In recent months, pressure has steadily been building across the FE sector for the government to change its policy and make functional skills available as an alternative to GCSE English and maths for post-16 learners with a grade D or 3.
Last October, Ofsted’s deputy director for FE and skills, Paul Joyce, questioned the policy at the UKFEchat annual conference. A month later, Tes revealed that college students from the most deprived parts of the country made the least progress in GCSE resits and, on average, saw their overall grade drop.
However, after months of speculation that the Department for Education was set to change its policy for 2017-18, funding regulations published in March confirmed that no change would be made.
While schools minister Nick Gibb is understood to be steadfastly opposed to any move that could be interpreted a watering down of standards, it remains to be seen whether the new apprenticeships and skills minister, Anne Milton – a close ally of education secretary Justine Greening – is more sympathetic.
The reform of functional skills by the Education and Training Foundation – due to be completed in 2019 – could offer the best hope of greater flexibility being introduced to allow teachers to use their professional autonomy to decide on the most appropriate qualification for each individual learner. But, for now at least, the GCSE resit burden is only likely to grow heavier.