Thousands of students drop English and maths after GCSE

11 Oct 2013 12:50 PM

New statistics show the number of college and sixth-form students who stop taking English and maths after GCSE.

New figures published yesterday expose for the first time the colleges and school sixth forms who have allowed tens of thousands of young people to drop English and maths - even though they had only just missed out on vital C grades in these key subjects at secondary school.

The statistics underline why the government has insisted that all post-16 education providers must teach English and maths to young people who failed to achieve C grades in their GCSEs.

The Department for Education introduced the key reform this term so that thousands more young people have the chance to leave school, college or training with a good grasp of English and maths.

From now on, all pupils who fail to have achieved a C grade or better in English or maths GCSE by the time they finish secondary school must continue to study the subjects in post-16 education until they get these qualifications.

Figures published yesterday show for the first time that colleges and other post-16 education providers have previously allowed a huge number of students to drop the subjects after GCSE - including tens of thousands who had only just missed out on getting a C grade.

They reveal that:

  • almost three-quarters of students who achieved a D in their English GCSE at secondary school (73%, or 71,000 young people) did not enter the exam in post-16 education
  • two-thirds of students who achieved a D grade in their maths GCSE at secondary school (66%, or 54,000 young people) did not enter the exam in post-16 education

This is in spite of employers who say that a C grade in these key subjects hugely improves young people’s job prospects.

In the 2013 CBI skills survey, just under a third of employers said they were dissatisfied with school and college leavers’ basic literacy and numeracy (32% and 31% respectively). Almost half of firms (48%) said they laid on basic remedial training for employees, up from 42% last year.

The statistics also follow this week’s international survey of adult skills from the OECD which showed the low standard of literacy and numeracy among 16- to 24-year-olds in England compared to their peers in other developed countries.


Of 222,117 young people (34%) who failed to achieve a C in their GCSE by age 16 in 2010:

  • 92% failed to achieve a grade C by the time they were 18 in 2012
  • 85% did not even take English GCSE in their post-16 education


Of 244,231 young people (37%) who failed to achieve a C in their GCSE by age 16 in 2010:

  • 93% failed to achieve a grade C by the time they were 18 in 2012
  • 83% did not even take maths GCSE in their post-16 education

Schools Minister David Laws said:

English and maths are what employers demand before all other subjects - if young people want to get on in life, they must be able to show they have good literacy and numeracy.

Colleges and sixth forms should be clear with their students that these are essential subjects and must be continued.

But these figures expose the vast number of young people allowed to give up these subjects after so nearly achieving the level employers demand.

With just a bit more teaching, these students could have achieved the grades that would make all the difference to their job prospects.

The post-16 English and maths reform was proposed in 2011 by Professor Alison Wolf in her ground-breaking review of vocational education, and backed by Education Secretary Michael Gove.

She also recommended that the Department for Education publish statistics showing the percentage of young people each college or school helps achieve a C or better in English and in maths.

She said:

Good English and maths grades are fundamental to young people’s employment and education prospects. Individuals with very low literacy and numeracy are severely disadvantaged in the labour market.

Notes to editors

  1. Download the government’s response to Professor Alison Wolf’s report.
  2. Download Professor Wolf’s review.
  3. Professor Wolf is the Sir Roy Griffiths Professor of Public Sector Management at King’s College London, and specialises in the relationship between education and the labour market. She has a particular interest in training and skills policy, universities, and the medical workforce. The latter is particularly appropriate to the chair she holds, established in memory of an influential government adviser on medical management. She has been a specialist adviser to the select committee on education and skills and is the council member for the UK on the Council of the United Nations University.