Tuesday, 25 October 2016

GCSE is not a 'one size fits all' qualification

During the #ukfechat conference, ‘Local Heroes’ at BSix College on Saturday 22nd October, talk turned to GCSE Maths and English.

Achieving a C or 4/5/6 as it will soon be known, is a serious issue. Paul Joyce, Deputy Director of FE and Skills for Ofsted, spoke eloquently at the conference and in a piece for the TES. At the end of the conference, we had an open session and I also spoke on the subject.

It is right, absolutely right, that we continue to raise standards of Maths and English attainment, they are essential skills for work and life, helping to prevent people from financial fraud, choosing the wrong deal and dealing with the increasing levels of information exchange we now face. Not for one second am I advocating a lesser or weaker qualification for Maths and English nor the abolition of the GCSE which is the right qualification for those who are not embarking on a vocational future.

However, GCSE Maths and English is not the right qualification for everyone.

The recent changes to Applied General and Tech Level qualifications, and the changes from QCF to NQF offered a missed opportunity to embed units focused on Maths and English. These units should be at equivalent level to a C or 4/5/6 and the students should pass them in order to demonstrate their mastery of Maths and English in their preferred subject and be mandatory in their main qualification.

Students who are unsure about Maths and English, who do not relate to specific Maths and English teaching are more motivated in their chosen subject to achieve, and find that using Maths and English makes more sense to them, in that subject. Embedding Maths and English is worthwhile but when the examinations are undertaken, they are not subject specific.

  • Theatre studies students, who do not understand geometry, are perfectly at ease calculating angles for stage lighting
  • H&SC students who struggle with maths are able to calculate baby formula ratios and drug dosage per kilo of body weight
  • Bricklaying students cope easily with tessellation when it is presented as laying a patio, calculating areas, perimeters and numbers in both metric and imperial measures
  • Students studying Animal Care or Agriculture calculate stocking densities of animals or drug doses for herds of animals. 

There are hundreds of examples.

We also need to ensure that teachers are properly supported to deliver this, through training and collaboration with Maths and English departments.

As a country, we want students who are well qualified and proficient in their chosen area of employment. It makes sense to embed units with Maths and English that is relevant to their work. If a general qualification is also required, then they can take Functional Skills too. For those who require a higher level of general maths, then perhaps the introduction of a L3 Functional Skills would reassure those who feel that the unit qualification would be insufficiently broad.

In the future, our students will be facing roles that do not even exist, such a Drone Pilots for delivery companies. They will need to be able to read, write and calculate efficiently and quickly. If we do not act now, we will be condemning a generation of students to not just failure at school but insufficient preparation for their future employment.

It is rare that the grassroots of FE stand up and demand to be heard, but we are doing so as we firmly believe that the current GCSE Maths and English resit policy lacks both imagination and common sense.

Give us the right qualifications for our students and their future before it is too late.