Schools could face fines for pupils’ GCSE results

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Secondary schools should face fines if students fail to achieve at least a C at GCSE in English and maths, a think tank has said.

Funds raised from this “re-sit levy” should be handed to further education (FE) colleges, who are dealing with large numbers of young people re-taking these key qualifications, according to the Policy Exchange.

In a new paper, the right-wing think tank argued that FE colleges are already facing funding pressures, and take on more students who received below a D in their maths or English GCSEs than schools and sixth-form colleges.

This burden is growing in the wake of government reforms which require teenagers who fail to score at least a C at GCSE in English or maths to continue studying the subject and re-take qualifications, it says.

Headteachers warned that introducing a levy would be an “own goal”.

The Policy Exchange document claims that FE colleges are being left to deal with a far greater proportion of students re-sitting GCSE maths and English than schools and sixth-form colleges.

It calculates that in 2013, nearly five times more students re-took English at an FE college than re-took the exam at a school (100,239 students compared to 20,544) while 110,811 students re-sat maths at an FE college compared to 27,579 who re-sat it at school.

Around 31% of those re-entered for GCSE English at an FE college scored at least a C in their re-sit, compared to 38% of those at school.

In maths, 36% of those re-taking a GCSE in the subject at an FE college achieved an A*-C grade, compared to 35% of those at school.

The think tank goes on to argue that FE colleges require more cash to cope with demand, claiming that, at present, these institutions receive £4,000 for a 16-17-year-old and £3,300 to teach a full time qualification - and this does not include funding for remedial English and maths teaching.

The Department for Education said that every pupil who does not get at least a C in maths and English GCSE at age 16 is allocated an additional £480 per subject, although this funding is not ring-fenced for those qualifications.

The paper concludes that secondary schools should cover the costs of students who fail to score A*-C in their core GCSEs and move on to an FE college through a “re-sit levy”.

This levy would only apply in certain circumstances, such as if a pupil had been on a school’s roll for a set period of time or where the pupil had failed to achieve a C and had not made good progress.

Paper author Natasha Porter said: “Since it became compulsory for students without a C grade at GCSE to continue studying maths and English, too many students have been denied an opportunity to retake the GCSE qualification. Schools and colleges will have to redouble their efforts to enter borderline students for qualifications that are worthwhile and improve the overall pass rate.

“It is unfair for some schools to pass the buck to FE colleges who are already facing extreme funding pressures to fix a problem they have not caused themselves. To recognise the additional burden on FE colleges and shoulder more responsibility, schools should cough up and pay a resit levy.”

Brian Lightman, general secretary of the Association of School and College Leaders, said that, for a variety of reasons, there will always be some students who do not achieve C grades by age 16.

“We agree that these students need continued help and support in English and maths post-16, and that FE colleges and other providers should receive the funding they need to deliver these courses,” he said.

“This is particularly pressing because the level of funding for 16-19 education is inadequate and urgently needs to be addressed. However, the idea of a resit levy on the secondary schools where these students first took their GCSEs would be an own goal.

“Schools are already facing real-terms cuts in their budgets and unprecedented difficulties in recruiting staff, particularly maths teachers. A resit levy would potentially worsen this situation, further reducing their capacity to put in place the very provision that would enable them to meet the challenge of enabling more pupils to achieve these grades in maths and English GCSEs.”

A DfE spokesman said: “Numeracy and literacy are fundamental skills. If young people have not mastered them by 16, it is more likely they will be held back for the rest of their life. That is why we want all young people who do not achieve at least a GCSE C in English or maths to continue studying until they reach that standard. Post-16 schools and colleges are making very good progress in ensuring all young people have this opportunity.”

Christine Blower, general secretary of the National Union of Teachers (NUT) said the suggestion was “not a particularly good idea and not actually well received”, adding “this is simply the wrong way to deal with this question”.

She told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme: “Essentially there is a big problem in FE funding, but of course what we need is proper levels of funding for all schools and all colleges in order to make sure that every young person can do the very best that they can.”

She added: “So what we really need is catch up funding to make sure that there’s enough money not just in colleges but also in schools to do this work.

“But also I think it’s a rather strange idea that being fined would be the incentive to help children to do the best they can.

“Schools are doing the very best that they can. There will be a point where there is one mark between getting a C and a D that’s bound to be the case, there are grade boundaries.

“And so the idea that you would penalise schools because a young person is one mark below just seems absolute nonsense.”

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