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'FE must unite under a new policy for English and maths'

UKFEchat founder Sarah Simons says it is time the sector joined hands and championed an English and maths policy that recognises all

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UKFEchat founder Sarah Simons says it is time the sector joined hands and championed an English and maths policy that recognises all

At the UKFEchat National Conference this weekend I got angry. I told the crowd that the FE and skills sector needs to join hands, stand firm and stop being pushed around. We need to start saying NO to poorly thought out policies that only work on paper and have little benefit to those they are intended for, the people we see every day. We need to unite more cohesively and shout louder. We need to start banging our fists on tables and refusing to do as we’re told.

As Stephen Exley wrote in this week’s TES, there are numerous organisations in our sector who do an excellent job of representing FE interests. We all broadly want the same thing – to provide our learners the best route to their own, individually defined success, and to be supported as professionals while doing so. However as each organisation, association or union represents the interests of a specific demographic within the sector, sometimes the direction of travel can be blown off course.

The idea of a cross-sector, united approach is not based on naive ‘let’s all have a cuddle’ optimism. It can be done. Earlier this month The National Association for Teaching English and other Community Languages to Adults (NATECLA) published the document Towards an ESOL strategy for England. It was  written following consultation with a wide range of individuals and stakeholders and is intended for the use of policymakers. It is a cohesive document based on collaboration, providing a range of proposals to government. It offers the means for united movement.

From my perspective as an English teacher I know the current policy for English and maths is not right. I know that GCSE is not the appropriate qualification for every student. It is not always realistic for students to move from a D to a C in one year; the policy ignores many factors relating to an individual’s existing skills, needs and motivation.

It’s not just my own experience that tells me the policy isn’t right. There’s an ever increasing body of evidence to suggest that the current English and maths GCSE resit policy doesn’t work. But due to current funding requirements, colleges have no choice but to comply with it.

'Not fit for purpose'

If the purpose of English and maths in FE is to give every learner a better foundation in literacy and numeracy in order to enable a personalised progression route, then the current policy is not fit for purpose. Every day we spend knowing that there is a problem and not actively doing something about it, is a day we are allowing learners to slip through the cracks. For some, that means squandering their last chance to have another kind of life.

At the UKFEchat conference Paul Joyce, Ofsted’s deputy director for FE and skills commended the way the sector coped with the significant increase in re-sit numbers but said “It’s fair to ask whether GCSE is the right qualification for everybody.”

Our collective experience in addition to plunging pass rates tells us the answer. It is our obligation as educators to unite and present an alternate policy for the delivery of English and maths qualifications.

Post-16 education needs a more inclusive, ambitious, useful maths and English policy which recognises that one size does not fit all. The UKFEchat community has united on this issue. A number of organisations are already committed to joining the movement but we must move in one direction and speak with one voice.

The UKFEchat community invites leaders from the FE and skills sector to unite with practitioners at every level, in order to develop a post-16 maths and English strategy that works. UKFEchat, with the support of TES, hopes to host a roundtable in the coming weeks to gather views and start moving.

We invite you to move with us.

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