Compulsory GCSE re-sits policy needs

re-thinking Comment by FLEUR SEXTON, joint managing director, PET-Xi

I’d like to add my voice to the clamour from education bodies calling for the government to scrap its policy of compulsory GCSE English and maths re-sits for 16-year-olds. As Albert Einstein said, the definition of insanity is doing something over

and over again and expecting a different result. Yet that’s exactly what happens with a compulsory re-sit – young people who have already failed once are faced with repeating an exam they may have little chance of passing at a second attempt. What does this policy do to the individual? It's horribly demoralising and crushes the confidence of those who are not academic, but are brilliant in their own way. We don’t want to de-motivate our students – instead we should be encouraging them and nurturing those things they are good at doing. Otherwise we just sap their confidence and cause emotional damage. It also puts stress on teachers who are charged with putting students through the courses and exams again. There’s got to be a better way. Academic achievement isn’t the be all and end all. I’ve worked in education for over 20 years, mostly involved with supporting

young people who face challenges in their lives which make it difficult for them to achieve their full, and certainly their academic, potential. There are various and complex reasons that lie behind disaffection in

education, however, groups of consistently low achievers include boys, FSM, EAL and SEN pupils, some ethnic minority groups, pupils with high mobility between schools and Looked After Children. It’s also a sad fact of life that some young people in modern Britain lead

chaotic lives – they could be carers or dealing with substance misuse, physical abuse, or pregnancy for example. With such difficulties in their social situation these youngsters have bigger issues to think about than their GCSEs. Most children become disengaged from their education because they have

not found their own particular road. If they don’t get it we have to try another way – not try the same thing again. Paul Joyce, Ofsted’s deputy director for FE and skills, has questioned

whether it is realistic to expect that everybody with a GCSE grade D in English or maths can actually achieve a grade C (or the new equivalents 4 and 5). That’s a question worth asking because it may not be a realistic expectation of everybody. From our experience at PET-Xi, working in partnership with schools to

support young people around the country, we see daily how the right intervention achieves grade improvements for most, thus making a valuable difference to their life chances. So we know that intervention is good and works. But there will always be some for whom academia is not the right route

and so I believe we need a multi-layered approach, which also encompasses work experience and a choice of vocational and functional skills qualifications. Work experience in particular can be so useful in helping to reduce youth unemployment, supporting students in becoming ‘work-ready’ by showing them what the world of work is like. Even small things such as learning email etiquette and how to answer a phone need to be learned. Of course literacy and numeracy skills are vital. But with Ofsted in the

process of considering whether the compulsory re-sit policy is ‘doing the job’, I believe that now is the time for the whole education community to discuss alternative approaches and exams. Children facing challenges must feel there is hope for their future. If the

GCSE path is too narrow for them to stay on, we owe it to them to offer another way.


How do we prepare children for the ‘F’ word?

Comment by BARRY RICHARDSON, Creative Director, The Worrinots

Nobody likes to experience failure, but it is one of life’s inevitabilities. Everyone has experienced it at some point, but it’s how you deal with it that matters. Children in particular are often shielded from failure, with the best of intentions in mind, but this doesn’t create the skills they will need in life to cope with failure when it rears its ugly head. Even the brightest pupils will fail at some point in school, even the

best athlete won’t always be first. This is why dealing with failure and processing emotions positively and effectively is vitally important – it is a life skill. Without preparing children to deal with failure, we are letting them down. It only means the problems will be exacerbated in adulthood. Children spend so much time at school interacting with others and

experiencing failures. Schools have a vital role to play. A role that should equip children to deal with emotions that supersede failure. Unfortunately, what is clear is that schools are good at giving

students the tools to succeed at exams and tests, but all too often fail to offer students coping mechanisms for the anxieties and stresses schools put them under to achieve. The problem with untreated mental health conditions – which may

well stem from failure and unprocessed emotions – can be numerous. What is obvious however, is that the inability to process emotions in adulthood can have a devastating impact on someone’s ability to function within society. This is what makes teaching emotional intelligence such a life skill and is why schools should be using technology to help children share their concerns, worries and fears. By harnessing the technology that children trust, The Worrinots

app provides a solution to the problem. Offering long term tips and tactics in the classroom, The Worrinots app helps children learn to cope with and manage ongoing pressures. In an educational environment this solution is vital. The fact that

schools are often ill-equipped currently to help children with their mental health problems means that new solutions are imperative. Given the extent of the problem – 290,000 children in the UK have an anxiety disorder – action needs to be taken now. By working together, and using considered tools like The Worrinots, it is possible to help children prepare for failure and share their worries, fears and anxieties in a way that makes the outcome for them positive. To quote Benjamin Franklin “By failing to prepare, you are

preparing to fail.” This should be applied to teaching children, especially when it comes to dealing with failure and their feelings. Children shouldn’t be insulated from failure as this does not prepare them for later life; instead children should be given the right tools to allow them to express themselves and learn how to cope with anxiety, worries and ultimately the “F” word. As Winston Churchill once said “Success is not final, failure is not

fatal: it is the courage to continue that counts.” Or to steal J.K. Rowling’s words “Failure is so important…It is the ability to resist failure or use failure that often leads to greater success.” Failure is not the end. It is a part of life. Those that cope with

failure the best give them themselves a much better chance of being happy and successful.

December 2016

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