1. A fairly consistent and persistent complaint from the employers has been the lack of employability skills in school-leavers or , as Holt puts it, ‘work readiness’. CBI have gone so far as define what they mean by employability. These include communication, literacy and application of numeracy
2. Wolfe emphases the importance for all 16-19 year olds to obtain a grade C or above in GCSE English or Maths and this is a view echoed by both unions and employers.
3. I can remember complaints from employers about the lack of numeracy and literacy amongst school-leavers going back to the 1980’s. Wolfe expresses concern over the fact that 50% of pupils were leaving with poor Maths and English grades. There was some suggestion by Wolfe that changing the style of teaching might improve results. That might make a difference in a small number of cases but I doubt that accounts for poor results on this scale and running as a perennial headache for schools covering the full spectrum of abilities in their students.
4. There has been a tacit admission of defeat built into the system with the introduction of Keyskills and other watered down versions of these subjects. Schools were also able to mask results by pushing maths equivalent qualifications onto the least able. There is, however, a continual denial at work here.
5. At what point do we come to accept that the bar for Maths and English GCSE is set too high for a sizeable minority of Key Stage 4 pupils and that to continue to force-feed this academia into pupils who have reach their plateau is constantly reinforcing a notion of inadequacy within them.
6. I support the notion of high standards in our GCSE syllabus and was just as appalled as everyone-else at the suggestion that some of the syllabi had been dumbed down in order to improve the pass rates. I’d like to think that process is being reversed. However, we need to differentiate between academic Maths and English needed for further study at Key Stage 5 and everyday Maths and English needed for the workplace.
7. Not everybody needs to know how to write a university-grade essay or be savvy in the solving of quadratic equations. That is not everyday English or Maths. Indeed, the CBI goes on to give examples of what it means by the application of numeracy . It refers to basic arithmetic and percentages, calculating the change (for customers), working out a discounted price or estimating materials needed.
8. I argue that our desire to teach all pupils the full syllabus with its inherent assumption of progression to A-level is crowding out the time a sizeable number of those pupils need to get a fuller grasp of the basics.
9. I propose therefore that GCSE standard for English and Maths be split into two. The common core curriculum element is mandatory on all pupils and should be restricted to testing the pupils ability in everyday English and Maths.
10. This could be examined as Ordinary Maths and English. It should be attainable at grade C or above by all but the least able of pupils and that will be the requirement for acceptance onto intermediate or advanced apprenticeships after the age of 16.
11. This is not simply a case of stripping out the foundation tier of the existing syllabi. The syllabi for ordinary English and Maths need to be rewritten to exclude those topics that are not consider relevant to everyday use. Employers should have exclusive ownership of these syllabi.
12. Ordinary English paper could, for instance, concentrate on straightforward reading comprehension tests and writing short reports in the appropriate vernacular for business. I would also see a case for given the oral English element a 25% weighting on the final exam . It does not receive any weighting at present.
13. In short, the ordinary maths and English syllabi should concentrate exclusively on getting pupils upto the standard of maths and English required by employers – not that required by universities. It should be used to the address CBI concerns on communication, literacy and numeracy. Employers would come to see the ordinary English an Maths results as a meaningful guide to a students command of everyday English and Maths.
14. The rest of GCSE syllabus should be transferred to a separate examination as Further Maths and Further English. These exams will available as options of the Key Stage 4 curriculum and would mainly be of interest to students looking to pursue academic tracks after the age of 16.
15. The GCSE standard is therefore achieved by sitting both ordinary and further papers. If anything, this will allow the bar to be raised for further Maths and English without being concerned about leaving other pupils behind.
16. There maybe some that argue splitting Maths and English in this way may lead to pupils being stigmatised. I don’t accept that. My proposals would allow some pupils to aspire to a A-grade in an English or Maths GCSE paper as opposed to a grade C in foundation tiers. I reiterate the concern of trying to force unnecessary and irrelevant levels of Maths and English onto pupils irrespective of their abilities.
17. Sector training Boards should also be able to devise their own further Maths and English course through City and Guilds or BTEC. This may occur where a sector requires a higher level of maths than the common core provides but not the full GCSE syllabus. An example would be a further maths course, at key stage 4, to support apprentices in the engineering sector. This would mean national trade associations and professional bodies, through their sector training boards, will be able to specify maths and English required by the for every level of their apprentices. This notion could continue into Key Stage 5. Some Sector Training Boards may be content to simply specify that Further Maths/English would be required at Key Stage 4.
18. I would then be comfortable requiring all under 19’s to obtain a grade C or higher in Maths and English ,as per the Wolfe recommendation, provided this applied to my notion of ordinary Maths and English and not the current GCSE syllabi.