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Pressure on colleges mounts as booming number of students resit GCSE maths and English

Tens of thousands more students will be retaking their English and maths GCSEs in the 2023-24 academic year, data from the Association of Colleges reveals.

Around 91% of colleges responding to an AoC survey said they have seen a significant increase in their English and maths retake numbers over last year. Since 2014, under-18s in England have to retake GCSE English and maths if they did not get at least a grade 4.

AoC estimates that the growth in the total number of students needing to retake English and/or maths is over 60,000 overall – with more growth in English than in maths.

English GCSE enrolments have increased by around 22,500 (+35%), and maths GCSE enrolments have increased by around 22,300 (+30%).

The increase is due to both a larger cohort of 16 and 17-year-olds this year, and lower GCSE grade 4+ pass rates this summer.

This is putting pressure on colleges across the country, as they try to cope with the extra demand despite limited resources. As a result, students are being taught in larger groups, and colleges are having to rehire retired teachers, agency staff and share staff with other colleges.

Colleges are also having to hire external venues to host the exams, as well as bringing in additional invigilators to meet the rising number of additional needs.

AoC estimates the cost of this to be roughly £24m per year, including £21m for additional teaching time and an additional £3m in exam registration fees. In his party conference speech, prime minister Rishi Sunak promised additional funding for English and maths resits, and while this is welcome for many colleges, the challenge remains for this year.

The greatest challenge is the availability of English and maths teachers, a problem that requires more than additional funding to resolve in the short term.

Catherine Sezen, head of education policy at Association of Colleges, said:

“Rising demographics in student numbers means that this will continue to be an issue until at least 2030. We therefore need a plan of sustained support from the government to help colleges to deliver quality maths and English teaching and learning to those required to resit GCSE maths and/or English. This includes funding to help with entry fees, staffing, accommodation, and teaching time.

“In order to accommodate the extra students, some colleges are having to rehire retired teachers, employ agency staff, reply on non-specialist staff to teach lessons and share staff with other colleges, which in turn is causing further strain on college budgets.

“The decades of underfunding and under resourcing means that, despite recent funding boosts from the government, college finances are still under extreme pressure, and some do not have the funding or staffing levels to cope with the increased numbers of students needed to resit.

“The GCSE resit policy is not sustainable as it currently operates, and it is time that with the sector, the government reviews the qualifications on offer and route for students who don’t get a grade 4 in GCSE English and maths at secondary school.”

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