Maureen’s blog – February 2014

Maureen-Emmett_blog_v2bAs the year moves on, there is continued pressure on the sector to ensure that maths and English is at the heart of the curriculum, but uncertainty as to which qualifications will be available in the future. The debate on the universal use of GCSE as the qualification of choice for the sector for both pre and post-16 learners continues as providers start to take stock of what that will mean for them. Coupled with the move towards employer funding of apprenticeships, cuts in funding for post 16 provision, the removal of funding for many of the smaller qualifications we use to encourage access to learning; managing the future needs of learners looks challenging!

I was at the recent Maths and English Skills conference with many other resource providers and delegates. A very lively debate took place on how the sector will be able to cope with the demands being made, going forward. Barry Brooks from Tribal gave a comprehensive overview of the issues facing the sector; stressing the government commitment to the importance of maths end English but warning that the DfE are convinced that the only qualification worth striving for is the GCSE.

What will this mean?
The stats show that adults do not do well when taking GCSE maths and English. Whilst the pass rate of GCSE at 16 is in the region of 60%, for adults it’s nearer 40%. This looks quite reasonable to me. We are asking those who have failed their GCSE, despite the best the schools can do to ensure a pass, to re-take. And if 40% of them pass, that looks like a significant success to me; a real improvement.

And so perhaps DfE need a reality check. Michael Doel, CEO of AOC is on record as saying” Requiring colleges to continue to teach GCSE to young people who have failed consistently to achieve academic maths is just continuing to bang their heads against the same wall for another two years.”

There is further support from an unlikely quarter. Sir Michael Wilshaw (Ofsted Chief Inspector) recently spoke to the Education Select Committee saying that ” Some young people must know that they have got to achieve a certain requirement in terms of the ability to read and write for their job, and that is a functional skill, I think that expecting all of these youngsters to achieve a ‘C ‘grade in GCSE English at 18 is probably a challenge too far”.

Many colleges that had dropped their GCSE re-take classes have re-instated them this year and encouraged all learners with a ‘D’ grade in either subject to re-take. These learners will be sitting GCSEs in May and June and it will be interesting to see if the pass rate holds at 40%. I suspect not.

Whatever policy is adopted the need for more tutors and trainers who are able to support learners to improve their maths and English is clearly an overriding need for the sector. It is argued that the sector needs at least 1300 additional maths and 1260 English tutors to fully support learners.

The government is responding to this need and increasing funded schemes to support the sector. The Mathematics Enhancement Programme is up and running offering six days of face-to-face CPD for tutors who want to be up-skilled to deliver maths. And there is a further £20m scheme for maths graduates who choose to teach in the sector to receive a bonus of £7,500 payable in their first year. Although welcomed, there is no similar fund for those teaching English; and clearly these schemes are insufficient to meet the total needs of the sector.

Therefore , given the importance of teachers and trainers being able to support maths and English, I lament that we don’t insist that all those who are delivering should have a level 5 specialist qualification as we did with the SFL policy. Even though the policy wasn’t fully enforced and more people were ‘working towards’ than they actually achieved the qualifications, I still see lots of CVs from people with level 5 specialist qualifications and feel far more confident that they will be able to support learners effectively.

Maureen Emmett