Wednesday, 29 March 2017

The U-turns in FE, what do they mean?

Some major changes are coming around within FE Maths in the near future. With the implementation of the new-spec GCSE, Maths and English staff rooms across FE have been daunted with the idea that students will struggle within the new specification, especially those who have never attempted it before.

There is a mass of students who are currently sitting current specification GCSE Maths, hoping that the majority get the result they need to achieve before the end of this academic year. With only around 30% of students every year in FE achieving a grade C by the end of their 1 year resit, there is speculation as to how FE will continue to provide for those learners who will be attempting the new specification within the next academic year. Some will say that the learners will need to adapt, however if we keep changing the goalposts, they will lose faith in education altogether. Isn't promoting lifelong learning what Further Education is all about?

One of the biggest U-turns that is expected to come about for the next academic year is the retraction of the funding policy stating that any student with a grade "D" (or soon to be 3) will have to resit their GCSE in English or Maths, instead the suggestion is that we can flexibly offer either a functional skills qualification to suit the learners needs. If learners are primarily looking at a more vocational route, there is a lot to be said for putting learners into functional skills classes over GCSE.

This U-turn may avoid a serious issue around getting students from a 3 to a 4, where at the lower end of a 3 grade, you could be seeing students who were closer to an E. In Further Education Maths, there is a massive amount of differentiation that is needed to ensure we are catering for students who are 1 mark or 19 marks off a D grade. Tutors should have the flexibility to move students to other qualifications. For some students, it is not about the maths certificate, it is about the confidence in developing their Mathematics skills for working life, and the department for education should be responsive to that need. It's just a shame it's taken two years of beating students down to get there.

Are we preparing students with maths skills for the workplace? (Image courtesy of

Paula Mcgregor put the issues down well, much better than I could, in a TES article surrounding the need for students to resit their English and Maths qualifications (Link found here). Many flaws are apparent in the current system, where we have students who are sitting a qualification which may not be targeted towards their main aim, it could be that our students want an apprenticeship, so why do we need them to sit GCSE to get there.

As an educator myself, I am all for helping students achieve their ambitions and stretching students to achieve. I do not advocate picking the easy option, but more for treating our young people like the adults we want them to become. If you sit down and ask a student what they want to do, a lot will say they don't like Maths but they just want to be able to get a job by the end. Here is the true disconnect when we force students to sit GCSE Maths with D Grades. I am thankful that the government have responded to this massive need in our current educational system.

Another serious U-turn from the DfE is the lowering of a pass mark to a 4 instead of a 5. This would have foreseen massive issues in getting students from a 4-5 as well as identifying how we can accommodate a classroom for GCSE that have a mixture of 3/4 students within it. Justine Greening suggested that "Where employers, FE providers and universities currently accept a grade C we would expect them to continue recognising a grade 4." suggesting that students will not have to attend compulsory English and maths should they achieve a grade 4. This can actually have some issues in itself however.

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One of the biggest issues is grade 3. What is the condition of funding for them? Do we continue with grade 3 for GCSE resits and 2/1 for functional skills? With a mixture of different grades that students will achieve in English and Maths, colleges across the country will have to come up with rigorous diagnostic assessments in order to implement how they are going to differentiate pupils who are at different levels of their Maths education.

The biggest challenges for FE seem to have been quashed, I just hope that Justine makes good on her promise to remove the compulsory need before the next academic year, or we may all be in for a tough ride. There is a lot of hope for our young people, but the system needs to adapt, rather than our students, to the priorities of the employers that will hire young people from college.

What do you think? Do you believe that we should adapt to the climate? Do you think this is a bad move for FE students across the country? Let me know in the comments what you think and how we can make Maths education within FE more accessible to our students.

- Matt