Sixth Sense...sixth time lucky?
At the end of July, Ofqual joined the debate surrounding the mandatory GCSE resits in FE colleges for students who only achieve a D grade at the end of KS4. The TES covered the story.
What happens to students who do not get the Willy Wonka golden ticket of a GCSE C grade in maths? The Wolf Report (March 2011) stated that students should continue with GCSE maths and English if they did not achieve an A* to C grade. This was made a condition of a college’s funding, so now every student with a D grade must resit GCSE. However, 40% of students do not achieve a C grade at Secondary School and 90% of these still do not achieve it by the age of 19. That’s a shocking statistic, and a bleak prognosis for the students concerned.
This picture is from City College, Norwich, tweeted by the Deputy Principal Jerry White. It exemplifies the magnitude of the issue, and this is what’s happening in a large FE college near you. 900 students sat a GCSE maths mock last February. There were another 200 back at college with extra time, readers etc. Calculators, rulers, protractors were all bought by the Deputy Principal.
So what are the main challenges? Students who do not achieve a C grade (after 11 years of learning maths) do not want to resit it: that’s not why they came to college. They are disgruntled, and some can be “aggressively obstinate”, as one tutor at Epping Forest College put it. Many don’t attend the classes without a lot of coaxing and cajoling. But they deserve some sympathy: there is evidence of some students having sat the maths GCSE 10 times! They’ve sat every exam board in every sitting in Y10 and Y11; some schools were entering pupils in Y8 and 9 – at least Mr Gove put paid to that. Students who can’t see the value – the necessity – of GCSE Maths at grade C or above are a challenge to teach, and there’s now a lot more of them. So colleges need a lot more teachers, but …
… teacher recruitment is very hard nationally. FE is often not the first career choice of a newly qualified maths teacher – there should be research as to why this is the case – so vocational staff are stepping up to the plate, sometimes with little choice. But the budget for CPD is wafer-thin in most FE colleges (and there is no cover available), so these volunteers (or conscripts) are not getting the training and support they need. No doubt you are an excellent maths teacher, but could you start teaching Hair and Beauty or Plumbing next week with no training?
There has recently been some response to this from central government. The Education and Training Foundation (ETF) funded a range of CPD opportunities (including webinars - recordings of these are here, click the GCSE Pipeline Webinars dropdown, and the recordings are embedded in the text) for out-of-field maths teachers in FE colleges, and also strategies for improving recruitment of FE maths teachers – but these programmes are fixed term and short-lived. A recent study by ACER (Association of Colleges in the Eastern Region) on behalf of the ETF and the DfE culminated in a blog and a valuable free resource guide.
The Wolf Progress Report (February 2015) predicted that 16 600 more students would be re-sitting GCSE maths in June 2015. This number will increase further with the raising of the participation age to 18 from this coming September, far outstripping any likely increases of CPD provision and teacher recruitment. It's an enormous challenge. Let us know the ideas that you and your college are developing in response either at the bottom of the page, by email to firstname.lastname@example.org, or @NCETMsecondary on Twitter.
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