Is AI the secret to improving GCSE resit pass rates?

GCSE resit students need all the help they can get. Technology can help give them that push, writes Anthony Bravo

Anthony Bravo

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In 2014, the government introduced a policy that means that students who don’t pass their maths or English GCSEs at age 16 must continue studying the subjects as part of their further education or training. Colleges like mine in Basingstoke do our very best to get all our students up to par, despite facing ongoing challenges around funding, reduced teaching time and, of course, student motivation.

We know that, across the board, FE students don’t do well with resits, so we aim to provide a different, more engaging approach to teaching and that includes integrating technology into the classroom. Our job is to find a way of helping all students to fulfil their potential. To this end, FE leaders are increasingly turning to novel solutions to help students get the grades they need and my college’s exceptional digital team is leading the way in embracing technology across the entire college and curriculum.

Background: GCSE resits: DfE updates English and maths policy

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To ensure that we’re doing everything we can to help students succeed at Basingstoke College of Technology (BCoT), we are one of an increasing number to adopt innovative AI-based learning platforms. We pioneered this work and are beginning to see first-hand just how beneficial it can be to give teachers advanced technology that empowers them with data to make better interventions, while tailoring learning to each individual student. We first started using AI-based platform CENTURY in September 2018. After just a few months, resit pass rates increased by 9 per cent for English and 21 per cent for maths, compared with the previous year. 

It's about the outcomes, not the technology

As I wrote in Tes in September, most FE principals want to look around and learn from their peers – so I decided to put my money where my mouth is and take a risk. BCoT became one of the first to take part in a pilot project to test the use of AI-based tech in FE across the country, working with Ufi VocTech Trust and edtech developers CENTURY to trial the latter’s AI-powered learning tool in three colleges. 

Through this project, students spent a year learning at their own pace. We then analysed how their use of CENTURY translated into improved grades – because at the end of the day, it’s all about the outcomes, not the technology.

We were pleased to see that the results showed that when students used AI to help revise for their maths GCSE resits for as little as 10 minutes a week, they improved their results twice as much as the national average. Those who used AI to revise for over one hour a week saw improvements of over 10 times the national average.

It was also really interesting to discover that the largest impact on results was seen in students who used the AI engine to learn more new topics, rather than repeating the same ones – suggesting that the AI recommendations are successfully plugging students’ gaps in knowledge.

Overall, we found that the technology empowers students to take more ownership of their learning which enables students, who may have been less engaged in a more traditional school classroom environment, to be more involved in achieving their goals.

But with technology, like everything else, there is no silver bullet. There is no magic technological solution that you can give your students to guarantee success. Technology is simply another teaching tool that we use to maximise the excellence of our staff, and add to the student experience. Hard work is still required from students and teachers to buck the trend of poor resit stats, but it is encouraging that through our participation with CENTURY’s AI project, we are seeing good signs of improvement in both engagement and achievement.

I will continue to adopt the technology at BCoT and be a strong advocate for its use across the sector and I look forward to seeing other colleges implement similar projects in our quest to continue to lift student outcomes.

Anthony Bravo is the principal and chief executive of Basingstoke College of Technology (BCoT)

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