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It’s time we open up options for learners when it comes to English and maths
Last week, we welcomed the government’s long overdue response to the Augar Review, and the focus it has placed on ensuring access to high-quality educational options for learners of all ages. However, when it came to the announcements around student loans, although there were lots of positives to emerge, there are still elements that we believe need to be reconsidered – particularly in relation to English and maths.
The move to restrict loans to only those who have achieved an English and maths GCSE or two A-Levels at Grade E is very disappointing. I absolutely agree that learners need English and maths to support them throughout their educational journey and beyond - indeed we see attainment and retention increase with those who have those core skills. There’s no doubt that English and maths skills are key to laying the foundations for individuals to progress in their learning, lives and work.
However, it is disheartening to see access to financial support denied for those learners going down a vocational route (for example, Functional Skills). This means excluding some of the very people who really need access to this support, in order to progress to university.
Research commissioned by NCFE in 2019 showed that nearly 70% of people think learners should be given the option to take alternative exams other than GCSEs. Our English and maths provision supports schools, colleges and training providers with alternative options, opening the door for their learners to achieve in these vital subjects. However, we want these learners to then be able to seamlessly progress to university or the workplace, armed with the robust set of skills they’ve gained from their Functional Skills qualifications. In fact, the everyday nature of the skills that Functional Skills qualifications deliver actually provides the learner with a better platform to embed the independent living that university life requires, helping to support retention rates for higher education.
Student loans are an investment in people, providing access to education to those who otherwise would not have had the means to pursue higher education. The return on investment for the government is through those students progressing into the workplace, rather than being dependent on the state.
For this to happen, we need to widen opportunities to participate in higher education. Ultimately, learners need to be empowered to fulfil their potential – and that can be through a mixture of academic and vocational education. Therefore, just because someone has chosen to complete a Functional Skills qualification rather than a GCSE or A Level, this does not mean they are not fit for university. I would urge a rethink to the approach to English and maths, and look to standardise this across all areas to ensure that no learner is left behind.
Discover more about our English and maths provision.