Re sits change is a U-turn on ambition

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Ripples of relief will have been running through FE colleges across the country today.

Hot on the heels of Tuesday’s DfE announcement that the low grade 4 will count as a ‘good enough’ maths & English GCSE pass to not require resits, came Wednesday’s unconfirmed story that no-one will have to retake GCSEs at all whatever their grade. Instead they will be allowed to study an equivalent Level 2 qualification in these subjects – Functional Skills.

Students who attained a D in English or maths have been required to retake GCSEs since 2015. Results have been dire – our Life After School report released this month showed that only 12% who fail to attain an A*-C in English and maths at 16 go on to do so by 19. So, no wonder colleges, school sixth forms and sixth form colleges are breathing a collective sigh of relief. They’ve been calling for this U-turn, and will be relieved to have the difficult task of getting students through these exams without being properly resourced has been taken off their plate.

But is this about turn good news for the young people that education policy is meant to serve?

We don’t believe it is, which is why we urged government to stick to its policy. GCSEs (not just any Level 2s) are the entry requirement for many A-level courses as well as for future job opportunities. We are still without data on whether Functional skills lead to higher level education or work. To say that even those students who narrowly miss out on a C shouldn’t be helped to achieve the ‘gold standard’ qualification is giving up too easily on young people’s potential.

And for those who argue that at least this will save young people from banging their heads against the wall of exam failure again, it’s really not so simple. Young people without a ‘standard’ pass will be required to continue studying Functional Skills – and that’s still a mountain to climb for colleges. Even including Functional Skills only 22% caught up in English & maths last year. Removing the GCSE requirement doesn’t clear their path to success.

What it risks is the creation of a two-tier system in re-sits based not on ability, but on background. As an organisation focussed on helping young people from disadvantaged backgrounds succeed in education, we think about what particular effect the government’s rumoured volte face may have on them. Under the current policy, if they just missed out on a good pass, a student from a disadvantaged background was expected to have another go at the gold standard GCSE. If this U-turn comes to pass, they’ll be able to go straight for Functional Skills. Meanwhile, what do we think the parents of their better-off peers will push their kids to choose? Our guess is they’ll go for the qualification employers both recognise and require.

We await the full details of the announcement but as it stands it seems that the government would rather lower its standards and ambitions for young people instead of fund them properly. We’d love to be proved wrong.

Impetus − The Private Equity Foundation
About The Author
Jenny North is Director of Policy and Strategy at Impetus-PEF. Jenny joined Impetus-PEF from Relate, where she served as Head of Public Policy for six years. Prior to this she held policy positions with Maternity Alliance and New Policy Institute. Her experience also includes working at the Home Office as a Crime and Policing Analyst. Jenny holds a degree in Philosophy and Theology from Oxford University. Follow Jenny on Twitter: @JayEeeEnn

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