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Options for young people who didn’t get 5 GCSEs

August 28th 2018

While thousands of young people across Wales are celebrating their GCSE results, Lucy Stone discusses what the options are for those who are not celebrating this year.

Last Thursday thousands of year 11 pupils received what they’ve been waiting all summer for – their GCSE results. There was much deserved congratulations for those who did well coming from parents, schools, and politicians.  And why not, they all worked so hard to get at least 5 A*-C GCSEs, which now holds as much esteem has the old 11 plus. Achieving 5 GCSEs opens so many doors for young people. They can now go onto do their AS and A levels or Level 3 courses at school or college, and from there have the option of going to university and beyond. The world is their oyster.

The other 40%

However, according to the Joint Council for Qualifications less year 11s achieved GCSEs at the A*-C pass rate than last year, 61.2% compared to 62.8%. Wales also had the lowest percentage of A*-C pass grades in the UK, overtaken by England (66.8%) and Northern Ireland (81.4%). With this said, we won’t know how many young people achieved those all-important 5 GCSEs until later in the year. What we do know is that last year over 10,000 young people did not achieve those 5 A*-C grade GCSEs, that’s over 40% of year 11s.

So, what’s next for those who didn’t get the 5 GCSEs? Well they can either re-sit some of their GCSEs, go onto lower level courses at college, enrol onto a traineeship or foundation apprenticeship, get a job or join a programme such as those ran by the Prince’s Trust, but some will do none of these and become NEET (Not in Employment, Education or Training).

Flaws in the system

In June we launched the findings of a piece of research looking into these options for young people without 5 GCSEs, and by no means were all our findings negative, when these options worked, they worked. But for some young people, they simply didn’t work.

We found that the choices available for some young people were limited. There were fewer subjects on offer at lower levels compared to Level 3, opportunities to re-sit GCSEs largely depended on where a young person lived, traineeships and apprenticeships were scarce in different parts of Wales and the local job market for young people without 5 GCSEs was almost non-existent. The choices and opportunities that were available throughout were typically in low-skilled and low-paid sectors, putting young people on a pathway to a low-paid future.

The quality of some provision was also questionable with some young people saying that lower level courses did not give them the skills they needed to progress onto higher level courses, and some negative experiences with traineeships and apprenticeships. This is before you consider the other barriers young people face from poor careers information, advice and guidance and mental health issues, to the cost of enrolling onto a college course and travel costs.

Changing pathways

To redirect the pathway for these young people from a low-skilled and low-paid future to one that offers them a chance to progress into higher-skilled and higher-paid sectors, changes must be made. Young people should have more opportunities to re-sit a wider range of GCSE subjects and a wider range of subjects to study at lower levels, as well as traineeships and apprenticeships offered in more sectors. They also need better access to these opportunities – fees for college courses should be scrapped and transport costs, especially for those from low income families, should be lower. But most of all, young people should be aware of the opportunities that do exist through effective and impartial careers information, advice and guidance. To read all of our recommendations click here.

There are numerous reasons why young people do not achieve 5 A*-C GCSEs – poor physical and mental health, being from a low-income family, and poor teaching are to name but a few. It’s important that these young people are given a second chance to get back on track and have the opportunity to have a better future.

Lucy Stone is policy and research officer at the Bevan Foundation.

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