Pupils who struggle to achieve a pass at GCSE maths and English and are then forced to resit when they fail should be given four years to complete their course rather than the standard two to give them a better chance of success, according to the government’s catch-up tsar.
Sir Kevan Collins, who is leading the Westminster government’s education recovery efforts to make up for lost learning during Covid, added his voice to calls for a rethink on GCSEs post-pandemic.
He also called for exams to be moved swiftly online, said the national tutoring programme should be expanded to reach a million pupils a year, and parents’ evenings should remain on Zoom because they are a vast improvement on the pre-Covid version. “The way that schools do parents’ evenings I don’t think will ever be the same again.
“Zoom for parents’ evenings is much better than trying to find a car parking space on a wet Tuesday and waiting your turn. It’s really a much better way,” he told the Lords’ youth unemployment committee on Tuesday.
Collins told peers that children in England had lost on average 115 days of face-to-face schooling during the pandemic, the largest loss of any country in Europe and the biggest education loss suffered in a generation.
Asked about the long-term impact on assessment, he said: “I think there’s a big discussion for us to have, particularly around GCSEs at 16.
“For many young people it’s a very important marker and it works very well if you are going to choose A-levels. Exams are a very fair way of learning about attainment and potential.
“The problem with the GCSEs of course is that for too many young people they are then asked to do their GCSEs again. In England if you don’t achieve a certain level of English and maths at 16 you are asked to repeat your GCSEs in English and maths.
“And in that second chance, the vast majority don’t pass again so we have this issue where we ask you to do something, you fail, you do it again and you fail. There has got to be a better way of doing that.”
He added: “If we think the level 2 qualification is the key marker that accesses you into apprenticeships and work, perhaps for some young people we could give them four years to take that exam rather than two years and fail, two years and fail.”
Students in England who achieve a grade 3 in maths or English GCSE are required to retake the qualification until they get at least a grade 4. Pupils with a grade 2 or below can either retake GCSE or study towards a pass in a functional skills level 2 qualification.
With exams cancelled for the second year running as a result of the pandemic, many in the sector are calling for a review of the assessment model in England, particularly GCSEs, which critics say narrow the curriculum and put an unacceptable burden on teachers and pupils.
Geoff Barton, the general secretary of the Association of School and College Leaders, welcomed Collins’ intervention on GCSEs. “It would certainly make more sense for struggling pupils to have longer for GCSE English and maths rather than them missing the grades they need for progression and then being condemned to the grinding business of retaking these qualifications during post-16 courses.”