GCSE English and maths post-16 re-sits under scrutiny as only one in five students pass

Written by: Chris Parr | Published:
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Evidence suggests that compulsory re-sits for pupils who fail to achieve a grade 4 “standard pass” in GCSE maths and English are ineffective, and an alternative assessment system is required.

This is according to the interim findings of the Forgotten Third commission, set up by the Association of School and College Leaders (ASCL) to investigate English teaching within the UK school system. It found what it calls “strong emerging evidence ... that the compulsory re-sitting of GCSE English (and mathematics) is not working – and indeed is a significant waste of student potential and teachers’ resources”.

Some 187,000 pupils did not achieve a standard pass in both English and maths last year with disadvantaged pupils disproportionately affected.

The report says there is a “fundamental matter here of common dignity, and what perceived failure does for the self-worth of so many young people”.

Roy Blatchford, chair of the commission, told SecEd that only one in five of the students forced to re-sit the exams would pass second time: “I think everybody would like a different solution,” he said. “You can’t simply say to a third of people coming through that they won’t have any recognition of their English and maths achievements at the age of 16.”

The findings were released at ASCL’s annual conference in Birmingham last week. In his address to delegates at the event, general secretary Geoff Barton said it was wrong that “so many young people emerge without qualifications which are viewed as a passport to further study and future employment”. He added: “We do this in the name of rigour apparently. But are we in fact judging the success of the majority by the perceived failure of the minority?”

He said that the GCSE system more generally was “buckling under the weight of expectations”.

“We’ve ended up with a system in which the average 16-year-old is sitting more than 30 hours of exams. How can that possibly be necessary, given the GCSE should chiefly be there to help a young person make the right choice in post-16 progression?”

Elsewhere, the commission’s report questions whether the current English language GCSE is fit-for-purpose, saying that it does not adequately assess everyday skills and competency in English.

A spokesman for the Department for Education said: “We have reformed GCSEs to equip pupils with the knowledge and skills they need to prepare for their future. These new GCSEs are regulated by the independent qualifications regulator Ofqual to ensure their rigour and quality.

“To support teachers and provide stability, the education secretary has committed there would be no further changes to the national curriculum and no more reform of GCSEs beyond changes already announced for the rest of this Parliament.”

The commission’s final report is due to be published in June.


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