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3rd Nov, 2023

Lucie Daluiso
Lucie Daluiso
Job Title
Divisional Managing Director - Further Education

Falling achievement in maths and English

In recent years, there has been a notable decline in students’ proficiency in maths and English. This concerning trend can be attributed to a combination of factors.

Firstly, the aftermath of the pandemic has disrupted education, leading to what some have termed a 'Covid hangover'. The structure of a typical school day, established classroom practices, direct interactions between teachers and students, and collaboration among peers are the foundations of the learning process. The lack of these components during the pandemic, substituted by potentially disrupted home settings lacking essential remote learning tools, has resulted in difficulties for students.

Secondly, GCSE marks were hard-won this year, with grade boundaries reverting back to 2019 levels, making no allowance for ‘lost learning’.

Students who did not achieve at least a grade 4 (equivalent to a lower grade C) in these subjects must work towards the required grade until they are 18. This situation is expected to disproportionately affect students from disadvantaged backgrounds and those whose education was most disrupted by the pandemic. Furthermore, the added problem of it being an enforced/unchosen student qualification can raise additional challenges.

Colleges across England are bracing themselves for an influx of students. In fact, around 91% of colleges said they have seen a significant increase in their English and maths retake numbers over the last year, according to a survey by the Association of Colleges. But how can they find the necessary teaching support to accommodate them?

The impact on colleges: finding the necessary teaching support

This is putting immense pressure on the FE sector having to cope with the demand, despite their limited resources. As such, we have seen greater need for English and maths teachers, tutors, and lecturers to run resit classes. Many colleges are having to teach in larger groups and seek a higher number of flexible agency workers from their recruitment partners.

Short-term lecturers, either via agencies or other flexible recruitment solutions, are a great way to meet this demand. However, this approach presents its own challenges, as it requires the sector to be flexible and agile when recruiting. It needs efficient management systems and processes that can handle the complexities of flexible staffing. For example, timetabling can become more complex with part-time or job-sharing employees. As long as colleges are ready to adapt, there are many ways to tackle the issue.

But the surge in demand for English and maths teachers to assist students retaking their GCSE exams underscores a wider concern in the education sector: the need to provide all students with a solid grounding in these fundamental subjects. This is where the implementation of the Advanced British Standard comes in.

Is the Advanced British Standard the long-term solution?

The Advanced British Standard (ABS) is a “new Baccalaureate-style qualification” that seeks to level the playing field between vocational and academic education by taking the best from A-levels and T-levels and combining them into one qualification. A significant feature of this approach is that it requires all students to pursue some form of English and maths education until they are 18 years old. This reform aims to reduce the number of young individuals leaving school without basic literacy and numeracy skills.

While the immediate task is to tackle the rise in students retaking GCSEs in English and maths, a long-term solution could be found in the adoption of the ABS. This could offer a more holistic and balanced education for students, better equipping them for their future professional lives.

Under the ABS, students will study a minimum of five subjects, with more teaching time allocated than under the current scheme. This approach allows students the flexibility to choose subjects they wish to ‘major’ and ‘minor’ in. It also enables students to take a mix of technical and academic subjects, providing more flexibility to support their career options.

In order to facilitate the ABS, English and maths teachers will be even more highly sought after. You might be wondering where all the teachers are going to come from? Under the proposed government’s plans, they will invest £600 million to enhance capacity over the next two years. This includes an annual allocation of approximately £100 million to double the levelling-up premium payments for teachers.

As a result, those teaching subjects with a shortage of staff in the levelling-up areas will receive tax-free bonuses of £30,000 over a span of five years. This benefit will also be extended to lecturers in further education colleges.

In conclusion

The surge in demand for English and maths teachers and lecturers underscores the urgency for robust support systems in colleges. The introduction of the ABS offers a promising long-term solution, emphasising the importance of a balanced education for students.

With substantial government investment, including tax-free bonuses for teachers, there's a tangible commitment to equipping the education sector with the right resources, paving the way for a more empowered generation of learners.

If you are looking for English or maths lecturers to join your college, whether permanent or temporary, get in touch with our specialist FE recruitment consultants today.