More teachers will be needed to teach students who don’t really want to be there. . . and just as more budget cuts are about to hit further education. Why hasn’t someone thought this through?
After teaching English in secondary schools for 12 or so years, I began working as an FE lecturer in Warwickshire; but chose a tempestuous time to make my move.
Though my timetable consists mainly of A-level English teaching, I also have two GCSE English classes – one is an evening group and the other I affectionately, but slightly less imaginatively, call my “GCSE resitters”.
These students did not get a C grade their first time around. A policy introduced by the coalition government requires that for as long as they are in further education they must keep resitting until they hit the mark.
The reasons why they did not get a C vary. It could be because of poor attendance, lack of confidence, laziness or poor exam technique (missed a whole question – or worse, a whole section). In some cases it was poor teaching or wrong information given to them by their former schools.
This group has taught me a lot, and they are lessons worth sharing, given that Labour has pledged to force all young people to study maths and English to 18, and the other parties seem keen to encourage it.
You need a Kevlar-covered rhino hide to teach GCSE English resit students forced into classes
Teaching forced resitters is tough. After the first few lessons, I was wondering what I had done. Some days it seemed easier to take a snake on a lead for a walk.
When turning up to class they would bring bags of resentment and fear, often masked in behaviours such as class clowning, truculence and defiance. In some cases they voted with their feet and wouldn’t show up at all. If you thought you need a hide of a rhino to teach in secondary school, then you need a Kevlar-covered rhino hide to teach students forced into these classes.
Although I have relished the challenge and loved seeing my resitters move from truculent apathy to being (mostly) calm and studious, I suspect that recruiting for a GCSE resit class is not easy. Getting more people to teach English and maths to 18-year-olds won’t be easy either.
Secondary schools fall over themselves to recruit great maths and English teachers, offering a salary and teaching and learning responsiblity awards.
Colleges struggle to compete. Small school sixth forms also might struggle. Yes, yes, teaching is about more than the money – but we all have bills to pay so it would be foolish to deny the issue of pay.
It is also not uncommon in FE for teachers of level 1 English and maths courses to not be subject specialists. A fellow teacher is a case in point: he is an English specialist who is now teaching functional skills maths. This can work at entry level, but it will be difficult to achieve if every student must study until 18 as their abilities will vary so much.
Also, how can you recruit and retain the best specialist teachers with an ever dwindling budget? With a terrible sense of inevitability, it seems we are heading for a bottle-neck of increased numbers of students studying core subjects (English and maths) for longer, whilst FE faces budget cuts of about 25 per cent and schools face austere times, too.
The proposal to study English to 18 throws up more questions than it answers: If they have still not got their GCSE English at a grade C, will it be the GCSE course in perpetuity? If they have achieved their C, are we going to shunt them on to an AS English course, or will there be alternatives offered by QCA and the exam boards?
For those who want to keep studying English, is there room for them to pursue their own interests in some way? Will employers and industry play a role in deciding what will be taught? Where will the money come from to fund the extra teachers? Will school sixth forms and FE colleges be able to collaborate or will we be set against each other?
And the final question must be, has anyone actually thought about the practicalities – for colleges, teachers and students – of making students study English to 18?
Gwen Nelson is a former secondary teacher and now an FE lecturer