FE sector leaders have renewed their calls for more flexibility as new research shows students’ likelihood of improving their grades in an English or maths GCSE resit deteriorates on subsequent attempts.
According to research by Cambridge Assessment, published as part of the spring issue of Research Matters, the data showed that 53 per cent of the students taking GCSE English and 60 per cent of those taking GCSE maths did not improve their grade, despite one or more attempts. In fact, many of them obtained lower grades than the first time they took the exams.
The paper, which considered the outcomes for 72,995 students who sat GCSE English and 67,759 students who sat GCSE maths during their key stage 5 years, found that 53 per cent of the students taking the exam in English and 60 per cent of those doing so in maths did not improve their grade, “despite one or more attempts”.
It goes on to say the probability of improving the grade in GCSE English or maths decreased with an increasing number of resits in the subject. The paper explains: “The probability of improving the grade for students with one resit attempt was around 0.72 in English and 0.76 in mathematics, for those with two attempts decreased to 0.63 in English and 0.69 in Mathematics and, for those with three attempts to 0.55 in English and 0.61 in Mathematics.”
Likely to improve
The research also shows, however, that the likelihood of improving their grade was lower for those at FE colleges than other students. “In English and Mathematics, against the baseline of comprehensive schools, candidates in FE colleges were significantly less likely to improve their GCSE grade, once the other candidate characteristics were controlled for.”
Female students were more likely to improve their GCSE English grades than males, whilst the opposite was true for GCSE Mathematics, and students of high prior attainment were more likely than students of low prior attainment to achieve an improvement.
“Although the policy of improving literacy and numeracy levels amongst school children and ensuring that all young people gain good qualifications in English and mathematics by the age of 19 seems to be a good idea, its implementation has perhaps not had the intended impact in practice,” concludes the research.
The government’s policy to make it a condition of funding for post-16 providers that all students who have not achieved a good pass in their English and maths GCSE exam must take the qualification again has received much criticism from within the FE sector.
It has also lead to a huge increase in the number of students resitting the qualification in a college setting, creating staffing and logistical issues. A number of sector leaders have called for a change in the policy and increased flexibility, but only weeks ago, education secretary Damian Hinds indicated in front of the Commons Education Select Committee there would be no imminent change. “I don’t have a new announcement to make on policy in that area right now,” he said.
David Corke, director of policy at the Association of Colleges, said while the association agreed with the principle that young people need to continue to study English and maths, this was “another robust piece of evidence that shows the current policy arrangements are not achieving the intended outcomes”.
He added: “Appropriate funding and flexibility is required to solve this. Flexibility with exams dates to suit learner and employer needs would be useful, but more importantly, we need to utilise the professional judgement of practitioners to select the appropriate qualification for each learner.” He said the DfE had introduced flexibility in its approach for T levels and the sector now needed to see this implemented for all learners across resits.”
Misery and despair
Mark Dawe, chief executive of the Association of Employment and Learning Providers, said: “As well as causing misery and despair for hundreds of thousands of young people, the evidence base confirms that this failed policy is wasting millions of pounds when employers are quite happy to see learners doing applied functional skills in these subjects instead.
"Perhaps it’s time for the National Audit Office to add this to its investigations list. It’s also about time that functional skills learning in the workplace is funded at the same rate as in the classroom.”
A Department for Education spokesperson said: “Students who leave school with a good grasp of English and maths increase their chances of securing a job, an apprenticeship or going onto further and in 2017 over 71 per cent of 19 year olds held a Level 2 qualification, which is equivalent to a GCSE pass, in both maths and English – the highest figure on record.
“We will continue to work with the post-16 sector on this challenge and recently announced a further £48.5 million investment to improve maths teaching for post-16 over the coming five years.”