The government has been blasted for flip-flopping on its review into GCSE maths and English resits.

All 16 to 18-year-old students with a near-pass (previously grade D, now grade three) GCSE in the subjects have since August 2015 had to continue studying and resit them through the rule, alongside FE courses, rather than a level two functional skills qualification.

FE Week heard from multiple senior sources that the policy was going to be scrapped, with all such students being allowed to study functional skills instead, but 2017/18 funding guidance published on April 10 indicated that the government had decided to stick with GCSEs.

The situation has now been further confused, as when FE Week subsequently asked the Department for Education for more detail on its apparent decision, we were told that “nothing has changed” and it will “continue to examine” the policy “as stated in the Industrial Strategy Green Paper”.

It’s hugely irresponsible of the government to flounder on this issue

After learning of this, shadow skills minister Gordon Marsden told FE Week: “At a time when every report and research finding is detailing the damage to the life chances and morale that the resits policy is causing both apprentices and providers across the sector, it’s hugely irresponsible of the government to flounder on this issue.

“FE deserves a decision now, hopefully to replace automatic resits with alternatives relevant to functional skills and the real world in which apprentices need to operate and prosper.”

The Industrial Strategy Green Paper published in January, which contains a consultation question on this issue, said the government was “reviewing the effectiveness of current policy to help as many young people as possible leave compulsory education with a good standard of maths and English”.

That review appeared to have been scrapped earlier this month, judging by the key section from the 2017/18 funding guidance which caused the confusion.

It stated: “Full-time students starting their study programme who have a grade three or D GCSE, or equivalent qualification in maths and/or English, must be enrolled on a GCSE, rather than an approved stepping stone qualification.”

The 2016 annual Ofsted report had previously said that while the resit policy’s intention to improve literacy and numeracy levels was “well intentioned”, the “implementation is not having the desired impact in practice”.

Implementation is not having the desired impact in practice

It pointed out that many students – “just over a quarter” – were still not getting at least a grade C by the age of 19.

Further to that: “Inspection evidence shows that, for some students, having to retake their GCSE can be demotivating and that attendance at these lessons is lower.”

Just 34,486 – or 26.9 per cent – of the 128,201 learners aged 17+ who took GCSE English in 2015/.16, up to last August, got at least a C. And of the 173,628 learners aged 17 or above taking GCSE maths, only 51,220 – or 29.5 per cent – achieved a C or above.

In comparison, the previous year 35.1 per cent of the 97,163 learners aged 17+ achieved a C or above in English, while 35.8 per cent of the 130,979 GCSE maths learners aged 17+ got at least a C.

Education secretary Justine Greening previously strongly hinted, at November’s AoC conference, that a change of heart over GCSE resits was imminent.

She told delegates that students must not be spending “time running upwards against a brick wall that they’re not going to get over”.

Apprenticeships and skills minister Robert Halfon also told delegates: “It is clear that we need a credible, high-quality option for students for whom GCSEs are not appropriate or achievable.”

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