New trial: Can bitesize tests help teens pass GCSE resits?

A new pilot study will find out if bitesize tests and short handwritten exercises can help teenagers to pass their GCSE English resits, the Education Endowment Foundation (EEF) and J.P. Morgan announced today.

1,200 students in six further education colleges will take part in the trial of Assess for Success, a low-cost programme developed and delivered by The Manchester College, the largest college in the UK. It will be evaluated by the Behavioural Insights Team (BIT).

Since 2014 it has been compulsory for young people who don’t get at least a C grade in English or maths to carry on studying these subjects after Year 11. Like many education providers, The Manchester College has seen a large increase in the number of 16-18-year-old students needing to resit their GCSEs.

The College’s English department developed the programme as a way of assessing their students’ current capabilities, as well as the areas they need to work on. Instead of getting new students to sit the kind of computerised diagnostic assessments used by most colleges, they are instead tasked with completing short, handwritten exercises. These are complemented by regular, bitesize tests that focus on skill areas. Teachers are given training to help them maximise the impact of the tests.

Many colleges already use some form of diagnostic assessment, but it is hoped that this new study will help teachers to develop a more nuanced understanding of students’ current capabilities as well as training to adapt their teaching appropriately. This is particularly important as these students have already studied GCSEs for two years and will have differing strengths and weaknesses.

Assess for Success is the fourth trial funded by the EEF and J.P.Morgan as part of a joint £5 million initiative to find the best ways to support the hundreds of thousands of young people who leave formal education each year without having achieved a C in English or maths at GCSE.

The latest official figures show that a majority of all students who had been eligible for free school meals had still not achieved a good standard of recognised qualifications in English and maths by age 19.

Since September 2017, the first three trials have reached over 50 colleges and training providers in England and thousands of learners:

  • 31 colleges have been recruited to take part in a randomised controlled trial of Texting Students and Study Supporters. Over this year, students and their nominated supporters – parents, employers, friends – will receive twice-weekly texts with information about course content and academic resources, notifications about deadlines, details of extra tutorial sessions, and exam dates. The independent evaluation will assess whether these texts improve students’ GCSE results and attendance.
  • The University of Nottingham has been working with 20 maths teachers from 20 colleges, to develop and pilot the Maths-4-Life programme. This approach aims to promote better classroom dialogue about maths in GCSE resit classes, as a way to improve students’ mathematical understanding. Following this development stage, 100 settings will be recruited to be trained up by these teachers in 2018, or to continue their usual practice, so that the difference the programme makes can be measured.
  • The Association of Employment and Learning Providers has been working with 6 settings – a mix of training providers and colleges – to pilot its approach to Embedding Contextualisation in English and Maths GCSE Teaching. So far, 77 teachers have taken part in workshops about how to make English and maths teaching relevant to their vocational subjects and real life. Next year, 100 settings will be recruited to a trial of the programme.

The initiative is the UK strand of JPMorgan Chase’s global $75 million New Skills for Youth project. The global programme, a $75 million five year commitment to expanding technical and professional education for young people worldwide and launched in 2016, aims to expand their access economic opportunity.

Sir Kevan Collins, Chief Executive of the Education Endowment Foundation, said:

In 2016, only one in four teenagers made the grade in English and Maths after sitting their GCSE exam a second time. It’s clear that simply keeping those teenagers in compulsory education for another year – putting extra pressure on an already squeezed sector - is just not enough.

We have to get more and better evidence of which teaching and learning strategies work for 16-18 year olds if we want to give all young people the skills they need to thrive in life. The trial we’ve announced today will give us crucial insights into how we can effectively support learners to make the grade in their resits.

Hang Ho, Head of the JPMorgan Chase Foundation in EMEA, said:

At J.P. Morgan, we recognize that Maths and English are important gateway subjects to better quality career pathways which are crucial for young people to transition into good quality employment. We are strongly committed to supporting effective solutions that could improve the post-16 educational outcomes for young people, especially who need to re-sit exams in these core subjects, to ensure they have the skills and knowledge required to compete in the fast evolving labour market.

Today’s announcement marks the next exciting step in J.P. Morgan’s New Skills for Youth’s UK programme which is dedicated to helping support young people from all backgrounds access economic opportunity globally.

This initiative is the UK strand of JPMorgan Chase’s global $75 million New Skills for Youth project. The global programme, a $75 million five year commitment to expanding technical and professional education for young people worldwide and launched in 2016, aims to expand their access economic opportunity.

Notes to editors

  1. The Education Endowment Foundation (EEF) is a grant-making charity set up in 2011 by the Sutton Trust as lead foundation in partnership with Impetus Trust (now part of Impetus–The Private Equity Foundation), with a £125m founding grant from the Department for Education. Since its launch the EEF has awarded £96.3 million to 160 projects working with over 1,000,000 pupils in over 10,000 schools across England. The EEF and Sutton Trust are, together, the government-designated What Works Centre for Education.