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GCSE English and maths resits are creating a teen 'underclass', assessment expert warns

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Forcing young people to resit English and maths GCSEs could be creating an “underclass” of students, an assessment expert has warned.

Ahead of GCSE results day next month, Jonathan Wells, an Ofqual external expert in assessment, said 16- to 18-year-olds who have failed to get the grades would be better off taking functional skills qualifications instead.

From September, GCSEs with a greater academic focus are being introduced, along with a requirement that all students who achieve a D grade or lower in English and maths will have to retake until they get at least a C. The option to choose functional skills instead will no longer be available.

But the impact of the policy of compulsory resits, first proposed in the Wolf Report in 2011, is already being felt. Last month, TES reported that some colleges had been forced to suspend classes and spend tens of thousands of pounds on hiring additional space for learners to resit GCSE papers.

Mr Wells, who is also a director of ForSkills, which provides diagnostics and e-learning resources for functional skills, questioned whether the compulsory resits were a good idea.

“I believe that continued focus on teaching and learning maths and English is essential...but insisting that GCSE is the right qualification for everyone is wrong,” he said.

When the policy was introduced by former skills minister Matthew Hancock, figures showed that 40 per cent of pupils did not get A*-Cs in English and maths GCSEs by the age of 16, and 90 per cent of those still had not achieved this by the age of 19.

“This leads to disappointed, demotivated learners who gain no benefit from further study towards a maths and English qualification,” Mr Wells said. “It also means that training providers are much less likely to take on learners who do not have GCSE passes and this can only result in the creation of an ‘underclass’ of 16- to 18-year-olds who can’t find a traineeship or an apprenticeship.”

For those students, functional skills qualifications presented the best route to success and employability, he added.

In March, a report by the Education and Training Foundation found that functional skills were gaining widespread recognition with employers, although it added that the purpose and value of the qualifications need to be better explained and promoted.

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