16/17 KS4 leavers and apprenticeship schemes

Now that we are a way into the 2016/2017 academic calendar it is a good time to look at a huge test for how the worlds of education and business interact over the coming months.

This academic years Key Stage 4 leavers will be the first to receive their GCSE grades in English Language, English Literature and Maths in the new grading system of 9 – 1. How this compares to the historic A-G grading system is show below


As the description says, this means that 16/17 leavers will receive a mixture of 9-1 and A-G grades from their GCSE qualifications. Students may also be taking Btec L2s (which report as Distinction, Merit, Pass) and other qualifications such as the much maligned ECDL so will also have different grading schemes in their set of results.

So, a student opening their results envelop in August 2017 might see something like this (from this Ofqual PP):


This will continue for 17/18 leavers as more GCSEs such as Art, the Sciences, Drama & Geography are accredited in the new manner and then into 18/19 as subjects such as Sociology, D&T & Engineering join them.

The wider impact of these changes throughout the systems of education and employment dependent on understanding the context of those grade indicators could be messy. Getting the message through about the changes to students and their parents is a challenge in itself and one which Ofqual has been keen to gain help from schools but the bigger challenge remains of explaining this to employers. Hints at the scale of the communication challenge can be found in the employer response to the forthcoming apprenticeship levy

If a new funding system that will directly impact a company’s bottom line and their immediate training pipeline is struggling to gain widespread understanding then a seemingly (to those outside education) superficial change to GCSE grading is a difficult concept to gain traction. As anybody working in careers in schools will attest, many speakers from employers still come into school and wish the students good luck in their “O Levels.”

This lack of understanding has immediate impacts. Over the past few and forthcoming weeks many of the school leaver and apprenticeship schemes from larger employers will begin to be advertised for September 2017 starts.

The Airbus Group Engineering Apprenticeships, the Glaxo SmithKline Engineering Apprenticehips and the Manufacturing Apprenticeship at Selex Leonardo are all open for applications at the time of writing (November 2017). All three schemes are for September or Summer 2017 starts, all three are open to applicants who will be leaving Key Stage 4 in summer 2017 and all 3 ask for A-C GCSE requirements.


Not a mention of 9-1 grades. Yet many of the opportunities at larger employer require applicants to apply via the employers own website where, on the GSK site, the 9-1 scale is mentioned:


These are just a few examples of the many schemes that will be opened to 16/17 leavers over the next few months. It may add complexity but HR managers need to be including the new grading system in their job descriptions and adverts to smooth applications from younger students. Otherwise mixed messages and the inflexibility of drop down menus on online applications holds potential to discourage and confuse 16/17 leavers and parents from engaging with apprenticeship routes.

In recent years, business organisations have successfully positioned business as a sphere that is keen to engage with education, dissatisfied with the current skills on offer from young workers and with the ability to rapidly react to change. Publications such as the annual CBI Education & Skills survey place the emphasis on what business requires from education. Well, over this application season building up to the summer results, education needs a rapid and clear response from business.




How does the CEIAG community feel about early and multiple GCSE entry from an employability standpoint?

Careers guidance in schools is tied to a (sometimes) unmovable anchor; the framework of routes, options and qualifications that each school either offers or requires it’s students to study. To further complicate this mix of multiple Key Stage 4 pathways and compulsory BTECs are the early and multiple entry for core subjects that an increasingly large number of schools are asking their pupils to take and retake in a long treadmill towards that 5A*-C milestone and the glory of those top school league table positions.

The statistics and comment on the recent GCSE results have opened the debate both of the value of these practices and the impact on the education of the learners involved. My question is, how does the Careers education and guidance community feel this impacts the career readiness of young people?

On the one hand you have the CBI no less (an organisation that must surely guide the thinking of those of us in schools endeavoring to close the gap to the business community) being extremely disparaging in their criticism of multiple entry and continuous exam preparation.


“The sheer scale of multiple and early entries is astonishing. Employers don’t want exam robots – they want young people who are academically stretched, rounded and grounded.

“Turning schools into exam factories and cramming two years’ syllabus into one benefits no one. A GCSE should be an assurance of ability, not a consolation prize for surviving months of continual testing and retesting.”

The alternative of terminal, all or bust, one chance exams is the clear preferred scenario of the current Dfe administration and one they are moving towards with each of their reforms. The belief is that this will enable teachers to open new depths of study for pupils as they are not continually jumping through the next hoop on the path of exam preparation drudgery. Yet, this structure is one unrecognisable to anyone learning their way through a working life or educating young people about those working lives. Professor Patrick McGhee concisely covered this in a few tweets on results day:


Of course, the wiser, more considered minds will stress the need for balance between these two positions. A qualification framework that offers variety of assessment methods but tied to a public accountability measure unplayable by school leaders which, by extension, grows the best of employability and entrepreneurial skills in each learner. Unfortunately it seems that the extremes of the current debate, the stresses on the exam system, the pressure of league tables and the sheer will of schools to find whatever chink in the armour of regulation they can mean that any compromise is deemed a “muddle” and a decisive shift towards one position or another is the solution. Will an outcome of this story be the erosion of the career preparedness of young people?