Exclusive: DfE will scrap forced resits for GCSE English and maths

Justine Greening at AoC conference 2016

The government will make a major u-turn over the much-derided condition of funding rule, FE Week can reveal.

From August 2015 all 16 to 18-year-old students with a GCSE grade D have had to study and resit the GCSE as part of the condition of funding, rather than a functional skills qualification at level two. But once this policy has been scrapped, no student will be forced to resit GCSE English and maths.

The latest revelation follows scathing criticism of the policy from Ofsted in December, and publication of a letter from education secretary Justine Greening to Neil Carmichael, chair of the Education Select Committee, advising on changes to the numeric GCSE grading system.

The letter revealed very little new, but FE Week has been told by multiple sources that the current policy to force some students to resit GCSEs will be scrapped – so all students can study functional skills, as was the case before 2015. Although not mentioned in the letter, this will be confirmed in the funding guidance for 2017/18, due for publication shortly.

It comes just a few weeks after the government finally confirmed another u-turn on the requirements for early years educator apprenticeships. Currently early years learners must achieve at least a grade C in English and maths GCSE to pass the level three course, but FE Week reported in early March that from April this will be broadened to include functional skills.

Reflecting on the latest news of an end to forced GCSE resits, Association of Employment and Learning Providers boss Mark Dawe told FE Week: “If there is going to be a U-turn on this, then we welcome it.”

He added: “The new chief inspector for Ofsted has quite rightly joined many stakeholders in the FE and skills sector and employers, in raising the possibility of the policy being abandoned altogether, and we feel that Ms Greening could have responded to this challenge more positively [in the letter].

“Young people without good grades should be encouraged to carry on learning the core subjects, but with the option of doing so via functional skills.”

Ofsted was highly critical of forced resits in its 2016 annual report published in December, as reported in FE Week.

It said: “While the policy’s intention to improve literacy and numeracy levels is well intentioned, the implementation of the policy is not having the desired impact in practice.

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

“For many students, an alternative level two qualification may be a more appropriate means of improving their English and mathematics and ensuring that they are ready for work.”

Commenting today on Ms Greening’s letter, Catherine Sezen, senior policy manager at the Association of Colleges, said it was useful to “finally have clarity” over the new GCSE grading.

“This will give guidance to colleges on entry requirements and GCSE resit policy and to universities and employers for their entry and job role requirements,” she said.

Ms Greening said in the letter that “under the new system, a grade four and above will be equivalent to a C and above.

“Where employers, FE providers and universities currently accept a grade C we would expect them to continue recognising a grade four.”

She previously gave strong hints about a change of heart towards the English and maths resit policy, at last November’s AoC conference (pictured).

As reported in FE Week, 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 conceded to delegates that GCSEs are not always the best option for FE students.

“It is clear that we need a credible, high-quality option for students for whom GCSEs are not appropriate or achievable,” Mr Halfon said.

“This is why we are reforming Functional Skills to make sure that they are genuinely relevant to employers, and consequently have credibility and prestige in the jobs market.”

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  1. LRoding

    They were told that there were insurmountable problems associated with forced GCSE retakes. Sis they listen? Of course not. Yet another U turn, which is welcome, but how much damage has been caused in the meantime? Clueless politicians and civil servants ignoring good,balanced advice from experienced practitioners always ends up in a shambles: when will they learn?

  2. Jude Goswell

    If professional teachers had been listened to instead of relying on an academic with no experience of working in the FE sector many students could have been saved the experience of studying for a GCSE that they could not achieve. This fueled their feelings of being ‘stupid’ and ‘thick’ – comments that I have had to endure on a daily basis. I have become completely demotivated and disillusioned – having to implement the ill-considered plans of Woolf. I hope she takes on her conscience the distress that she has caused these students.

  3. This policy was instrumental in me quitting as an English teacher in FE when we were told that we would be accountable for success rates even if we didn’t agree with the policy!

  4. Interestingly that same Ofsted report criticised apprenticeships as:

    “In providers that required improvement or were inadequate, inspectors found a range of weaker characteristics in the development of apprentices’ skills for employment. Almost all these providers were failing to improve apprentices’ English or mathematics skills, or helping them to achieve these

    Whilst this is only for ‘weak’ providers, Functional Skills Level 2 is no panacea.

  5. Just wondered the provenance of this before we start retimetabling? Robert Halfon MP has not revealed a change in policy at the AoC Spring Policy Conference today. DfE, Ofsted and ETF colleagues have no inside knowledge. So why is this being stirred up without reference to a policy change?

  6. Judy Cera

    I teach GCSE maths at FE. We were going to spend the Easter Holidays planning for next year. Now we don’t know what to plan! Will we all go back to teaching functional skills?

