Today the Department for Education (DfE) released provisional GCSE (and equivalent) results in England for 2011/12. For the first time in the exam's history figures show a drop in the number of students achieving five GCSEs A* to C including English and maths with today's figure standing at 58.6%. This is a decrease of 0.4 percentage points from the previous year.
Chart 1: Percentage of pupils achieving 5 or more GCSEs at A* to C or equivalent, 5 or more GCSEs at A* to C or equivalent including English and mathematics GCSEs and 5 or more GCSEs at A* to G or equivalent
Source: Department for Education (2012)
This fall means that we are even further away from reaching EEF's benchmark of 65% of school-leavers achieving five GCSEs grades A* to C including English and maths by 2015, as outlined in our The Route to Growth report, published earlier this year.
Colleges and sixth form are increasingly requiring school-leavers to have at least five grade Cs and above to further studying. A similar benchmark is often used by employers, with a forthcoming EEF report showing that three-quarters of manufacturers prioritise qualifications in maths, English and the sciences when recruiting for apprentices. However, a lack of attainment in key subjects is restricting firms' ability to fill vacancies with nearly a half of manufacturers citing recruiting problems because applicants lacked relevant qualifications.
It is then of upmost importance that we drive up educational attainment in key subjects. Government is currently looking at ways to drive up attainment including proposals to replace GCSEs with English Baccalaureate Certificates (EBCs). Attainment of EBCs in English, maths, the sciences, history or geography and a language would then lead to students achieving a Full English Baccalaureate. Such proposals to increase take-up in key subjects will be welcomed by employers but more still needs to be done.
We can't just rely on a change in the exam system to drive attainment; we must also look into the quality of teaching.
Data, acknowledged by Education Secretary Michael Gove, reveals that 16% of maths teachers are non-specialists. In addition only 22% of science teachers hold chemistry degrees and even less (14%) hold physics degrees. Government must continue to support more top-class graduates into teaching key subjects in short supply and look at extending the ability of schools to recruit specialist teachers and industry professionals without Qualified Teacher Status.