There has been a significant increase in the number of students aged 17 and over sitting maths and English GCSEs this year – but barely a third achieved the all-important A*-C grades.
From this summer, students who fail to obtain at least a C grade in English or maths will be required to resit the subjects. This has already led to massive logistical pressures on many colleges which decided to introduce the policy for this year's cohort of learners.
Figures published today reveal that the number of overall GCSE entries from candidates aged 17 and over increased by 18.2 per cent this year, which is believed to be largely down to resits among those candidates who failed to obtain a C first time around.
The number of entries for English among young people aged 17 and over increased by 22.9 per cent to 97,163, AS the number taking maths went up by 30.2 per cent to 130,979.
However, only 35.1 per cent of entries in English resulted in A*-C grades, down from 37.9 per cent last year. In maths, only 35.8 per cent obtained a C or better, a drop from the 2014 figure of 38.9 per cent.
These figures are significantly lower than the equivalent figures among 16-year-olds: 72.6 per cent in English and 69.1 per cent in maths, both of which represent an increase from last year.
But the Department for Education said that its resits policy had resulted in over 4,000 more A*-C passes in English by students aged 17 and over this year, and over 7,500 more passes in maths.
Education secretary Nicky Morgan said: “Thanks to our reforms focused on extending opportunity, a generation of young people from all backgrounds are now securing the GCSEs that help give them the widest range of options later in life – whether looking for a rewarding job or a top apprenticeship.”
Andrew Hall, chief executive of the AQA exam board, said it was not surprising that results for 17-year-olds were “weaker” than for other age groups.
“I actually think it’s very encouraging that more students are achieving these qualifications, which are key life qualifications, when they didn’t the first time around,” he said.
Mark Dawe, chief executive of OCR and formerly principal of Oaklands College, said: “That is 75,000 passes that weren’t there before, I think that’s a huge success.”
However, Mr Dawe repeated his calls for a more modular approach to GCSEs for older learners.
He told TES: “For 16- to 18-year-olds, the key things are how you assess them, whether it’s linear, modular or functional skills. What is the appropriate assessment for that type of learner? Personally I feel that when those students are doing a vocational qualification, a more modular approach to GCSE might be better.”
Mr Dawe said a modular approach would also make resits more manageable for schools and colleges, many of whom had to cancel classes to make room to accommodate the exams.
Brian Lightman, general secretary of the Association of School and College Leaders, said: “To properly assess the impact of the policy we need to know what grades students gained when they resat compared to the grades they gained the first time around.
“Resitting over and over again is not the way forward, we need to make sure the qualifications and assessments are appropriate for the courses students are following. English and maths is less important than numeracy and literacy for employers.”