GCSE maths 'not right' for many FE learners, says AoC

23rd May 2016 at 17:58
The Association of Colleges claims that new, "harder" GCSEs might not be the best option for FE learners

A GCSE in maths is not the “right qualification” for many FE learners, an official from the Association of Colleges has claimed.

Catherine Sezen, the AoC's 14-19 policy manager, said that many learners who arrive at an FE college have a “very, very negative feeling” about the subject after not achieving a "good" pass during their time at school.

But 2015-16 is the first year in which all students who have not achieved a grade C or better in English and maths during their time at school have been required to retake the qualification at college. As a result, record levels of older students are due to sit the final exams in the subjects this summer.

Ms Sezen told an event hosted by the Westminster Education Forum today that studying for a GCSE resit might not be the best option for them, especially given the transition to the new, tougher GCSEs – the exams for which will be sat for the first time next year. The grading system for the new qualifications will run from 9 (the highest grade) to 1.

Ms Sezen, speaking at the event in central London, said: “In September 2017 we’ll have our first 9 to 1 students from school [in FE colleges]. The maths content is harder, and again we ask that question: is GCSE the appropriate qualification for the workplace? I’m not a mathematician, but I do use maths on a daily basis. Percentages and data are really key to the job that I do. But do we really need to do all the types of maths that are included in GCSE?" 

She added: “English and maths are at the heart of everything we do now in college. This has been a huge cultural shift for colleges – a change in the nature of what we deliver. Previously there was a focus on vocational skills and A levels for all our young people."

'They come in thinking they can't''

Ms Sezen told the conference that the number of students taking GCSE mathematics at FE colleges has increased by 232 per cent since the 2012-13 academic year, with many new FE learners arriving at college with a “negative feeling” about the subject.

“Lots of young people have a very, very negative feeling about maths when they come into college," she said. "They feel like they’ve failed because they’ve got a D. A ‘C’ is that gold pass that they want. And they really feel that they’ve failed. They often come in thinking they can’t, they won’t, and they don’t.

“A lot of colleges are looking at putting the majority of their young people in for GCSE. But as we’ve already been hearing, there is a question over whether GCSE is necessarily the right qualification for those young people and for the skills that they need in the wider context."

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