Forced re­sits risk slam­ming the door to fur­ther learn­ing

TES (Times Education Supplement) - - FURTHER -

I WENT to a good school. An ex­pen­sive in­de­pen­dent school, fiercely com­pet­i­tive with a rep­u­ta­tion for aca­demic ex­cel­lence and all the class­room re­sources that money could buy. My state-funded as­sisted place gave me the op­por­tu­nity to en­ter a world of priv­i­lege that I oth­er­wise wouldn’t have gained ac­cess to.

De­spite those ad­van­tages, I found that the school was not for me. Grad­u­ally, I re­jected what it of­fered and gave up on the pos­si­bil­ity that I could ever be a clever girl .It­wasa good school but I did not have a good ed­u­ca­tion – my all-con­sum­ing so­cial life and com­mit­ment to lazi­ness ad­mit­tedly played a part in that.

Decades af­ter I left, I still felt like a thicko who prob­a­bly shouldn’t be al­lowed near books. Even now that I’m ded­i­cated to learn­ing, that ex­pe­ri­ence leaves an im­print of aca­demic im­poster syn­drome and schol­arly self-doubt. And my ex­pe­ri­ence re­ally wasn’t that bad.

It took me nearly 20 years to re-en­gage with learn­ing. I’m lucky. I had sup­port and en­cour­age­ment to try again. Many peo­ple have such neg­a­tive ex­pe­ri­ences of ed­u­ca­tion that they would never con­sider re­turn­ing.

A key rea­son I’m so op­posed to the con­tin­u­a­tion of GCSE English and maths forced re­sits is the long-term im­pact on en­gage­ment in ed­u­ca­tion. Shov­ing stu­dents into a qual­i­fi­ca­tion that they are nowhere near ready for can leave them with crum­bling con­fi­dence. Re­peated fail­ure leaves them feel­ing like, guess what? A fail­ure.

Fair enough, a few stu­dents may even­tu­ally gain the qual­i­fi­ca­tion the govern­ment prefers, but at what cost? Is it re­ally worth dam­ag­ing their per­cep­tion of what ed­u­ca­tion is and what it can be? Surely slam­ming the door to fu­ture learn­ing is the op­po­site of the legacy that ed­u­ca­tors are aim­ing for?

I don’t know of any­one in FE who be­lieves this one-size-fits-all route is a good idea. Big play­ers from across the sec­tor have voiced their op­po­si­tion as have count­less teach­ers – those with pal­pa­ble sense of the dam­age that this poorly per­ceived pol­icy does to our young peo­ple. The only ones who seem to be in favour of forced re­sits are the de­ci­sion-mak­ing politi­cians, de­spite it coun­ter­ing the ad­vice of col­leagues through­out the sec­tor, in ad­di­tion to the clear ev­i­dence of rock bot­tom pass rates.

Why would they dig their heels in? Is it the fear of be­ing seen to U-turn and al­low stu­dents to be guided to­wards the most ap­pro­pri­ate qual­i­fi­ca­tion for them? Is it the mis­taken sug­ges­tion that a func­tional skill qual­i­fi­ca­tion equals “wa­ter­ing down”?

Be­ing a politi­cian is a tough job. Plac­ing your­self in a po­si­tion of scru­tiny is a huge price to pay if your heart’s not in it. Why would any­one choose to do that un­less their mo­ti­va­tions were – at least at the be­gin­ning – full of in­tegrity for what is right, or at least for what they be­lieve is right? I be­lieve that most politi­cians go into the game to make things bet­ter.

I’m try­ing not to lose hope in our govern­ment. But this de­ci­sion, which seems al­most puni­tive to those who strug­gle with their English and maths, is be­yond baf­fling.

Sarah Si­mons works in col­leges in the East Mid­lands and is the di­rec­tor of Uk­fechat. She tweets @Mrssarah­si­mons

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