Labour to 'guarantee' C in English and maths

11th March 2011 at 00:00
GCSE pledge part of `major rethink' on education

Labour's new education team will announce an "English and maths guarantee" tomorrow that will aim for every child to leave school with a grade C or above in their GCSEs in the subjects.

The guarantee forms part of a wide-ranging policy review, to be launched by shadow education secretary Andy Burnham tomorrow at the Association of School and College Leaders (ASCL) in Manchester.

It is being branded the first major rethink of Labour education policy for 15 years and is expected to re- examine the 2004 Tomlinson report as a means of addressing the divide between academic and vocational subjects.

But the review's emphasis will be on ensuring every young person leaves school with a good understanding of the "foundations" of reading, writing and arithmetic.

The policy targets the Coalition's controversial English Baccalaureate, which demands that pupils achieve GCSEs or IGCSEs of at least grade C in English, two sciences, maths, history or geography and a language.

Instead, the English and maths guarantee will call for at least grade C in the two subjects, but will allow students the freedom to choose from a range of other subjects.

As part of the policy, children who are falling behind, as well as those who need "extra help to excel", will be given one-to-one and small-group tuition.

Just 49 per cent of pupils achieve a grade C in English and maths, but Mr Burnham told The TES that, with more "focus and rigour", it should be possible to see 100 per cent of pupils hit the benchmark.

"I want to be realistic, but I want to see everybody leave school with at least a grade C in English and maths," he said.

"This will prepare kids in the broadest possible terms for the world at work. It says you can choose whatever subjects you like, but you have to leave school with the foundations that English and maths provide."

Mr Burnham added that many schools, parents and headteachers were "desperately" worried that the EBac was "setting up kids and schools to fail", and added that he expected the Government to stage another U-turn on the measure.

Mr Burnham's comments come ahead of a statement from ASCL general secretary Brian Lightman and employers' organisation CBI, which warned the Government that the EBac could hold back the most able students.

Commenting on Labour's policy review, Mr Lightman said: "There is a universal agreement that everybody by the end of education should have a solid grounding in English and maths.

"But I don't think a GCSE grade C is the measure for every pupil. What we should be doing is defining numeracy and literacy as what pupils need."

POLICY REVIEW - On the panel

Labour's policy review will be led by a range of educationalists, who have taken on the task on a non-partisan basis. Among the group is TV psychologist Tanya Byron (pictured); Pearson UK president Rod Bristow; Professor Les Ebdon, vice-chancellor of Bedfordshire University; and Ashish Shah, secondary school maths teacher and Teach First ambassador.

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