Colleges, English and maths, Skills reform

DfE to introduce English and maths resit minimum hours and scrap 5% tolerance

'Wholly unhelpful' changes to condition of funding rules amid concerns over rising non-compliance

'Wholly unhelpful' changes to condition of funding rules amid concerns over rising non-compliance

13 Feb 2024, 15:39

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The government is set to introduce minimum teaching hours for its controversial English and maths condition of funding policy and scrap the 5 per cent tolerance threshold.

Significant changes to rules around English and maths resits were announced by the Department for Education today as it revealed a 1.89 per cent increase to 16 to 18 funding rates for the 2024/25 academic year.

The divisive “condition of funding” policy, introduced in 2014, means that colleges must help students who failed to achieve a pass – grade 4 or above – to retake their GCSEs, or else risk losing funding.

Department for Education rules haven’t stipulated a minimum number of teaching hours for those resit students until now. 

But from September 2024, full-time resit students will be “expected” to study at least three hours per week for English and four hours for maths and pro-rata for part-time learners.

This study should be “stand-alone, whole-class, in-person teaching, with any additional support, such as small group tuition or online support, supplementary to these minimum classroom hours”, according to the new rules.

The minimum hours rule will only be an “expectation” in 2024/25 to “reflect that despite best efforts not all institutions may be able to meet this from as early as September 2024”.

But it will become a strict rule from 2025/26 from which point funding reductions will be made in cases of non-compliance.

FE Week understands the DfE had become concerned that colleges had moved away from offering these sorts of teaching hours after the Covid-19 pandemic.

Today’s announcement said the new minimum classroom teaching hours “reflect the established practice noted across institutions pre-pandemic”, and added: “We know that many settings are already meeting the minimum hours or are on a journey back towards this. Our amendments will ensure that this progress is consistent across the country, so that all students receive a standard number of taught hours.”

Phased removal of 5% tolerance

The DfE will also implement a phased removal of the 5 per cent tolerance rule starting from 2025/26. 

Currently, the department applies funding reductions to colleges above a tolerance of 5 per cent of total 16 to 19 students for learners who do not meet the condition of funding. Funding is removed for each student above the tolerance level at half the national funding rate.

Officials announced today that they will change the tolerance to 2.5 per cent in the academic year 2025/26, which will impact funding allocations in the 2027/28 academic year.

The tolerance will then be scrapped altogether in the academic year 2026/27, which impacts 2028/29 allocation.

FE Week understands the DfE drew up the plans after becoming concerned at rising rates of non-compliance.

Today’s announcement said: “The aim of removing the tolerance is to support as many students as possible to achieve a level 2 English and maths qualification.”

David Hughes, chief executive of the Association of Colleges, described the new conditions of funding as “wholly unhelpful” and called for them to be suspended.

“Expecting colleges to be able to find new staff to deliver an extra 100 hours of English and 140 hours of maths teaching is simply unrealistic, particularly when schools who are paying so much more cannot find those teachers themselves,” he said.

“Around 200,000 students resit a GCSE or functional skills in English and/or maths in FE colleges. The extra hours would require about 800 extra maths teachers, and 400 extra English teachers. That won’t happen unless fair pay is addressed as a matter of urgency.”

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  1. Steve Hewitt

    I would hope to see more pushback from everyone on the removal of tolerance. For those without long memories (or Civil Servants recently parachuted into DfE…), there are two key groups the tolerance is there for:

    1. Learners who are on their core aim for more than 42 days and then withdraw (usually not long after 42 days) without having 42 days on their English and Maths.

    2. Learners, generally without an EHCP, who, for reasons often connected to ill health, cannot cope with a programme where they are doing both English and Maths as well as their core aim. These learners are often not Band 5 fulltime, but are on more than 150 hours.

    The first group are an administrative glitch. It was agreed when the tolerance was introduced that providers shouldn’t be punished for this kind of thing. The second group are far more important though. Removal of the tolerance *forces* learners to do things they are not currently capable of doing, which is far more likely to end up with them withdrawing and becoming NEET.

    Where is the evidence that DfE are using to make this decision? It feels to me like someone wanted to look cool and hard in front of a minister rather than working with the sector to understand why there might be more learners failing to meet CoF?

  2. Albert Wright

    What exactly is the issue?

    It is not clear to me what is currently happening and why this is not acceptable.

    Is it that the 200,000 students are not resitting the exams or is it that they are resitting but not passing the exams and so are not getting the required qualification and are having to resit for a second or third time?

    Is there evidence that 3 and 4 hours a week of classroom teaching leads to the achievement of the qualifications in some institutions? If so, which organisations are doing this?

    Or is it that not all institutions are so doing and therefore must incur additional costs to retain current funding ? If so, which are the institutions?

    Finally, why are some places able to deliver and others are unable? Is it because some are inefficient or unlucky or have different types of students?

    • The learners have been failed by education pre 16 (schools), so rather than fixing schools education force FE colleges to teach students that have already failed their maths and english multiple times to force the students to take maths and english over and over again.

      And forget about the learner ever understanding the joys or education and studying a course that they enjoy in an area that they want to do for the rest of their working lives. If a student who is not capable of gcse maths and english doesn’t achieve gcse maths and english then if they are in FE education until they are 19 (3 years is not inconceivable at all if come in on Entry level course, then a level 1, then a level 2 …. perhaps they are doing a trade course like plastering or Hair) …. but they will also have to spend up to 6 hours (now 7) hours a week resiting GCSE Maths and English over and over and over again , they HATE it, they are never going to pass it, they can’t do it, the system is cruel and punishing and disenfranchises the poor students who are not capable.

      P.S. we are one of the highest performing colleges for maths and english resits in the country ….

  3. Anonymous

    Excellent! A well thought out policy change for once! Excellent consultation with the sector. More English and Maths hours. It’s what students want. It’s about time the post 16 sector took charge and delivered high quality English and Maths to thousands of students that have been failed by schools. The condition of funding going to 0% will really help providers too. No need to worry about why the 5% was there in the first place. It was never needed. I agree – we should continue to penalise the post 16 sector for the failings of schools. The sector better get on with hiring those English and Maths teachers and make sure we reduce that pay gap between schools and post 16 providers. Hopefully there are plenty of high quality teachers to choose from.