Join the dots on post-16 education to help the UK ‘level-up’ says Pearson

Action is needed to ensure the government’s policies succeed in supporting young people to gain the skills they need and help the UK ‘level-up’, says learning company Pearson.

Currently one in three people fail to make the grade at 16 for English and maths – around 100,000 each year - and around two thirds of that group still don’t hit the mark upon resitting. This means young people cannot demonstrate the literacy and numeracy skills that they need to progress with a qualification that they keep failing. Ultimately, this risks losing valuable talent from education and the workforce.

Pearson’s new report calls for the increased use of valid alternative post-16 qualifications, as well as ways of assessing literacy and numeracy skills that are recognised by Higher Education Institutions and employers and allow people to progress in life.

Upon the launch of Pearson’s flagship report into the Future of Qualifications and Assessment in England, ‘Qualified to succeed: Building a 14-19 education system of choice, diversity and opportunity’, Pearson is calling for incremental reform to ensure the current ‘one-size-fits-all’ approach to qualifications and assessment does not hinder individuals’ progression.

Lord Blunkett said:

"We need to make sure every person in England has the opportunity to achieve their full potential, so we cannot sit back and have 100,000 plus young people denied the chance to succeed each year, solely to preserve the dominance of any one qualification.

While GCSEs work for the majority, others are unable to reach the standard needed and require an alternative. It is wrong to suggest that these young people cannot progress, when it is our actions which are narrowing their options, denying them choice and putting barriers in the way of success. 

For every learner who can master trigonometry or craft a compelling essay on Great Expectations, we need others who understand the dimensions for a stable road bridge or can draft an email to drive forward a business project. Taking action to make sure everyone can meet their potential will benefit England as a whole."

The report is the culmination of a year-long programme of independently commissioned research and consultation, reaching over 6,000 employers, teachers, learners and parents and drawing on an esteemed expert panel including Lord Blunkett, Lord Baker, Dame Alison Peacock and Professor Julia Buckingham.

The findings identify the need for a system-wide approach with a more coherent and broad-based curriculum that is better able to connect with and inspire young people – particularly those aged 14-19 as they plan their next steps.

Sharon Hague, Managing Director, Pearson School Qualifications, said: 

"Qualifications and assessments are vital in providing proof of learners’ capabilities and are highly valued by young people and employers. It is essential we make sure they are fit for purpose.

That’s why we have consulted over 6,000 learners, parents, teachers and employers to gain their invaluable perspectives and insights. There is a specific issue to fix for the 1 in 3 young people who do not pass their GCSE maths and English, but overall the system in the UK must be looked at as a whole.

By using the very best data and evidence and making small improvements to the system as and when they are needed, we can ensure our young people get the qualifications and assessments they deserve."

Specific recommendations in the report include:

  • Examining and updating the policy of retaking maths and English until age 18 and broadening the understanding, uptake and acceptance of other equivalent qualifications.
  • A focus on continuous improvement to ensure the current ‘one-size-fits-all’ approach to assessment does not hinder individuals’ progression.
  • Reviewing the curriculum framework across this phase of education to ensure coherence and clarity of purpose.
  • Creating a national digital strategy for schools and Further Education institutions that closes the tech gap between students exposed by the pandemic, and better equips teachers with the latest resources and skills to teach them.

The report considers diversity and inclusion, the role of technology and the needs of employers to get to the heart of understanding how we can make sure the UK’s system of qualifications and assessment work for today’s learners.

The seven recommendations in the report are:

 

1. Make GCSEs work better for all learners.

They are versatile and valued qualifications, but there is room for innovation.

2. Set out a coherent curriculum framework. One linking expected outcomes to the ‘learning journey’ of students.

3. Shift wholescale curriculum and qualification reform to a model of continuous, evidence-based improvement. 

4. Create greater diversity and representation in curriculum that reflects young people’s lives, to better engage them in learning. 

5. Assess the right skills in the right way, enabling learners to highlight their strengths and successes.

6. Provide more incentives for employers to engage with educators and strengthen teachers’ capacity to bring work themes into the classroom. Careers should inspire young people.

7. Accelerate the digital transformation programme, bringing all parts of the system together to realise the opportunities that technology can bring to the education experience.

Read the full report

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