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EEF funds major trials to help learners ‘make the grade’ in GCSE resits

Trial of text message ‘nudges’ is among projects aiming to improve attainment in English and maths GCSEs

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Trial of text message ‘nudges’ is among projects aiming to improve attainment in English and maths GCSEs

More than 13,000 students across the country will take part in large-scale research to trial new approaches to supporting those who have failed to achieve a good GCSE pass in English and maths.

In 2016, the number of students aged 17 and over taking English and maths increased by a third to top 300,000 for the first time. But A*-C pass rates for these learners plummeted to less than 30 per cent in both subjects.

Today, the Education Endowment Foundation (EEF) will announce the first post-16 projects it will back, using its £5 million fund for supporting students who do not get a C in English or maths the first time around.

The EEF was set up in 2011 by the Sutton Trust social mobility charity with a £125 million founding grant from the Department for Education. The grant-making foundation is dedicated to breaking the negative link between family income and educational achievement. Since its launch, the EEF has awarded £80 million to 133 projects working with more than 850,000 pupils in more than 8,300 schools across England. But the trials announced today mark the organisation’s first move into the FE sector.

The Association of Employment and Learning Providers (AELP) will receive about £700,000 to allow it to extend its work on embedding contextualisation in English and maths GCSE teaching to 1,500 learners across 100 settings.

Meanwhile, the University of Nottingham’s Maths for Life project will receive £640,000 to expand its approach to teaching challenging maths concepts through student-centred classes focusing on problem-solving and discussion. Some 8,000 post-16 students from 100 settings will take part in the trial.

In addition, the Behavioural Insights Team – the “nudge unit” established within the Cabinet Office but now operating as a limited company – will receive £240,000 to test whether encouraging text messages sent to students and designated “study supporters” (a peer, parent or mentor) could improve attendance and attainment. The grant will fund work with 3,750 students in 30 settings.

'Crucial insight'

The EEF is now looking for colleges and providers that would be interested in taking part in the research projects.

Chief executive Sir Kevan Collins said: “In 2016, only one in four teenagers made the grade in English and maths after sitting their GCSE exam a second time. It’s clear that simply keeping those teenagers in compulsory education for another year – putting extra pressure on an already squeezed sector – is just not enough.

“We have to get more and better evidence of which teaching and learning strategies work for 16- to 18-year-olds if we want to give all young people the skills they need to thrive in life. The three trials we’ve announced today will involve over 200 settings across England. They’ll give us crucial insight into how effective different approaches are, from texting students to teaching maths in real-life contexts.”

This is an edited version of an article in the 24 March edition of  TES. Subscribers can read the full story here. To subscribe, click here. To download the digital edition, Android users can click here and iOS users can click here. Your new-look TES magazine is available at all good newsagents.

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