Exam time stresses and logistical nightmares
June. Exam time. It’s always stressful for students. They think ‘have I done enough revision?’, ‘will I be able to answer all of the questions?’, ‘how will I celebrate once they’re done?’. This year, however, is just as stressful for colleges. But their question is ‘how are we going to fit all of the students in?’. The reason for this is the changes to GCSE maths and English. Colleges across the country are dealing with a massive increase in the number of young people who have to retake GCSE maths and English exams. This year it was made compulsory for all students who didn’t achieve grades A*-C by the age of 16 to continue to retake either GCSEs or complete Functional Skills in maths and English as part of their further studies. This is leading to a huge logistical issue for the upcoming exam days, with colleges needing large numbers of examination rooms and some having to bus students to hired external venues so they can all take their exams simultaneously. Today, for example, a college in the South West has over 700 students sitting GCSE English. They need 65 rooms and over 85 invigilators, and have had to resort to using offsite rooms and cancel lessons at their main site to accommodate these huge numbers. The same is true for an east London college, which has seen a 50% rise in the number of students enrolling to study GCSE maths and English – which is a third of their total enrolments. They’re even using the principal's own office as an exam room, and are sending text messages to students the night before as a reminder of where they need to go. Supporting students who have previously failed these qualifications is not easy, as specialist teaching staff is needed to motivate them which all requires funding. These numbers have also resulted in an increase in exam fees, payable by colleges who have seen their funding slashed over recent years. The issue is only going to get worse, with the introduction of new, increasingly academic GCSEs this September, and the requirement for all students who achieve a D at GCSE having to re-take until they get at least a C grade, and without the option of doing Functional Skills. Some students will be taking their exams four times in total (once in school and three at college) and might still not achieve a grade C. The impact this could have on a student’s morale is immeasurable. We believe that there is no quick fix to the maths and English challenge. GCSEs need to be rigorous qualifications, but some young people will never achieve this. We think the Government should work with employers and colleges to develop new qualifications which are related to the world of work and everyday life. We need to make sure that students thrive and succeed. Putting them through a never ending exam process may not be the right way to do this. David Corke is the Director of Education Policy for the Association of Colleges.