News | Published September 22 2019

“Shameful” numbers of pupils leaving school without basic qualifications

Children’s commissioner Anne Longfield has said that almost one in five young people in England finish school without a minimum of five good GCSEs or equivalent qualifications.

Research compiled from official statistics reveals that this number has risen by 28 per cent since 2015, with around 100,000 pupils a year falling short.

Longfield says the majority of children affected come from low-income families “who are being left behind”.

Longfield told the BBC: "I know there has been a huge amount of effort into attainment but I think a lot of that has been on raising grades at the higher end.

"As so often is the case, children who are on free school meals and children with special educational needs fare the worse in the situation.”

The findings have come under fire from opposition parties, with Labour shadow education secretary Angela Rayner calling the figures “shocking”.

Rayner added that the rising numbers of failing pupils are the culmination of “brutal cuts on education and support for families and children” that have been implemented by the Conservative government over the last nine years.

The figures reveal that 18 per cent of pupils in England in 2018, equating to around 98,779 individuals, did not achieve five grade Cs or above at GCSE level or in equivalent qualifications. Around 37 per cent of pupils who qualified for free school meals failed to do so.

The report presented to Longfield about the findings reads: “These are children who will have spent 15 years in compulsory education, often having more than £100,000 of public money spent on their education and yet leave the education system without basic benchmark qualifications.

"Many will not be able to begin an apprenticeship, start technical courses or enter some workplaces because they cannot meet the basic entry requirements.”

The report also highlights that a fall in the number of schools offering vocational courses alongside GCSEs has contributed to a rising number of pupils leaving school without sufficient qualifications, particularly when GCSE exams have become more rigorous.

The Department for Education has responded by saying that standards are being raised “across the board” amid improvements in minimum pass grades achieved in English at mathematics at GCSE level. It also claims that the report makes comparisons with a number of qualifications that are no longer accounted for in official performance tables.

A DfE spokesperson said: "We are working to dramatically improve the rigour, quality and standard of qualifications across the board, and have already done so with GCSEs. These reformed qualifications will help young people achieve the skills they need to get on in life."

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Authored by

Scott Challinor
Business Editor
September 22 2019

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