From education to employment

MEI calls for a new ‘aGCSE’ (adult GCSE) maths qualification for post-16 students

Maths stock pexels, young lady using a calculator at a desk

Maths education charity MEI makes the case for a new post-16 GCSE maths qualification to improve resit success rates and better prepare young people with the maths they need for work and life.

Annually, around 180,000 students fail to achieve a standard grade 4 pass in GCSE maths at age 16, most of whom retake the qualification in 16-18 education. Large numbers of these students fail to achieve the qualification by age 19; fewer than half of students with a grade 3 at age 16 and just one quarter of all students without a standard pass achieve this. This results in poor numeracy skills in the workforce and an adverse impact on life chances.

Addressing GCSE maths resit failure: A new approach argues for an ‘aGCSE’ (adult GCSE) maths qualification for post-16 students. The proposed qualification is designed to better meet the needs of post-16 resit students. The qualification:

  • Reflects the numeracy, quantitative and mathematical skills needed for work and life – a subset of GCSE foundation tier organised in applied themes, with additions such as financial applications and use of spreadsheets. 
  • Is of an equivalent standard to the current GCSE and incorporates the ‘GCSE’ name to ensure it is understood clearly by stakeholders including employers and students. 
  • Has a ‘stepping-stone’ assessment which can be taken before the final two papers to assess essential skills. 
  • Is limited to grades 1 to 5 in the same way as the foundation tier taken by nearly all resit students.

Addressing GCSE maths resit failure: A new approach makes an urgent case for change and sets out steps to bring the qualification to reality. Improving GCSE maths success rates will support the government’s missions to kickstart economic growth and break down barriers to opportunity. We are calling on the government to take these proposals forward in its review of the 16 to 18 curriculum.

These proposals build on previous work funded by the Nuffield Foundation to develop an alternative GCSE-level curriculum for maths resit students with input from a range of stakeholders. The original project report, draft curriculum, exemplar examination papers and example teaching resources are available online

Charlie Stripp, Chief Executive of MEI said:

“Success rates for students retaking GCSE maths remain unacceptably low, with large numbers of students who are capable of achieving the qualification failing to do so. There is an urgent need for a revised qualification for post-16 students – a rigorous GCSE that is more relevant to young adults and which prepares them with the maths they need for the future.

MEI has demonstrated the feasibility of such an approach, but taking these proposals forward requires government support.”

Josh Hillman, Director of Education at the Nuffield Foundation, said:

This proposed new qualification is grounded in evidence and could offer a better pathway to gaining a GCSE in maths for students who need to resit, rather than retaking with poor chances of success.

Eddie Playfair, Senior Policy Manager at the Association of Colleges said:

“This new post-16 GCSE proposed by MEI is a welcome and constructive response to the GCSE maths retake challenge, which is such a major issue in the college sector. It has the potential to motivate students and raise achievement. Colleges work hard to develop the skills and confidence of the large number of students who have not yet achieved a grade 4 by the age of 16. This proposed GCSE provides a really useful ‘essential maths’ stepping stone assessment which is more likely to engage and motivate students and give them an experience of success which they can build on as they work towards achieving a grade 4.”

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