From education to employment

It’s the learners who are at the forefront of campaign #FullyFunctional

Stewart Foster, Managing Director of NCFE

In May, the Education Policy Institute (EPI) launched its report which explored the trends and implications of 16-19 education funding.

Within the report, it was revealed that Education for 16 to 19-year olds has experienced the sharpest cuts to real funding over the last decade, especially in the further education sector.

The report calculated that funding per student fell by 16 per cent in real terms between 2010/11 and 2018/19, this is twice the rate (eight per cent) at which all school spending fell from 2009/2010 to 2017/18.

Not only has funding for the sector decreased, but so has the amount of guided learning hours for 16-19 students.

Learning hours have reduced by nine per cent between 2012/2013 and 2016/17, falling from 730 hours to 665 hours per student. More strikingly, although overall learning hours per student decreased, GCSE-level study has increased.

English and maths GCSE resit policy

Whilst analysing this data, the EPI suggested that this correlation is likely to be a result of the Government’s English and maths GCSE resit policy.

In May, the NCFE very aptly launched campaign #FullyFunctional, which calls on the Government to allow learners who achieve Grade 3 in their English and maths GCSE (equivalent to Grade D in the old system) to be given the opportunity to study alternative qualifications such as Functional Skills if they fail their English and maths resits once.

Through #FullyFunctional, we want to see further parity of esteem in the funding system by asking the Government to provide funding for learners who fail to achieve higher than a Grade 3 to sit alternative qualifications if they fail to obtain a Grade 3 in their first resit, rather than re-sitting GCSE exams until they pass. By doing this, we are enabling learners to make the right choice for them individually and achieve successful outcomes so they can continue with work or study.

Learners are resitting these exams within their respective colleges and teachers in the colleges are expected to help learners prepare for GCSE resits in English and maths. Not only is this placing unnecessary stress on learners, but without appropriate funding in place, learners are potentially exposed to a negative cycle of examinations that are detrimental to their confidence and mental wellbeing.

In some cases, we’ve seen learners taking the exam up to nine times in order to pass.

This cannot continue.

More alternative and equivalent options

Alternative qualifications, such as Functional Skills, enable learners to study the core elements of English and maths but in a more practical sense with a strong emphasis on problem-solving. It allows students to learn in a way that may be more suited to them compared to the traditional GCSE route.

What we’re asking for isn’t a complete policy re-write. The current policy allows learners who achieve Grade 2 or below the opportunity to study alternative qualifications, without having to resit their GCSEs, but those who achieve Grade 3 cannot – leaving them at a disadvantage. Is that fair?

We are asking for more access to GCSE alternatives for learners if they are unable to achieve a Grade 3 or higher after they resit their English and maths GCSE exams.

Many students often find themselves unable to move forward and progress without achieving a GCSE Grade C – a benchmark that has been widely adopted by HE, FE and employers.

If there were more alternative and equivalent options for learners, we’d see drastic improvements in our students pass rates and, just as importantly, their wellbeing.

In education, we fully accept that a one size fits all approach is not appropriate and we strongly believe that learners would benefit from the opportunity to study Functional Skills during their time at college.

We urge the Government to consider funding this as a viable option for learners while removing the pressure on colleges to teach GCSE resits without the adequate funding to do so, which restricts the amount of time they can spend on alternative learning hours.

#FullyFunctional calls on the Government to address this issue and offer learners the opportunity to study in a way that suits them.

Learners are at the heart of everything we do at NCFE and we want to ensure that every young person has the ability to reach their goals and aspirations in life.

Stewart Foster, Managing Director of NCFE

Related Articles