Another GCSE results day, another disappointment

GCSE English and maths rates got no better in the November sitting. But there is another way, says Stephen Exley

Stephen Exley

Another GCSE results day, another disappointment

We’ve been here before. Upon reading the GCSE results from the November sitting, you could be forgiven for having a distinct sense of déjà vu.

The most important thing to say is: well done to all of the students who saw their overall grade improve.

Results from the exam boards show the overall percentage of students who achieved a grade 4 in their GCSE resits has once again dropped, compared with last year. At one exam board, less than a quarter of students resitting maths reached the holy grail of a "standard" pass.

Condition of funding

The arguments about the condition of funding rule (which compels students with a grade 3 to retake the qualification) are well rehearsed. On one hand, it last summer led to more than 60,000 students improving their grade in English or maths to achieve a grade 4 or better – a benchmark recognised by employers which will benefit many of them enormously in their future careers.

On the other, despite the excellent work and collaboration across so many colleges (not least those shortlisted for our new category for outstanding GCSE resits provision at the Tes FE Awards), pass rates remain persistently low.

Having come close to overturning the funding rules once, the Department for Education has ducked the decision ever since.

The consequence is that some students end up retaking their exams as many as nine times. The argument that functional skills qualifications – the only viable alternative to GCSEs in English and maths at present – carry less prestige and are not as respected by employers – has some validity (although the DfE could clearly do more to promote the qualities of the toughened-up, reformed versions as a “gold standard” as it has done with its pet T-levels project), and ministers are clearly wary of being seen to be relaxing standards.

There is another solution, however. Keep GCSEs, keep the condition of funding rule – and invest substantially in providing colleges with the resources they need to help more than one in three students over the line. The Centres for Excellence in Maths, for instance, are doing some excellent work, but this is only a start.

Students are working incredibly hard, as are teachers and colleges. But government has a part to play in improving the life chances of our young people, too. At the moment, it’s simply not pulling its weight. It’s time for proper investment to make this policy a success for more young people.

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Stephen Exley

Stephen Exley

Stephen Exley is a freelance writer, director of external affairs at Villiers Park Educational Trust and former FE editor at Tes.

Find me on Twitter @stephenexley

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