The UK Government legislated that from September 2013 all young people who did not achieve a grade C in Mathematics and English General Certificate of Secondary Education had to continue studying in these subjects post-16.
For some students, attaining the required GCSE grades may have required them to go through Functional Skills qualifications, or through Foundation and Higher Free Standing Mathematics Qualifications as a progressive stepping stone.
Changes to the funding policy for 16-19 year old students in state-funded schools and colleges are likely to have had an impact on enrolments in these centres, and particularly for qualifications such as GCSEs in English and Mathematics. The 2015/16 academic year was the first in which it became a condition of colleges’ funding that students who had previously achieved a grade D in English or Mathematics should retake the qualification. As a result, the overall number of students aged 17 or over increased.
In April 2017, the Education and Skills Funding Agency confirmed the condition of funding for post-16 centres in the 2017/18 academic year would make resits compulsory for students who obtained a grade 3 or D in either English or Mathematics. The funding regulations also stated that all 16-18 year old students with a near pass in these subjects have to continue studying and then resit the GCSE, rather than take an alternative stepping stone qualification such as Functional Skills (for those with grades lower than a D or 3 the option to study an alternative qualification is still available).
The research by Cambridge Assessment set out to investigate whether the GCSE grades in English and maths would be better or worse in the first attempt or resit, what types of students were more likely to improve if they resat the qualification, and how does taking GCSE English and/or GCSE Mathematics affect students’ performance in Level 3 (A level and equivalent) qualifications?
The conclusion to the research showed out of the 72,995 students who sat GCSE English and the 67,759 students who sat GCSE Mathematics, the majority of students taking English and Mathematics GCSEs during their KS5 years had not achieved a good grade (A*-C) by the end of KS4. The data also showed that 53% of students taking GCSE English and 60% of those taking GCSE Mathematics did not improve their grade, despite one or more attempts. Many of them obtained lower grades than the first time they took the exams.
Students most likely to improve from a resit in their GCSEs were those with high prior attainment as opposed to those with low prior attainment. This finding supports research showing students from disadvantaged backgrounds (who usually have low prior attainment) are more likely to leave education at age 19 without achieving a good grade in English and/or Maths, than students from more affluent backgrounds.
Finally, the research showed students’ performance in AS/A level qualifications was lower for candidates with resits than for those without resits.
For a full reading of the Cambridge Assessment, please click here.