More research needed into GCSE resit teaching methods, charity says

No robust evidence base for post-16 English and maths teaching, EEF concludes

No robust evidence base for post-16 English and maths teaching, EEF concludes

Alternative methods of teaching GCSE resit students need to be explored and tested to improve pass rates, an education charity has said.

The Education and Endowment Foundation has today published a review into English and maths GCSE resit practices in sixth forms and colleges in collaboration with the University of Warwick and think tank Centre for Education and Youth.

Current policy means that students who do not gain a grade 4 in English and maths in their first attempt must continue to study these subjects post-16. However, in 2022, just 15.2 per cent of learners resitting their maths GCSE gained a grade 4, while just 24.1 per cent did so in English. 

The EEF’s review found that the ability of FE institutions to recruit and retain practitioners with the right subject expertise was the biggest barrier to ensuring that these learners receive high quality teaching.

The charity was also concerned to find a lack of “well-developed evidence-informed programmes and interventions” to support learners and professional development for those teaching resit classes.

Joe Hallgarten, chief executive of the Centre for Education and Youth, said the findings show how those 16- to 19-year-olds who struggle with basic maths and English face a “double disadvantage”.

“Having arrived at a new sixth form or college branded as GCSE failures, they are too often: given too little curriculum time; taught by teachers who may not have the subject expertise or the professional development to teach these young people adequately; and supported by academic and pastoral interventions that lack a strong enough evidence base of their impact,” he said.

The report explained that the existing evidence base for post-16 practices is “much more limited than for pupils in schools”, and there is a lack of “high-quality” programmes targeting 16- to 18-year-olds.

The research, which involved a desk-based review, site visits and interviews with college leaders, found that while there are “numerous, diverse practices and approaches to improving provision and outcomes” in post-16 GCSE resits, there are “relatively few ‘packaged’ interventions designed specifically for this cohort and context”.

“No clear trends emerged in relation to any particular techniques, tools or systems of assessment which colleagues are engaging with at this stage,” according to the report.

It said that the review found examples of effective pedagogy from other phases and subjects using “relatively well-established, evidence-informed principles” related to formative assessment, cognitive science like spaced learning, or mastery approaches.

But “we need to know more about how these principles and practices can be effectively adapted and translated into post-16 resit contexts,” the report added.

The report recommended that the EEF should “sustain and grow its focus” on post-16 English and maths for low-attaining and disadvantaged learners – including, but not limited to, GCSE resits.

“The persistent underperformance of resit learners coupled with the relatively poor evidence base on interventions in this space reaffirm the rationale for investment, which, in terms of outcomes, could lead to sustainable, systemic change and improvement,” the report said.

EEF chief executive Becky Francis said: “We know gaps in outcomes between socio-economically disadvantaged pupils and their classmates grow as they progress through school which means they’re at their widest when students enter post-16 education.

“This phase is our ‘last chance’ to try and minimise these gaps before most young people leave the education system. We also know the importance of a Grade 4 or above at Maths and English GCSEs for young people’s future life chances. So for us, finding better ways to support teaching and learning for GCSE resits is a crucial part of this.”

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