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'A step in the right direction': FE sector responds to GCSE resits U-turn

The change in policy means that students with a new grade 4 will not have to resit GCSE English and maths

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The change in policy means that students with a new grade 4 will not have to resit GCSE English and maths

The FE sector has responded to the news that students who achieve a grade 4 in their English and maths GCSEs will not be required to take resits.

Under the new GCSE grading system, a grade 4 will now be known as a “standard pass”, and will be the minumum grade that a student will need in order to avoid resitting their exams.

Speaking today, education secretary Justine Greening said a grade 4 will be “the level that pupils must achieve in order not to be required to continue studying English and maths post-16”. A grade 5 will now be known as a “strong pass”, replacing the current grade C, which is known as a “good” pass.

The FE sector has responded positively to the news. Mark Dawe, chief executive of the Association of Employment and Learning Providers (AELP), said that the move was a “step in the right direction”, while Catherine Sezen, senior policy manager at the Association of Colleges (AoC), said it was useful to "finally have clarity over the difference between a [level] 4 and 5".

Shadow FE and skills minister Gordon Marsden said Ms Greening deserved credit for recognising the pressure that resits put on many learners.

“But there needs to be a far more ambitious catalyst if young people are to get the functional skills they are being denied,” he added.

Reactions from the sector

Stephen Evans, chief executive, Learning and Work Institute

It's right that we should make sure people get the English and maths skills they need for life and work. We know that the current resits policy isn’t working for learners or providers, so today’s statement by the secretary of state is a positive step. However, GCSE won't be the right route for all learners – functional skills has a key role, too. 

“And there's much to do to make sure employers and the public understand the new GCSE grading system. Ultimately, we shouldn't lower the bar, nor have constant resits that often produce the same result: we need to maintain a high ambition for English and maths skills, and have tailored approaches that work for everyone."

Catherine Sezen, senior policy manager, Associaion of Colleges

“It is useful to finally have clarity over the difference between a 4 and 5. This will give guidance to colleges on entry requirements and GCSE resit policy, and to universities and employers for their entry and job role requirements. However, we have concerns that some organisations and companies could look to raise this to a grade 5 'strong pass' to show their rigour.”

@tesfenews Good decision by SoS to ease into new grades. Time will tell whether it sticks when universities & employers see students' skills

— David Hughes (@AoCDavidH) March 28, 2017

Mark Dawe, chief executive, AELP

“The secretary of state’s announcement is a step in the right direction, but it doesn’t really solve the problems that the resits policy has generated, including acting as a barrier to social mobility. The new chief inspector for Ofsted has quite rightly joined many stakeholders in the FE and skills sector and employers in raising the possibility of the policy being abandoned altogether, and we feel that Ms Greening could have responded to this challenge more positively. Young people without good grades should be encouraged to carry on learning the core subjects but with the option of doing so via functional skills.”

Malcolm Trobe, interim general secretary, Association of School and College Leaders

“We are pleased that the Department for Education has decided to use new descriptions about the value of grade 4 and grade 5 in the new system. Previously, it had referred to grade 5 as a 'good pass' and we felt that this devalued the achievement of a grade 4. Its new terminology is a sensible measure and we are pleased that the secretary of state has listened to our representations.

 “It is also helpful that the DfE has decided to report on both grade 4 and grade 5 in the school performance tables. Schools share the government’s ambition to raise standards further. However, it is not realistic or fair to arbitrarily raise the bar to the new grade 5. The inclusion of grade 4 in the performance tables helps to provide a more balanced and complete picture.

 “We are also pleased that the DfE has now indicated that grade 4 will remain the level that pupils must achieve in order not to be required to retake English and maths post-16. Previous guidance had indicated that it would move to grade 5 after 2019 and we did not think this was fair or consistent. This change is therefore a positive step forward.”

Bill Watkin, chief executive, Sixth Form Colleges' Association

@tesfenews this is helpful & resolves need for colls to provide grade 4 to 5 resit opportunities. Now need effective functional skills offer

— Bill Watkin (@billwatkin) March 28, 2017

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