FE providers should not be “let off the hook” over the high number of students failing to achieve good passes in GCSE English and maths resits, Ofsted’s Sir Michael Wilshaw has claimed.
After giving his final speech as chief inspector at the publication of this year’s Ofsted annual report, Sir Michael took the sector to task over pass rates.
Sir Michael also said that functional skills qualifications “could have a role to play” as an alternative to GCSEs, particularly for students who had achieved an E or F grade first time around.
In his keynote speech, the chief inspector said that too many colleges were "places that, instead of specialising, are still trying to do far too much. And the result is they are falling through too many gaps and failing too many young people."
"This is simply not good enough," he continued. "For half a century, the FE sector has been the Cinderella arm of the education service. The problem is this has somehow been acceptable. Is that because this is a sector that educates other people's children?... As a nation, we spend £7 billion on the further education sector. We can no longer afford to accept mediocrity on such a grand scale... There is a moral and economic case for radical, radical change."
When asked about GCSE resits afterwards, Sir Michael said: "We can't go on seeing two-thirds of youngsters who have just failed their GCSEs, got a D grade, continue to fail two years later. That's not acceptable... We can't let FE off the hook, actually, on this one. They've got two years to improve the performance. But they're not doing it."
The report points out that the requirement that students with a grade D in GCSE English or maths retake the qualification has “resulted in an increase of 156 per cent in the number of students studying GCSE English over the last three years”, with many failing to improve their grades. “Many colleges have struggled to recruit enough teachers in English or mathematics,” it adds. “While the policy’s intention to improve literacy and numeracy levels is well intentioned, the implementation of the policy is not having the desired impact in practice.”
The report continues: “It remains unclear whether the GCSE qualification is the best way of ensuring that students have the English and mathematical skills needed for their intended career. Inspection evidence shows that, for some students, having to retake their GCSE can be demotivating and that attendance at these lessons is lower.
“For many students, an alternative level 2 qualification may be a more appropriate means of improving their English and mathematics and ensuring that they are ready for work.”