  7. Lorraine Mitchell

    It is god to recognise that GCSE resit is often demotivating for good students who can get more relevant mathematics and use of English. The review of Functional Skills however needs to ensure that they are also fit for purpose for university; vocational students often reach the grades in heir specialist subject and under this change will only do Functional Skills. We need them recognised by universities as a valid entry qualification to maintain access for academic and vocational students. Consider naming them Technical English and Technical Maths?

  8. Suzy Freeman

    This probably means more pupils in secondary schools will work towards passing their GCSE Maths in year 11. Presently they say it doesn’t matter if I fail at 16 ’cause I’ll be doing it ’till I’m 18 anyway!

  9. Rona King

    FE students should be given the choice of whether they resit a GCSE or take a Functional Skills as an option. I agree with the scrapped policy in the way that students who have achieved a ‘D’ first time around should resit as potentially they can achieve a ‘C.’ However, students with an ‘E’ or below will have little realistic chance of ever getting a ‘C’ grade and should automatically study Functional Skills.
    For students needing or wishing to gain the elusive GCSE ‘C,’ FE colleges should discuss with the student / parent carer which exam option / board will be the student’s best option, along with the optimum time to take the resit, ie, November, January or May and June.

    • B Turner Walsh

      I have come across this thread after being so frustrated for my 15 year old son. He is quite simply not academically capable of gaining Cs or above in English and Maths and is also dyslexic. It angers me when policy is put in place assuming EVERYONE can achieve C or above passes at GCSE. This is quite simply NOT THE CASE. My son’s mocks show he will not achieve what is needed. He has persistently skipped lessons and truanted as he feels totally inadequate when it comes to learning, not even private tutors would help him as he simply just does not GET IT. This generation of kids has been totally screwed, not least because of the pressure which is on them from this very fast paced social media age we now live in. We need to give these kids a break? He hasn’t even been able to get a part time job because he’s not yet 16 – how will our young people ever learn how to get on when they are not allowed to work part time until the age of 16 and are EXPECTED to pass English and Maths or keep trying until they do. What a way to start a young life, under all this pressure and no financial independence until you are 16? No wonder they’re all smoking weed……

      • Totally agree! (Phil you clearly have no idea). My son has been desperate to work whilst attending his electrical course at college. Unfortunately he has been forced to attend and retake both Maths and English which has meant no time left in the week to work with an electrician and gain valuable experience (as well as earn some money).

        The whole experience has been demotivating and humiliating for him and many of his peers. His Electrical Tutor says that he is an incredibly capable budding electrician with a lot of potential.

        Why on earth was all the advice against this idea, from teachers, employers and OFSTED ignored!! So very arrogant, naive and short sighted of our government.

        Level 2 next year and no retakes.. Yey!

  10. Marietta

    My grandaughter is dyslexic and will be sitting her gcse this year may and June. She struggles with maths and English comprehension. She is allowed 15 minutes extra in each eaxam,which I feel is not enough. Does she really need to sit the exams again cone November or next year??

  11. I am concerned that the GCSE wasn’t always being implemented with the right criteria in place, we went from IGCSE to the new spec in one year. Having just read my providers literacy strategy I see that reading is high on the list. If it is just for functional skills we will end up reading purely vocational literature which is at it’s best functional. I have enjoyed bringing literature of good quality to my GCSE students, for some it is the first time they have ever accessed good literature and they have thoroughly enjoyed the experience. For many though the GCSE has been a lesson they would prefer to avoid.
    I will be sorry to see it go and agree that young people who achieved a D grade should at least be given the option to re-sit. I like the 8700.

  12. Andrew

    Well the funding guidance for 2017/18 has now been published and the condition of funding remains, with the rules on mandatory GCSE resits for Grade D (or Grade 3 under the new GCSEs) students still intact. Was this article an April Fool posted a few days early?

  13. Ricky

    I teach construction in my local college and it has been very frustrating lately trying to jump through hoops with Maths and English. I found this book quite recently which I thought I’d share with you all because I share your frustrations

    It’s really good for people like me to give them ideas on how these subjects can be delivered. I’m also a parent and think that the comments above are symptomatic of the problems teenagers face day to day. Resits can be sole destroying.

  14. Rosetinted

    This is the third time my Dyslexic autistic spectrum son has failed his GCSE maths
    Our county council keeps refusing him an educational Health and social care plan saying that his needs are fully met which they are not. He gets some extra time and a scribe and he still cannot get beyond a D grade. If he has to study it this year to get funding for an art course he will miss out on valuable work experience. It is exhausting. Micheal Gove should be put in the stocks for torturing and dooming these children to failure.