The Department for Education (DfE) should relax its stance on compulsory GCSE maths and English resits for current students, as it has indicated T level students could have the option of taking functional skills instead.
The call came from David Corke, director of education and skills policy at the AoC, who said the government had signaled in the T level consultation that there would be greater flexibility with the T level when it came to maths and English resits as a condition of funding.
In its Implementation of T level programmes consultation document, which closed to responses in February, stated that students must achieve a minimum level of maths and English but this would be "set at level 2 to align with the existing policy on maths and English requirements for level 3 apprenticeships".
Speaking during a Westminster Education Forum keynote seminar on the future of maths for post-16 students held on Tuesday, Mr Corke said: “We have seen the government consultation and they have signaled that there might be some flexibility with the resit policy – it will either be GCSE or functional skills," adding: “We’ve had these signals in the government consultation so why do we have to wait for T levels for this to happen?”
'Almost half' arrive at college without GCSE maths or English
He warned that even with this minimum standard of maths and English, it could become a barrier to completing a T level. He also asked what the policy will be for those not on T level programmes. “Will it be the current condition of funding that we have? Do we think that that’s working?"
Mr Corke pointed to figures that show that 48 per cent of learners arrive at college with neither maths nor English GCSE and over 100,000 students have to resit the two qualifications. The latest DfE figures show that only around a third of students achieve a grade 4 (formerly C) or above.
“We need to think about who is going to sit T levels,” he said. “We can tell that from the students we’ve got now. We have got to challenge whether A level profile students are going to be taking these programmes current cohort students we have got sitting for vocational qualifications.
“When we start to look at the number of people resitting and then the number of people passing – it is a huge issue. A very small number of people actually end up passing the GCSE. If we look at GCSE maths progression from grade D and cut that data across indices of multiple deprivation we see that the more deprived the student the less likely they are to pass.
“The most compelling piece of information, I think, is when you look at progress by subject-sector area. There is a continuum from the most academic topics to the most practical core subjects and it is the same in English as well. For me that points out whether a qualification is relevant for those people sitting it.”
'It causes mental health issues and distress'
Mr Corke said that while the AoC thinks students should continue to sits maths and English, he added: “We just think there shouldn’t be a GCSE condition.”
“When we think about the policy intent and when we think about how much we invest in this I think it’s obvious that we can say ‘no’”. The scale of the issue is huge. I don’t think it’s just limited to a waste of public funds, I think it causes mental health issues and distress.
“When it comes to the T level panels deciding what level of maths and English student should be sitting, I think we need to take really careful, nuanced and educationally-informed decisions, not just what employers want, because they are not educational experts.”
Another panellist Mike Ellicock, chief executive of National Numeracy, a charity that aims to help raise low levels of numeracy among both adults and children, said the policy as it stands is “ridiculous”.
Mr Ellicock noted that as GCSEs are non-referenced –two third pass and one third fail by default. “It’s completely insane we have a system that by default the bottom third fail. Then you overlay on that the higher paper last year you could pass – by getting a 4 – with 18 to 20 per cent.
“What is that telling any employer, or that individual themselves, about what that individual can or can’t do. It’s a very flawed system. It is about human capital and it is about the emotional distress and mental health of a third of each cohort of young people. We’ve got to change this policy, it’s ridiculous.”