Opinion

English and math GCSE resit policy is proving successful but remains misunderstood

3 May 2019, 10:35



As we report this week, the latest DfE attainment figures reveal that since the introduction of the ‘condition of funding’ rule there has been a massive increase in those at first failing, but subsequently achieving English and maths GCSE by the time they are 19.

In fact, calling it a massive increase is probably an understatement.

The controversial funding requirement that young people with a grade D or 3 in English or maths continue to study
the GCSE has led to a more than doubling of beneficiaries.

Prior to the introduction of the policy in 2014 less than 10 per cent of young people went on to achieve at resit, which has since jumped to 21 per cent.

Or to put it another way, in 2018 there were 25,165 more young people achieving English and maths GCSE by age 19 after their first attempt than in 2014.

Along with the hard working learners, the FE sector should take a great deal of the credit for successfully giving tens of thousands more young people the chance to achieve these lifechanging qualifications.

Whatever your opinion of the qualification content and whether it is contextualised enough, there is no denying achieving the GSCE opens doors.

Many employers won’t accept a job application without the GCSE pass, so unless this changes there is little point arguing the Functional Skills qualification at Level 2 is in reality an alternative.

But instead of celebrating and taking credit for helping tens of thousands more young people, most in the FE sector still seem to want the policy scrapped and complain about young people being forced to retake the GCSE.

In my experience, many who complain don’t in truth properly understand the condition of funding policy when it comes to GCSE resits.

Firstly, it only applies to those with a grade D or 3, so those who have already nearly achieved the pass.

Secondly, it is unlikely anyone need be forced to study the GCSE given the policy includes a noncompliance tolerance of 5 per cent of learners.

And those that complain about the policy probably think that colleges already choose qualifications based on what will give learners the best chance of a positive progression, like entering the labour market.

Sadly, the last decade has shown that college leaders (perhaps inevitably) follow the performance regime, which rewards passing qualifications well above sustainable outcomes like employment.

Hopefully, these stunning attainment statistics will give the Association of Colleges, Ofsted and the Labour Party pause for thought.

All policies can be improved, but it would be a wrong and retrograde step to scrap this one.



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  1. I’m a bit confused by your editorial to be honest. Whilst accepting that the number of students who have been successful has increased, there is the not inconsiderable figure of the 79% of learners who have been made to re-sit a qualification who are unsuccessful. Therefore how can this policy be judged to be a success? At my college we do support the initiative and do our upmost to get students to achieve high grades but for the ones who do not get the grade there is considerable angst, anxiety and resentment. In addition, the funding for English and Maths provision, which was part of the previous funding regime has been absorbed in Study Programmes, which, of course, has been cut in real terms and actual terms for 18 year olds – those most likely to need to do the re-sits.
    All policies shouldn’t be set in stone and this one, in my opinion is in need of review.