Today will not be a happy occasion for the typical 17 year old re-taking GCSE maths and/or English. The government now requires them to continue studying these subjects if they did not achieve a grade C at age 16 and many are entered for these qualifications again after just a year of additional study.
For those that are re-entered at age 17, only 29.5% and 26.9% will achieve a C or better in maths and English, respectively.
Condemning young adults to fail a qualification over and over again does not seem ideal. And it isn’t reasonable to blame the post-16 sector for these results; they would quite rightly argue that schools had 11 years to get their levels of literacy and numeracy up to scratch. There is so much that we need to do to improve attainment in literacy and numeracy, particularly for those starting secondary school without the prerequisite standard needed to get on (these excellent posts from @HinTai_Ting highlight possible solutions to the problems we face in maths). These are all long term strategies though.
There is an alternative curriculum for those achieving a grade E, F, G or U first time round. Rather than re-sit the GCSE they are able to take an alternative Functional Skills qualification (which counts towards the new level 2 English and maths measure in Post-16 Performance Tables). What is curious is that there are so many students initially achieving these lower grades who still go onto re-attempt the GCSE itself. The table below shows they have almost no chance of converting their initial grade E or below to a grade C within a year.
What we don’t know is why they are re-attemping the GCSE just one year later, rather than studying functional skills qualifications. It may be the student’s choice; in which case perhaps they need stronger guidance about their prospects of passing. They may be at institutions (such as schools) with small sixth forms that do not offer functional skills classes. Or their institution itself might judge that re-attempting the GCSE over multiple years is a better route to eventual success. Even if this were true, it must be very demoralising for students.