Achieving level 2 in English and mathematics, preferably through attainment of GCSE, is widely accepted as demonstrating good literacy and numeracy skills. Since 2014, students without a good pass in English and Maths GCSE (a ‘4’ or higher under the new GCSE grading system) must continue to study these subjects until they are 18, or secure a qualification in them.
This policy was modified in 2015 so that learners achieving a grade ‘3’ (roughly equivalent to a ‘D’) must be enrolled on a GCSE course, whereas those with lower prior grades may take functional skills courses.
The benefits of securing good skills and grades in these key subjects is clear: even modest incremental improvements in GCSE attainment have sizeable lifetime economic returns across the spectrum of GCSE achievement.
However, supporting older learners to secure these qualifications is challenging. Given that these are young people who have already been studying English and maths for 11 years and haven’t achieved the target grades, they are more likely than other learners to feel disaffected and disengaged.
The challenge of improving post-16 attainment is a particular issue for students from disadvantaged backgrounds. A majority of students eligible for free school meals (FSM) have not achieved a good standard in English and mathematics by age 19.
The EEF is working with J.P. Morgan to improve the evidence about the best ways to improve English and Maths outcomes for these learners.