English and maths passes increase as manufacturers plan to recruit an army of apprentices

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Usual GCSE day chatter

It is GCSE day – a day which always invites discussions amongst colleagues, peers and friends about what results they had on what is a rather nerve-wracking day for 15/16year olds. Some responses to my question of ‘What did you get in your GCSEs?’ is followed by ‘GCSES? I did O-Levels!’ There is then the divide of who was in the A* era and who considered an A to be the ‘top mark. And there’s always the comment that it was ‘harder back in my day.’

We could argue for hours whether GCSEs are harder or easier – and probably not come to an overall agreement. However, what we do know is that Key Stage 4 exams (however you want to term them) has been subject to much reform.

The latest proposal is to streamline the number of awarding bodies, so that young people up and down the country take the same exam. I love a good ole education documentary and for the past few weeks have been hooked on the programme, 'Are our kids tough enough? Chinese School.' One of my favourite lines from one of the Chinese teachers was in reference to all Chinese pupils undertaking the same syllabus and the same exam…which she followed with it’s a case of ‘survive or die.’ Arguably a bit too tough, but given the Chinese school, which took a tougher approach and had longer school hours outshone the other school in maths, science and mandarin – maybe there are lessons to be learnt.

And now for the results....

Anyway, enough of you learning about what I like to catch up on iplayer and let’s move onto the results from today… *Drum roll*

The big headline is of course the increase in attainment in English and maths. The numbers of those young people passing (A* to C grades) has increased in both those subjects. Those passing English has increased to 65.1% from 61.7% and maths 63.3% from 62.4%. (This also means that a smaller number of young people will need to re-sit their maths and English exams until they pass - which is a new Government policy.)

This is exactly the news that employers will want to hear. Numeracy and literacy skills are vital for young people whichever pathway they choose when they leave secondary education. Indeed three-quarters of manufacturers say they prioritise attainment in English and maths when recruiting apprentices.

Which brings me on to the pathway young people will choose. In the UK the balance is very much towards taking an academic pathways with school sixth form still the most common destination for 16 year olds, followed by an FE college. According to the Institute for Employment Studies, just 5% went into an apprenticeship - a figure which has remained pretty stable over the last three years. However many employers will want to see young people move away from the conventional university route and instead consider vocational pathways.

Manufacturers in particular are looking to recruit an army of apprentices. Two-thirds plan to recruit an engineering apprentice in the next 12 months and 38% plan to recruit an apprentice in other areas of the business. They will be looking towards those with the top grades to take up these posts, and with a guaranteed job, above average pay and great career progression – you’d have to be mad not to consider it.

All in all a fairly positive news story for today. An increase in attainment in English and maths (and indeed biology, physics and chemistry). If we could just tackle the vocational/academic balance then we’ll have some happy manufacturers ready and waiting to recruit young, talented people into their companies.

Just for fun….

Would you have passed GCSE maths? (courtesy of the Guardian)



Head of Education & Skills Policy

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