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Schools should pay FE colleges a GCSE 'resit levy', thinktank says

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Colleges that take on students who have not already gained good GCSE passes in English and maths should be given additional funding by the secondary schools the students previously attended, according to Policy Exchange.

The thinktank is calling for schools to provide compensation to colleges in the form of a “resit levy” to support students who did not achieve a grade C or better in English and maths at their first attempt.

Research by Policy Exchange reveals that, in 2013, FE colleges took on five times as many students as schools who were resitting English, rising to six times the number retaking maths in schools.

Paper author Natasha Porter, Policy Exchange's deputy head of education, said: “It is unfair for some schools to pass the buck to FE colleges who are already facing extreme funding pressures to fix a problem they have not caused themselves. To recognise the additional burden on FE colleges and shoulder more responsibility, schools should cough up and pay a resit levy.”

Policy Exchange argues that schools should only be required to pay up in cases of a negative Progress 8 score, which would protect those schools with a less academically strong intake. The levy would also only apply in cases when students had attended a school for a minimum length of time.

The research also finds that students resitting at colleges were also more likely to receive below a D grade in both subjects.

The paper, Crossing the Line, says the burden has further increased since the introduction in 2013 of the government’s policy to compel 16-year-olds without a C or better in GCSE English or maths to resit the qualification.

As TES has reported, many colleges struggled to cope this summer, with some having to cut classes or close completely to accommodate the influx of students taking the exams.

Last week’s GCSE results revealed 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.

John Widdowson, president of the Association of Colleges, said that although such a levy would bring “welcome” additional funding to colleges, it would be easier if the government changed the national funding system.

“It is extremely disappointing, therefore, that government consistently refuses to place a protective funding ringfence around the education for 16- to 19-year-olds, leaving their education extremely vulnerable in the spending review, unlike the five- to 15-year-olds who are protected,” he added.

But Brian Lightman, general secretary of the Association of School and College Leaders, opposed the plans, which he said would represent an “own goal”.

“Schools are already facing real-terms cuts in their budgets and unprecedented difficulties in recruiting staff, particularly maths teachers,” he said. “A resit levy would potentially worsen this situation, further reducing their capacity to put in place the very provision that would enable them to meet the challenge of enabling more pupils to achieve these grades in maths and English GCSEs.”

A Department for Education spokesperson said: “Post-16 funding is already allocated on a per pupil basis, and we already provide an extra £480 per student, per subject for all those with GCSE English or maths below grade C.

“Numeracy and literacy are fundamental skills. If young people have not mastered them by 16, it is more likely they will be held back for the rest of their life. That is why we want all young people who do not achieve at least a GCSE C in English or maths to continue studying until they reach that standard. Post-16 schools and colleges are making very good progress in ensuring all young people have this opportunity.”

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