While A*-C GCSE pass rates in English and maths remained significantly lower among 17-plus learners than 16-year-olds last year (26.9 per cent versus 71.3 per cent respectively in English), West Suffolk College managed to buck the trend.
In 2016 it scored the highest achievement rate out of all colleges with 1,000 or more entries. Its 16-18 A*-C pass rate was 44.1 per cent, compared with 21.2 per cent nationally.
While the college has been “incredibly successful” in previous years, Lindsey Johnson, vice-principal for curriculum and quality, says that this year it has been difficult to predict students’ grades due to schools being uncertain over what constitutes a grade 3 or 4 under the new grading system.
However, the college’s modelling predicts an increase in students taking GCSE next year. Unlike many other colleges, West Suffolk also plans to retain functional skills as an option for students who achieve a grade 2 or below – necessitating hiring additional staff to cope with the workload. “There is an increase in our maths and English staffing budget for 16-19 study programmes next year that we are simply having to absorb,” Johnson adds.
The college is also in discussion with universities about whether they will require a grade 4 or 5, in order to ascertain how it can best serve the interests of those students who wish to eventually progress to higher education.
“We would implore [education secretary] Justine Greening to relax the condition of funding rules, and enable the FE sector to choose the most appropriate resit maths and English qualification for students,” says Johnson.
“Whilst laudable, it is crippling an already beleaguered sector and, more importantly, it is demotivating a significant proportion of young people who require technical maths and English skills, for which an academic GCSE adds no real value. Students studying level 1 and 2 vocational qualifications do significantly less well in GCSE resits than those studying at level 3.
We know our students and we request the right to exert our professional judgment as qualified and experienced educators.”