Issue 131 - 2024 Summer term
With new rules on maths and English GCSE resits causing consternation in the sector, Kevin Gilmartin looks at exactly what the rules are saying and how this policy might land.

New resits rules

Kevin Gilmartin
ASCL Post-16 and Colleges Specialist
In 2014, the government introduced the condition of funding, which meant that schools and colleges with 16–19 year-olds without a grade 4 in English and maths (approximately a third of all Year 11 students) would lose their entire student funding unless they enrolled the student on a resit GCSE or appropriate functional skills qualification. But now the government is introducing even stricter rules, believing that “achieving a Level 2 qualification in both maths and English helps students to progress to further study, training and skilled employment”.

What are the new rules?
Presently, schools and colleges can put on as many hours as they like for these classes. They might typically timetable two or three hours per week, perhaps even four. But crucially this decision is up to them. The new policy stipulates though that students must study eligible qualifications for a minimum number of hours. For full-time students this is three hours per week for English and four hours for maths.

And it isn’t just the minimum hours that are being mandated. While providers presently make their own decisions on how classes are taught (for example, face-to-face, online, self-study packages), the new rules stipulate that classes should be “stand-alone, whole-class, in-person teaching, with any additional support, such as small group tuition or online support, supplementary to these minimum classroom hours”.

Why are these new rules being introduced?
The push for all 16–18 year-olds to study some maths and English is a cornerstone of Prime Minister Rishi Sunak’s Advanced British Standard. The government argues that the minimum classroom teaching hours reflect the “established practice noted across institutions pre-pandemic”, in effect saying that many schools and colleges are now getting away with teaching fewer hours than they used to, to save costs.

The 5% tolerance rule
Currently, there’s some tolerance for schools and colleges, that is, where greater than 5% of total 16–19 students are not meeting the condition of funding rule, funding is only removed for each student above the tolerance level at half the national funding rate. This tolerance is going. For 2024/25, the minimum hours rule will only be an “expectation” (so not a requirement), but tolerance will be reduced to 2.5% in the academic year 2025/26 and will then be scrapped altogether in 2026/27.

Can the policy work?
The sector has been very scathing of the policy, as has ASCL. The two main reasons for this are around teachers and students.

Presently approximately 200,000 students resit a GCSE or functional skills in English and/or maths. So, hundreds of extra teaching hours and many more maths and English teachers will be needed. We are all aware of the recruitment and retention problems, particularly in maths, and there are seemingly no policies to address this extra demand.

On the student side, forcing students to have to resit maths and English is one of the most difficult jobs in post-16 teaching. Students rarely want to study for something that they have already been deemed a failure in, and resit pass rates are typically only about 30%. Quite what students might make of a post-16 timetable that forces seven hours of maths and English on them, looks ominous. In many cases, this could be nearly half of a student’s whole programme. Teachers and leaders are already expecting high absence rates and low motivation.

For special educational needs and disabilities (SEND) learners, the situation is arguably even more problematic. In a survey by the Association of National Specialist Colleges (Natspec), an overwhelming majority of SEND providers (91%) have condemned the “dictated hours”. SEND students and/or students with disabilities/education, health and care plans (EHCPs) can be made exempt from the condition. However, there are no blanket exemptions so these students must be individually assessed before being declared as exempt. Again, leaders are predicting increased dropouts with less time available to develop vital social and vocational skills for these most vulnerable learners.

May common sense prevail
ASCL has consistently argued for an end to the demoralising resit policy, which “rubs students’ noses in their own disappointment”, and has called instead for a competency-based, passport-style qualification in literacy and numeracy. It seems as if the government has turned a deaf ear to this and to the reality of the implications of this new resit policy. The policy seems unlikely to work. ASCL is ready and waiting to work with any government willing to develop a more pragmatic, sensible policy.

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