Labour vows to scrap GCSE resits policy

Shadow education secretary Angela Rayner pledges to ditch controversial GCSE English and maths condition of funding

Angela Rayner has warned the teacher recruitment crisis is linked to cuts

A future Labour government would scrap the controversial compulsory GCSE English and maths resits policy, the shadow education secretary has said.

Angela Rayner will tell the Association of Colleges’ (AoC) Annual Conference in Birmingham that the party would, if elected, end the maths and English condition of funding.

It currently requires full-time students with a grade 3 (or a D in the old-style GCSEs) in maths or English to resit the qualification if they want to study at a school or college.

Labour proposes that students should be able to study other level 2 qualifications in English in maths, such as functional skills, instead of GCSEs.

Speaking to Tes before her speech, she said: "One of the things we’re prioritising is that young people have those functional skills and are able to gain access to ongoing education. It’s a big part of our National Education Service.

'Breaking down barriers'

"For me, the resits, and the funding linked to [them], seem to me a barrier rather than [being] about a culture of people enjoying their learning experience and gaining as an individual. We want to break down those barriers."

She added that her son had been forced to retake GCSE maths at college while studying a mechanics course.

"The frustration for me is there are thousands of students being forced down a route of education that is going to disadvantage them for the rest of their lives.

"Instead of empowering them for the love of learning, they are going to be feeling like they are failures because they are having to take exams that are really not going to make any difference to them at a future date."  

'We have listened and we have heard'

Ms Rayner was due to tell the conference: “Bodies from across the sector, including the AoC, have raised concerns about students in both the 16 to 18 and 19 to 25 age ranges who are being forced to resit English and maths GCSEs over and over again due to ESFA [Education and Skills Funding Agency] funding requirements, even where other equivalent qualifications are available.

“So I can announce today that we have listened and we have heard. A Labour government would end that requirement.” 

In August, Tes reported on research by Impetus PEF which found that some students have taken their GCSEs nine times in these subjects.

The move by Labour was praised by Geoff Barton, general secretary of the Association of School and College Leaders.

“We welcome Labour’s commitment to end the remorseless cycle of GCSE English and maths retakes which the government has forced on further education," he said. "It’s absolutely right that students should be able to retake these important qualifications if they choose to do so.

"But there is no point in compelling large numbers of students to keep resitting qualifications with diminishing results. It is demoralising for both them and their teachers and puts an intolerable strain on scarce resources.

“Literacy and numeracy are crucial skills, and we fully support their provision in post-16 education, but these subjects can be provided through high-quality functional skills programmes and not only by GCSEs. Students must be able to choose appropriate courses which improve their confidence in these subjects, give them a tangible record of attainment and which do not reinforce a sense of failure.”

'Flexibility' for colleges

Julian Gravatt, deputy chief executive of the Association of Colleges, said: “It’s vital that every young person leaves education with strong foundations in these subjects– they are the basis for success in work and in life.

"Colleges have long called for flexibility in how to support learners to achieve this. A one-size-fits-all approach has not worked and does not work. Colleges know their students and what works best for them. The Association of Colleges welcomes Labour’s announcement today that in government they would offer colleges this flexibility."

The shadow education secretary will also commit to reforming the Institute for Apprenticeships, placing at least one apprentice or FE student representative on the board of the institute, requiring it to report annually on the quality of apprenticeships, and ensuring that its aims explicitly include widening access and participation.

She will also make clear that FE would have representation at the Office for Students for higher education, following the government’s failure to appoint anyone from a FE background to the body's board.

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