Teenagers must master English and maths

Teenagers who fail to score at least a Grade C in English and maths GCSEs will have to continue studying the subjects, the government has confirmed. Up until now, pupils have been able to drop the subjects at the age of 16 without having gained a qualification in them. Is it right that students will have to carry on studying until they achieve at least a grade C?

Last year, there were more than a quarter of a million 19-year-olds without a C grade in English and maths, something which the government wants to change.

Education Secretary Michael Gove said the subjects were the ones “employers demand before all others”.

Many would never study these subjects again, prompting concerns from employers that too many young people lack skills necessary for work.

The intention is for teenagers who missed C grades to retake GCSEs in maths and English, but there will also be an option to take other types of maths and English lessons.

Professor Alison Wolf says: “Every other country in the developed world concentrates improving the languages and maths skills of its post-16 students, and so should England. Recognising the central place of English and maths skills in society is long overdue”.

Carrot or stick? While we welcome students having to gain passes in English and maths, many students will still suffer from the understanding vacuum that education alone can create. Giving students insight into work helps them understand why employers need basic English and maths (the CBI suggests over 70% of school leavers lack relevant work experience) and, although making students continue to study the subjects will help, Career Academies UK believes that giving them experience to understand just why they need to learn will be more impactful.

David Walker, policy director at Career Academies UK

Getting to level 2 in English and maths is a very high priority for children. However, it’s still not the only priority. A small percentage of students nationally could sacrifice all the breadth in their education to the age of 18 to achieve this goal and still struggle. In some schools whose students have lower than average attainment, this is a significant minority. While I wholeheartedly welcome the drive for functionality across the board, I think it’s important to remember there will be some children for whom this will sacrifice proven vocational routes to employment for them.

Bill Leyland, Headteacher Kirkby High School

Hugh Baird College welcomes the government’s initiative to give all young people the opportunity to continue studying maths and English. Good maths and English skills are critical for young people to succeed in their chosen career. From customer services to managing money; from punctuality to taking telephone messages, maths and English skills underpin everyday life, employment, business and the UK’s competitiveness in the Global market. Post 16 providers have clearly been challenged with dealing with students under performance in maths and English and for some providers that involves a lot of students. That said it is right that students who do not achieve a particular standard in maths and English should continue to develop their skills which will help them with their current studies and in their long term career aspirations. While gaining a grade C may not be achievable by everyone we must ensure that all students are engaged in the development of these skills. Improvement in maths and English skills is always a positive.

Yana Williams, Principal, Hugh Baird College

School and college leaders fully recognise the need for all young people to acquire high levels of literacy and numeracy and is in favour of the raising of the participation age. However we have been expressing serious concerns to the Government for some time about the implementation of this very significant new policy about which there are many unanswered questions in the absence of a coherent and funded implementation plan. At a time when post 16 funding is being significantly reduced and feedback from ASCL members continues to show very different states of readiness in different parts of the country it is difficult to see how schools, colleges, employers and local authorities will be able to provide additional classes or recruit suitably qualified teachers.

Brian Lightman, general secretary of the Association of School and College Leaders (ASCL)

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