GCSE resits: Students forced to sit exams 9 times

Due to the GCSE English and maths resit policy, over a third of last summer's Key Stage 5 students had sat the exams at least twice before

Julia Belgutay

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Students have ended up sitting their GCSE exams as many as nine times as a result of the government’s compulsory resit policy, new figures show.

Data calculated by education equality charity Impetus-PEF, revealed the number of times that students aged 16-18 who sat GCSE maths or English last summer had attempted the qualifications.

In the most extreme cases, students were attempting the qualification for at least the ninth time. Overall, more than 86,000 entrants to English or maths sat the exam for at least the second time. In English, over a quarter of resits were by those sitting the exam for at least the third time; in maths, the proportion stood at 37 per cent.

Improving grades

It follows a previous report by Impetus-PEF, published last year, that said only 12 per cent of young people without GCSE passes in English and maths at age 16 went on to secure them by the time they were 19.

Separate research by awarding organisation Cambridge Assessment found that the probability of improving the grade dropped with each resit attempt.

Impetus-PEF chief executive Andy Ratcliffe said he believed that with additional investment, all young people could achieve a level 2 in English and maths. But he added he was concerned that many young people from poorer backgrounds were not getting the necessary support.

“Thousands of young people are taking English and maths exams for more than the third time," he added. "Young people are five times more likely to pass their driving test at 17 than to catch up with their GCSEs … Our new data showing that thousands of young people are stuck in an endless cycle of resits tells us that there is a lot more work to do.”

Compulsory resit

As a result of the condition of funding that effectively makes resits compulsory for students with a grade 3 (or D under the old-style qualifications) in English or maths, the number of students aged 17 and over taking resits increased significantly. Last summer, there were some 327,000 entries from older students across the subjects.

In 2016, Justine Greening, who was education secretary at the time, acknowledged concerns about students repeatedly hitting a “brick wall” that they could not get over.

Students' mental health

David Corke, director of education and skills policy at the Association of Colleges, said that the assessment regime in school and the cycle of resit failure had an adverse impact on students’ mental health. “How can such continual testing across 13 years of education be seen as anything other than a punishment?” he asked. “Young people don’t come to college to resit tests, they come to learn technical skills that are assessed in a practical way. Let’s remove the D/4 grade [requirement] now and allow teachers to exercise their professional judgement.”

Last month, skills minister Anne Milton told Tes that she was “terribly aware” of the importance of young people getting a level 2 qualification in English and maths. “They don’t know maybe how important that is for their future opportunities that will open for them,” she said. “We’ve got to make sure that all young people get every opportunity to get a good pass at GCSE, or in functional skills. So we’re looking at the moment to see how we can improve it. I recognise that if you have failed to get that qualification, despite the fact you’ve had many years of education before that, something isn’t working well for you.”

This is an edited version of an article in the 17 August edition of Tes. Subscribers can read the full story here. To subscribe, click here. To download the digital edition, Android users can click here and iOS users can click hereTes magazine is available at all good newsagents

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Julia Belgutay

Julia Belgutay

Julia Belgutay is head of FE at Tes

Find me on Twitter @JBelgutay

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