agree that there should be a suitable alternative to GCSE it is not a one fits all approach. Having taught maths in colleges for 12 years the one thing students need is a sense of achievement. In most cases students have had bad experiences in high school and met with the “do it my way” mentality of some teachers who believe they are superior to students. My own sons have have had marked work come back from their maths teachers with unhelpful comments such as ” You have the right answer but I don’t like the way you have worked it out.” this is irrelevant and unhelpful and many students need to find a method which works best for them and given different ways of working things outs. I spend almost a term trying to break down the years of hatred for a subject they fear. The next two terms are the realisation from most students of “Oh is that all it is? why didn’t they show us that way in school?” You have to break all their bad habits and preconceptions that they are going to fail and build confidence and success slowly but surely. So functional skills do provide a great alternative – but again this year we may have seen more failures than in the past years because of the govt’s inability to see the difference. We assess students when they come to college and those with credible grade Cs still often assess at E3. So asking an E grade student to study functional skills and pass the exam at L2 (because they already have the equivalent of a L1 pass) is an extremely hard task. I would refer you to research carried out by Gail Lydon in 2013 IfL rather than explain it here, but if you work in FE teaching these students you will agree with what she is saying. We are required to do initial assessments – but then told to ignore them based on what a student has already achieved and funding rules. Functional skills and GCSE are worlds apart and the route into them should be treated accordingly. Students need the most appropriate route for their future job prospects but also a sense of confidence, achievement and success where they have previously felt inadequate.
    On the other side we should also take into account those students who want to do GCSE too, and not prejudge they are only suitable for Foundation Papers. This does little to give a student a sense of motivation and again sends the message – this is all you are capable of. We should inspire, motivate and encourage our students to be the best they can and help them every step of the way. Teachers who love maths themselves inspire them to do this. We aren’t teaching in FE for the money – clearly it has to be for the benefit of our students and my highest praise goes to those who are sticking with it in these tough time!

  6. Well I now have a 19yr old in tears and only just gone to be after still trying to revise for maths that she’s failed prior to, she is now at uni with student finance, works at a nursery/after school club sometimes 7.30 till 11.30 back at 3pm-6 pm
    And freaking out as maths exam tomorrow and in 2 days.
    She’s petrified that she knows she will fail again,scared of being finished from uni.doing level 4 childcare, and also will she lose her job if not made the the debt to worry about!

  7. Hi I am so glad I found this and saw others in the same situation as my 17 year old. I’m only glad because I now know she is not alone. She left not passing English and Maths in which she got E grades. Assessed at college and doing Level 1 functional skills. Been told can’t do GCSE until level 2 passed. To add insult to injury the college will not allow her and others like her to progress to level 3 as she doesn’t have the GCSEs Maths and English. This means taking a totally irrelevant level 2 course whilst doing GCSE maths. By that time she will be too old for funding at 19 so I will have to pay for a level 3 course. Taking opportunities away before our young people have already started.