GCSE English and Maths

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It can come as a shock when some students start post-16 study or training and find out they have to continue learning maths and English.

Employers often complain that young people are leaving schools and colleges without the basic English and maths skills needed in the workplace. In a 2015 survey by the Education and Training Foundation, three-quarters of business leaders believed action was needed to improve these skills. Many reported issues with employees who ‘had difficulties constructing emails, use text speak rather than properly constructed sentences and had poor spelling and communication skills’ (source: www.telegraph.co.uk 25.3.15). Others were concerned about the lack of numeracy and poor understanding of basic maths concepts within the workforce.

British employers, when recruiting staff, need applicants to have evidence of their maths and English ability. The most common piece of evidence accepted is a GCSE qualification – grade 4 / C or above. The British Government agreed – “Achieving a Level 2 qualification and in particular a GCSE grade 9 to 4, or A* to C in both maths and English helps students to progress to further study, training and skilled employment” (www.gov.uk). This led to the announcement that from 2014 the continued study of maths and English to at least a grade C standard at Level 2 would be a ‘condition of funding’ for all post-16 providers. In other words, schools and colleges now have to ensure that any students without a grade C/4 at GCSE in English and/or maths continue to study that subject until they do reach a grade C / 4 standard, or else they won’t be funded for that student.

What this means for your son or daughter

All students, whatever their programme of study, have to continue to study ‘towards’ a GCSE grade 4 / C in English and/or maths if they have not already attained at least that grade. It doesn’t mean that all students will continue to study for a GCSE, but they will all be expected to be working towards that standard, even though they may study for a different qualification.

The table below summarises the requirements depending on student status and prior attainment in one or both of these subjects:

A young person is considered a FULL-TIME student if they attend a course of at least 21 hours per week, for at least one academic year; PART TIME being any course of less duration.

A ‘Stepping Stone’ qualification is any English or maths qualification which prepares students for GCSE level achievement. A Functional Skills qualification is one such example.

An EHC is an Education Health and Care Plan, which is a legal document that details a young person’s special education needs and required support.

Currently these requirements apply to students under the age of 19, however there is a real possibility that it will be extended in future years.

Students on a TRAINEESHIP programme (designed for young people who don’t yet have the appropriate skills for an apprenticeship) are subject to the same requirement, except that they are classed a part-time student.

Students on an APPRENTICESHIP programme will have a similar requirement built into their apprenticeship study programme.

Students on a SUPPORTED INTERNSHIP programme (for SEN and EHC learners who learn in the workplace) are exempt if a special assessment determines that neither a GCSE or stepping stone qualification is appropriate for them.

With English it is also important to note that it is GCSE English Language rather than Literature which determines the need for continued study. For example, a student with a grade 7 in GCSE English Literature and a grade 3 in GCSE English Language will need to continue their study towards a grade 4 in English Language. A student with a grade 7 in English Language and a grade 3 in English Literature will NOT need to continue with GCSE English study.

What happens if your son or daughter needs to study both maths and English?

It is often the case that a student needs to continue with Level 2 study for both maths and English. Perhaps they have achieved a grade 2 in GCSE English and a grade 3 in GCSE maths, and they are about to study for a Level 2 qualification in catering. Whether they study for both the English and the maths at the same time, alongside their catering course will depend on their timetable, the duration of their course and the policy of the college. It might be a case of studying English in the first year and maths in the second; whichever way it is done, the fact remains that both must be studied until the student has reached a Level 2 in each.

Functional skills

Functional skills are a useful stepping stone towards GCSEs as well as an important qualification in their own right. Covering maths, English and IT they focus on the core skills needed in the workplace and in general life. Content is more practical than GCSE with activities applied to real-life scenarios.

Students who have struggled with GCSE English or maths in the past may find that a Functional Skills course in that subject is more accessible for them. Having said that, Functional Skills qualifications are not easy – they are just less theoretical than GCSEs.

Functional Skills qualifications are available in a number of levels from Entry (1-3) to Level 1 and 2 and grading is simply a pass or fail. Level 2 is generally considered to be an equivalent to GCSEs.

Other stepping stone qualifications

In addition to Functional Skills, English for Speakers of Other Languages (ESOL) is also considered a stepping-stone qualification for English. Institutions are also able to identify other stepping stone qualifications that they would like to offer – as long as they are approved by The Education and Skills Funding Agency.

English and maths as part of the curriculum

Even if your son or daughter has achieved the required grade 4 in English and maths it does not mean that their education in these two subjects is at an end. There is an additional requirement for institutions to ensure that all programmes embed English and maths into their curriculums. So, for example, a hair and beauty programme will also have elements of English and maths but these will be presented in an applied manner to remain relevant to the subject.

The need for parental support

The requirement to continue with English and maths after the age of 16 is not popular with many students. They have chosen to leave school and focus on a catering course, for example. The last thing they want to do is continue learning fractions or spellings. It can be difficult to acknowledge the importance of English and maths skills in the workplace – how often have you heard someone say ‘I have never had to multiply two fractions together since I left school’? Alongside this many parents lack confidence in their own abilities in these subjects.

The problem is that a negative attitude towards English and maths is infectious!

To help students succeed at post-16 study it is important for parents to support students with encouragement and acknowledgement of how essential these skills are in the workplace.

The fact remains that it is now a legal requirement and a student’s attendance at ALL lessons (whether vocational or maths or English) will be followed up. Consistent absence from these lessons, or failure to participate in the learning can lead to a student being withdrawn from their overall programme.

If you do struggle with English and maths yourself, there are always opportunities for you to brush up your literacy and numeracy skills locally. Check out the Adult Education classes offered by your local council, college or schools. These courses are often free of charge.

A parent’s checklist

Has my son or daughter achieved at least a grade 4 in English Language and maths? If they haven’t they will need to continue studying towards a grade 4 GCSE in that subject/s

Will my son or daughter be a full-time or part-time student? A part-time student is able to study a stepping stone qualification rather than GCSE

Are they on an apprenticeship, traineeship or supported internship programme? There are specific requirements for students of each of these programmes (see above)

Does my son or daughter have special educational needs or an EHC plan? A holder of an EHC plan is able to study a stepping stone qualification

Do they need to study both maths and English to GCSE level? College or school will advise whether both will be studied in one year

Would a functional skills qualification be more accessible to my son or daughter? A functional skills qualification is less theoretical and focused on core skills. This may suit students who have really struggled with maths and/or English in the past.

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