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Fighting for a level playfield in English and maths

At NCFE, we understand that every learner is different and that it’s important for learners to have access to qualifications which suit their varying needs.

Under current guidelines in schools, English and maths GCSE learners are subject to a compulsory re-sit if they achieve a grade 3 (or D under the old-style qualifications). This is proving problematic and leading, in some cases, to learners taking the exam up to 9 nine times in order to pass. Sector leaders within further education have called for more flexibility in the way that English and maths qualifications are awarded and resits carried out, as various research papers and independent studies have shown that in fact many students obtain lower grades in re-sits than they did first taking the exams. Continual assessment in this way can also prove to be not only impractical but also inaccessible to learners, meaning at times, they’ll be unable to re-sit and therefore left without these fundamental qualifications. Add to this the psychological impact on learner confidence and self-esteem from subsequent attempts failing to improve results, it becomes clear that it really is time to look at what else we can do to ensure that young people achieve these skills in a different way.

Technical alternatives for those learners who don’t want to choose traditional academic routes are becoming more important than ever and we believe that NCFE is fantastically placed to help learners get the most from technical learning.

We’d like to see more access to GCSE and A Level alternatives and a shift from the current situation in which many learners find themselves with an inability to progress and move on without achieving the GCSE grade C benchmark widely adopted by HE, FE and employers. These barriers to progression are often unnecessary and if there were more alternative and equivalent options for learners, we’d see improvements in learner wellbeing and pass rates.

We’ve seen the impact in recent years on the early years sector when Functional Skills qualifications were removed as an alternative qualification to GCSE for those wanting to undertake the Level 3 Early Years Educator. This led to huge upheaval in the sector, a shortage in qualified practitioners and many learners unable to progress into their chosen profession. The Save Our Early Years Campaign, led by CACHE, was set up and supported by thousands of childcare organisations, concerned parents and educators from across the country calling for one thing: a level playing field so that Functional Skills was accepted as an equivalent to GCSEs in meeting the requirements for Level 3 Early Years Educators. Thanks to their hard work, Government policy was changed and Functional Skills reinstated but the upheaval could have been avoided if attitudes to technical alternatives were different in the first place.

We are doing all we can to shift perception and champion the importance of technical alternatives and vocational education full stop. 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.


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