The strongest indication yet has been given that the Department for Education is planning to change its English and maths requirements for post-16 learners, by apprenticeships and skills minister Robert Halfon.

The revelation came during his speech this afternoon at the Association of Colleges annual conference, in Birmingham.
He 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.”

The government made it a condition of funding, in 2014, that all 16 to 19 year olds who did not already have at least a grade C in GCSE English or maths should be enrolled in courses in these subjects.

This was changed a year later to require all of those with a grade D in those subjects to do to a GCSE course, rather than an equivalent ‘stepping stone’ course.

But this year’s GCSE results showed that huge numbers of learners aged 17 and older failed to get the necessary C in English and maths – which Mark Dawe, Association of Employment and Learning Providers described as a “body blow”.

This led to widespread calls for the government to scrap its GCSE resit policy, and replace it with a more employer-focused approach including Functional Skills qualifications, which it is understood the government is considering.

Education secretary Justine Greening also spoke to AoC conference delegates about maths and English provision.

She said: “We all need to think quite carefully about how we strike the right balance between a system that really pushes people, so we’re not giving up on someone being able to reach their potential because it’s hard for them to do that – but also a clear sense of getting them from A to B quickly so they’re not spending time running upwards against a brick wall that they’re not going to get over.”

In January this year the Education and Training Foundation launched a multi-stage consultation on how maths and English Functional Skills qualifications should be reformed.

The foundation was commissioned by the government to carry out the work, which was geared towards collecting views on how the qualifications should be reformed by 2018.

Former skills minister Nick Boles said that he welcomed the consultation was the “first phase of a reform programme which will provide more rigorous and respected Functional Skills qualifications”.

After today’s speech, Mr Dawe said that he appreciated Mr Halfon’s approach.

“Both he and the Secretary of State [Justine Greening] have identified the importance of maths and English and the role of functional skills in improving them,” he said.

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  1. FE have been pointing out that GCSE resits compulsory for D grades was not suitable since the funding guidelines changed this was not a reaction to the results. English and maths practitioners along with many others in FE have been ignored . This has demotivated and caused uneccessary stress to many learners. Why are the people who fully understand never listened to.

  2. Garry Britton

    This change can’t come soon enough. English and Maths GCSE resits are completely unsuitable, and therefore demotivating, for many weaker students in FE. Functional Skills are a good, appropriate alternative – but do need to be updated to the world we live in.

  3. The G.C.S.E resit figures from previous years should have been enough to show that making learners who achieved a ‘D’ resit would not be suitable. Why do these policy makers always have to play with learners lives in order to realise what is blatantly obvious to anyone with any shred of common sense.

  4. Dominic Knowles

    The other consideration is how English and maths is contextualised within a learners’ programme. Whatever changes occur it is still an integral part in how it’s delivered.

  5. Learners go to college to learn a trade skill,most of these young people have realised that they are not academic therefore why do the government then insist on English and maths in colleges?? Many young people have given up on college and failed their course because of the strict guidelines for attending English and maths! Finally they see sense….shame it’s a little too late for many learners!

  6. Joan Knott

    The GCSE resit figures were predictable. Candidates who failed to get a C first time round were never going to equal the Summer pass rates or those of candidates taking the exam early.
    Why set up learners to fail?
    Functional Skills has been shown to be more motivational for many learners. It is respected by employers and concentrates on the Maths the learners need in real life.
    Maybe a few tweaks will help but it is a no brainer as a positive way forward for many students.

  7. Francesca

    If you want a cup of coffee you can choose: de-caff, americano, full-fat milk, half-fat milk, skinny, soya milk, with or without sugar. They’re all coffee. Maths and English qualifications should be different qualifications for different purposes and different people