The other side of GCSE success in English and Maths – the forgotten third of sixteen year olds!

The other side of GCSE success in English and Maths – The Forgotten Third of sixteen year olds!

It was reported in newspapers, just before the GCSE results were released last month, that one third – about 170,000 of young people in England and Wales, are still falling short of securing good pass grades in both English and Maths at GCSE. While it is good to celebrate the 837  youngsters who achieved straight Grade 9 (equivalent to the very top of A* marks under the old letter grading system) in eight or more GCSEs, this figures above are a tragic case, considering that the pass mark in Maths was lowered to 21% for 17-year olds, who are compelled to retake both Maths and English at GCSE.

The trend has remained over the last couple of decades or so, that some teenagers are doing increasingly better, whilst others are lagging behind. Overall, I think standards have improved, or at least, have not continued to decline,  in terms of teaching in schools and the awareness of the need for a decent academic achievement at the age of 16. Whilst there is plenty to celebrate, the issue of polarisation in society continues. Be it the growing gap between the very rich and the very poor or the chasm between the very top high achieving teenagers and the low academic achievers.

Retake – only 11% of those who resat English GCSE and 7% for Maths improved

One set of statistics that I found even more disturbing amongst this forgotten third  is the fact that the pass rate amongst those who resit GCSE in English and Maths is awful. For those who retake their GCSEs, two thirds do not improve and only 11% of those who resit English GCSE and 7% of those who resit Maths actually achieve a C grade or better.

I welcome the government policy of getting young people who have not achieved good pass grades in English and Maths to resit their GCSE. However, given these appalling figures among those who take the exams again for the second or third time, there ought to be a rethink.

It is a very good idea that the focus is to get almost every sixteen-year-old, to, at least, have a shot at taking GCSE Maths and English, and not to relegate them to a lower, not-so-academic qualification – such as Functional Skills in Maths and English, at such a young age.

What can the government and parents do to help?

Every effort should be made to get young people to acquire the knowledge and skills they require in order to pass GCSE Maths and English. For those who have not, they should encourage them to, perhaps, study alternative qualifications such as Functional Skills – particularly in Maths, when it is required. We live in a society  where someone who could work out 20% of £450 in their head, without asking for a calculator, is called a genius! Where admitting or being seen to be good at Maths  is not so cool amongst too many people in public life; where comedians and artistic people are lining up to admit and brag about how poor they are in Maths.

One of the things that will help  is to give more recognition to vocational qualifications such at BTec and City and Guilds There is what is perceived as snobbery against vocational qualifications and some of that is not justified. Sadly, politicians pay very little attention to young people who are not going to university and they encourage everyone to get a university degree. The reason for this is not to be seen as being elitist and no real thought is given to the statistical reality of what a high number of graduates do, some for many years after graduating. I’m talking about stacking the shelves at Sainsbury or the McJob kind of thing!

There are plumbers and electricians who earn over £100k a year and not only are very well spoken, but also are capable of running a very successful business.

There are two clear problems before us:

  1. a large number of young people being condemned as failures, because they have not succeeded in achieving good grades in English and Maths at the age of sixteen
  2. a severe shortage of skilled technicians and competent tradesmen

I believe addressing the first problem, in a sincere and non-box-ticking approach, will help to solve the second issue too.

We parents can do a lot, by opening the eyes of our young people to all the opportunities that are available in the world. On a practical level, just like the government should do, parents should do all they can to help their children succeed in these two  most important subjects at GCSE. If, for any reason, things do not quite work out, they should encourage them to pursue other viable alternatives and  help them to make the best of that choice.

Below are a few links to articles on this all-important subject and closely related matters.

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