Call for school exam failure levy to aid FE colleges

The BBC is reporting that a think tank has suggested schools where pupils fail to get good GCSE grades in English and maths should pay a levy to fund pupils who re-take their exams in further education colleges.

Policy Exchange has published a report highlighting that FE colleges in England teach a higher proportion of pupils re-sitting exams than schools.

But FE colleges face greater pressures on their budgets than schools.

Two teaching unions have criticised the levy proposal.

Brian Lightman, of the Association of School and College Leaders (ASCL), said the idea of a levy was an “own goal”.

The report from the right-leaning think tank suggests re-allocating financial support to further education colleges in England which take on pupils who have previously struggled in school.

It proposes that secondary schools where pupils have failed to achieve at least C grades in GCSE English and maths should face a financial penalty of about £500 per pupil which would then be used to support students retaking exams in further education colleges.

There are five times more students retaking English in FE colleges than in schools, says the report.

For maths, almost six times as many retakes are in FE colleges as in schools.

Natasha Porter, author of the Policy Exchange report, said: “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 re-sit levy…”

More at: Call for school exam failure levy to aid FE colleges


Download the report in full from Policy Exchange: Crossing the Line: Improving success rates among students retaking English and maths GCSEs


Is this a sensible suggestion from Policy Exchange or would it, as Brian Lightman suggests, be an own goal?

After all, if FE colleges are taking far more students who are re-sitting shouldn’t they receive some help from the schools where they failed to get satisfactory grades previously (the actual critia proposed are more nuanced than not just getting a C or above – see the link to the Policy Exchange report above)?

Please let us know why/why not in the comments below or via Twitter…


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  1. andylutwyche

    SchoolsImprove All this does is pile more pressure on teachers, students avoid responsibility again if so inclined. Focus is all wrong…

  2. andylutwyche

    SchoolsImprove If “spokespeople” want to prepare young ppl for workplace then those young ppl need to take more responsibility not less

  3. andylutwyche

    MadgeJesss SchoolsImprove In many cases it would be irrelevant what efforts the school makes for that C as the student has made none

  4. andylutwyche

    SchoolsImprove This is exactly the sort of idea/policy that has led to the enormous shortage of maths and English teachers in England…

  5. waterside09

    andylutwyche SchoolsImprove perhaps college isn’t the answer for students who fail to attain C in maths & English? Basic jobs = poor grade

  6. andylutwyche

    waterside09 SchoolsImprove Could have “3 strikes” policy where schools/colleges fund 3 sittings only; it’d put responsibility onto student

  7. MadgeJesss

    andylutwyche SchoolsImprove But seriously – the problem stems from a poor start in literacy and numeracy in primary. Not a quick fix.

  8. waterside09

    andylutwyche SchoolsImprove why not 2 let’s get rigorous over required standards it’s not as if what’s being asked is difficult

  9. andylutwyche

    waterside09 SchoolsImprove However many it is (it was just an idea I had this morning) it puts some responsibility on to student

  10. andylutwyche

    irvingphil SchoolsImprove Exactly – it almost makes it acceptable not to try as you know you’ll be funded next year

  11. waterside09

    andylutwyche SchoolsImprove by this age the student could be taking on adult responsibility so why not competence in essential subjects

  12. andylutwyche

    waterside09 SchoolsImprove We keep hearing that we aren’t preparing young people for the workplace, well this is a more workplace attitude

  13. irvingphil

    andylutwyche SchoolsImprove meanwhile all the lazy teachers who are only in it for the money learn an important life lesson…

  14. AndyDefinite

    SchoolsImprove We all recognise the burden a divided society places on the poor, the vulnerable and the weak so let’s compound the problem!

  15. This will only increase the number of secondary schools who are their own admission authorities (academies, VA schools but not LA maintained schools) covertly deterring pupils whose exam results would attract a £500 levy.

    It’s hardly surprising FE colleges take on more resitting pupils.  Many (the majority?) of school sixth forms are academic and set an entry requirement.  This means those who don’t meet the requirement have to go elsewhere.  But it’s the Gov’t who’ve put pressure on FE Colleges by insisting that pupils who don’t get C in English and Maths have to resit.

  16. MadgeJesss andylutwyche SchoolsImprove Don’t blame the primaries.  Many pupils arrive in primary school already behind.  These are the pupils who need most help but schools with an intake which includes many of these pupils are pilloried (just as secondaries are) for not reaching a mandatory grade.

  17. waterside09 andylutwyche SchoolsImprove Basic competence  in Maths and English is Level 1.  That’s GCSE grades D-G.  This fact is conveniently forgotten by those who wish to portray a Grade C as the ‘basic’.  It isn’t – Grade C and above is at Level 2.  But promoting Grade C as the basic level of competence allows pundits to pillory schools.
    Time was, remember, when Grade C was supposed to show ‘above average’ competence.  Now it’s been debased to ‘basic’.

  18. MadgeJesss

    andylutwyche SchoolsImprove Not surprising kids don’t succeed when they turn up at sec school unable to read etc. Big turn off.

  19. ‘Level 1 literacy and numeracy skills equates to a D to G grade in GCSEs, and is judged to be the level of skill needed for adults to function effectively in society.’  (page 7, Business, Innovation and Skills report 2014/15 on Adult Literacy and Numeracy
    This punctures the myth that a Grade C is the sign of basic competence.  But it’s a useful stick by which to bash schools particularly those whose intake comprises a large number of previously low-attaining pupils.
    The report said:
    ‘We are not persuaded that GCSEs are the gold standard by which
    adults’ skills should be measured and assessed, and we urge the Government to take
    a more flexible approach to the way in which skills in adults are measured.’

    The Army, for example, use functional skills in its training – this is the flexible approach the BIS report called for.  Pity the Gov’t and its pet think tank hasn’t read it.

  20. brighton118

    andylutwyche SchoolsImprove -Attention seeking report. Retakes have long been an issue. Need acceptable alternatives to Maths/English GCSE

  21. writeandraise

    brighton118 andylutwyche SchoolsImprove  A failing of this report is that it lacks recognition of cause and effect. Introduce league tables and schools teach to test. Force schools to accept first exam result attempts and they block pupils from attempting exams early. Introduce this levy and schools may seek ways to divert challenged pupils to sitting less meaningful exams.
    Scrap think tanks, just ask educators when useful education policies are needed.

  22. writeandraise brighton118 andylutwyche SchoolsImprove But Policy Exchange was set up by Michael Gove and his supporter Nick Boles (now joint Minister in the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills and the Department for Education).  It is, therefore, likely to produce stuff sympathetic to Gove’s views.  The most notorious was the little-known ‘Blocking the Best’ published before the 2010 election.  It advocated running schools for profit.  Gove said he would allow groups like Serco to run schools if they wanted to and a Policy Exchange rep said PX would ‘nudge’ in the direction of for-profit schools. For links to U-tube clip, see:

  23. lennyvalentino

    SchoolsImprove This is Policy Exchange trying to cover up the fact that their resit policy was not funded. (resit plan was theirs I assume?

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