Teenagers have to keep studying English and maths

pupil studying For those who fail to get C grades at GCSE, English and maths will have to be taken until the age of 18

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Teenagers in England who fail to achieve at least a grade C in English and maths GCSEs will have to continue studying the subjects from this term.

It means hundreds of thousands of youngsters in school and college will have to carry on with the subjects until the age of 18.

Employers have warned that young people need to improve these skills.

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

Head teachers said they supported the principle of the change but there was "genuine confusion" about how it would be implemented.

The Association of Colleges says it will require 1,100 extra maths teachers and 1,000 more English teachers.

'Huge impairment'

Up until now, pupils have been able to drop the subjects at the age of 16 without having gained a qualification in them.

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


  • Separately from making pupils keep studying maths and English, this week also sees the raising of the "participation age" in education and training in England to 17
  • It does not mean that pupils have to stay in school, but those who are not already in education will be expected to continue some element of education and training
  • This means that teenagers in work, part-time or full-time, will be expected to have some element of training
  • In 2015, this will be raised again to 18
  • Teenagers who are not in education and employers who do not provide training will not face sanctions, as this is meant to be about raising education levels rather than introducing punishments
  • The last increase was raising the age to 16 in 1972. Research this year suggested there were positive benefits a generation later
  • In Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland the leaving age remains 16

Last year, there were more than a quarter of a million 19-year-olds without a C grade in English and maths.

Teenagers who missed C grades will either re-take GCSEs in maths and English, or else there will be an option to take other types of maths and English lessons. But they will be required to continue studying the subjects.

In a separate measure also being introduced, the participation age for education and training is being increased to the age of 17. It will mean young people will be expected to remain in some kind of education or workplace training, although there will be no sanctions as it is phased in.

Skills minister Matthew Hancock said the requirement to keep studying English and maths was not about re-sitting exams but about continuing to develop these essential skills.

"For those who fail to get a C at GCSE, it's a huge impairment to their future life, their ability to participate not just in work but also as a citizen," he said.

Mr Hancock said that most of those who did not attain a grade C at the age of 16 continued to a further education college and the there was a programme to increase the number of English and maths teachers at those institutions.

Joy Mercer, director of policy at the Association of Colleges, said further education colleges would need an extra 2,100 experienced teachers.

"Young people, who have often tried to succeed at maths and English more than once, need the most experienced teachers to motivate them, not those who have just left a university course," she said.

Brian Lightman, leader of the Association of School and College Leaders, said the "aim is right, but there are many questions the government needs to address urgently about how it will fund and implement its plan".

The head teachers' leader said there needed to be clarification about funding for extra classes and teachers.

"There is still genuine confusion about the announcement today and what the new policy means, on the day that schools and colleges are supposed to start implementing it," said Mr Lightman.

'Wasted year'

The importance of developing English and maths beyond the age of 16 had been put forward by Prof Alison Wolf in her report on improving vocational education for 14 to 19-year-olds.

Start Quote

Every other country in the developed world concentrates on improving the language and maths skills of its post-16 students, and so should England”

End Quote Professor Alison Wolf

She found that too many vocational qualifications lacked value for employers and too many youngsters were entering adult life without adequate skills in literacy and numeracy.

"Good English and maths grades are fundamental to young people's employment and education prospects," she said.

"Individuals with very low literacy and numeracy are severely disadvantaged in the labour market."

Prof Wolf, professor of public sector management at King's College London, welcomed the implementation of her proposals.

“Every other country in the developed world concentrates on improving the language 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," she said.

These changes apply to young people in England. The Welsh government says that it already has plans that will require learners to continue English and maths beyond the age of 16 from 2015.

"Learners who do not achieve these GCSEs at A*-C in Key Stage 4 will be required to continue to pursue them in post-16 learning. Learners who do achieve these GCSEs in Key Stage 4 will continue to develop their skills by following Essential Skills qualifications," said a spokeswoman for the Welsh government.

'Wasted year'

But Labour’s shadow education secretary, Stephen Twigg, said more urgent action was needed.

Skills minister Matthew Hancock: "The crucial thing is that they continue to keep learning"

"In 2012 Labour set out ambitious plans for all children to study English and maths to 18.

“A whole wasted year later and the government have only got half way there. This isn't good enough. David Cameron needs to listen to employers - they want all young people to continue building these key skills to 18."

The Institute of Directors said that so many young people not achieving good qualifications in English and maths was "socially damaging and economically unsustainable".

The CBI backed the changes but also called for "high-quality vocational routes as well as academic ones".

Christine Blower, general secretary of the National Union of Teachers, said: "It's critical the government works with schools and colleges to make sure that what is on offer for those young people is not marching them in and out of the exam room, but actually making sure they are developing by having an appropriate curriculum."


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  • rate this

    Comment number 432.

    With modern day culture of text speak such as 'its gr8 2 c u', it becomes very difficult to train 16 year olds to fix their English and Maths problems. Learning how to use correct grammar and basic Maths must begin at primary school level.

  • rate this

    Comment number 385.

    What will happen to young people who simply can't get there though? still at school aged 25? I'd happily go back to school, but they would be wasting their time teaching me arithmetic again. I can stare at a spreadsheet for hours and it may as well be chinese numbers. I'm not stupid either, but simply stuggle to visually interpret numbers.

  • rate this

    Comment number 332.

    Employers are seeing lots of young students with perfectly good exam results clearly unable to add up and give the right change in a shop without a calculator or write a letter without embarrassing mistakes. Clearly the standards across the board have slipped. If youngsters want help, then provide it, but to force them is a pointless waste of time.

  • rate this

    Comment number 110.

    A C in Maths or English is aimed at roughly the middle 40% of the pupil population. It corresponds to generally average performance.

    There is no conceivable way that those in the bottom 30% of the population can become average with additional teaching.

    Testing and retesting for those not able to attain a C grade will be completely destructive for all involved be they teachers or learners.

  • rate this

    Comment number 81.

    Its vital in the workplace, English to communicate to your fellow worker and Maths to do all the basic arithmetic needed to succeed.

    If you dont have the required standard you are really going to struggle unless you want a poorly paid job as the competition is so great nowadays.

    Technology is reducing the workplace so the fight for jobs is greater


Comments 5 of 9


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