When Nick Boles, Minister of State for Skills and Equalities, announced there was to be a review of how best to accredit skills in maths and English, a collective sigh of relief rippled round the country. Not because teachers and trainers don’t want their learners to achieve a GCSE grade C or above in maths and English and not because many young people don’t want to improve their skills in these subjects post 16, but because one size doesn’t fit all. Students who just miss a grade C by a few marks should always be given an opportunity to have another go and every support and encouragement to achieve this important benchmark should be provided for them. No question. But what about the young person who not only doesn’t achieve a grade C but hasn’t really grasped the basic concepts of reading, writing or using maths? Like a complicated Scandinavian crime drama, the puzzle of how so many young people fall into this category, is complex and multi-layered. Sometimes, learning difficulties such as dyslexia are not spotted soon enough or dealt with effectively; lack of confidence and self-esteem can prevent many children flourishing in the classroom. Children are not daft. They soon work out who is good at what and, without any help from schools or teachers will label themselves as failures – ignoring positive feedback and focusing on comments from peers, teachers and even parents (“Don’t worry, I was never very good at maths either!”) that reinforce their lack of confidence and self-belief.
Home life doesn’t always support children as sickness, debt, unemployment, bereavement, relationship breakdowns get in the way. Teachers are under pressure to move swiftly through the curriculum and, as with everything, once you get behind, it gets more and more difficult to catch up. And of course, some young people do develop these skills but simply cannot perform under the pressure of an exam.
But all of this can be turned around. Post mandatory education, learning programmes can focus more on the individual; building skills in maths and English around a curriculum that motivates and interests them. Vocational teachers who provide positive role models as successful plumbers, builders, hairdressers, can make a real difference in re-engaging reluctant learners with contextualised maths and English. The focus of the current review is how we can make maths and English work for everyone and this requires everyone to get involved.
Questions for #UKFEchat on this subject.
- How far is GCSE grade an indicator of skills? How do you identify gaps?
- Have you got any top tips to engage students with maths or English learning?
- How do you contextualise maths and English for vocational learners?
- What changes would you like to see from the national review of maths and English?
- Is a stepping stone course or qualification needed along the road to GCSE?
Thursday 12th February. 9pm. On Twitter. Do get involved