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Student loan ban for kids who fail maths or English GCSE

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Written by: Emma Lunn
23/02/2022
Children who fail maths or English GCSEs could effectively be barred from going to university under new government plans.

Tomorrow, the government will launch a consultation on reforms to higher education, including minimum entry requirements to ensure pupils “aren’t being pushed into higher education before they are ready”.

Under the proposals, students who don’t score at least a Grade 4 (a C in the previous grading system) in GCSE (or equivalent) maths and English or at least two Es at A-Level (or equivalent) will be blocked from accessing student loans if they apply for university later on.

But, it will also consult on an exemption for people who don’t meet a GCSE (or equivalent) minimum eligibility requirement but have good A Levels (or equivalent).

The plans aim to limit student numbers, crack down on ‘low quality’ degrees and limit the cost of universities to the taxpayer.

A DfE blog on the matter wrote: “We want people to pursue the right path for them and receive a fair deal for their investment if they choose to go to university. Too often, students are taking on debt for courses that will not help them earn more in the future.”

Essentially, the government is looking to increase the number of graduates with degrees that lead to “better outcomes for them, society, and economy – such as good employment prospects and better earnings”, it added.

Data from the UCAS shows 320,000 sixth formers have applied for university places so far this year, compared with 306,000 in 2021.

A DfE spokesperson said in a statement: “Our universities are a great British success story. They are powerhouses of innovation and are playing a key part in revolutionising the skills system, helping making lifelong learning possible with more flexibility and technical training.

“But we need to ensure that we are creating opportunities that will not only open doors but will develop the talent our country needs to prosper now and in the future.

“Higher education is an investment and we need to ensure that graduates are being rewarded for the money, time and effort they put into their studies with an educational experience and jobs that match their skills and help contribute to the economy.”

About 71% of pupils in England achieve a grade 4 in GCSE English and maths, falling to 52% among disadvantaged households.

Ending university hopes of school leavers

Critics warn that setting minimum entry requirements too high would effectively end the university hopes of many school leavers from poorer households. Better off families could pay for GCSE tuition to improve their child’s grades or, if they still failed to get the required grades, pay their children’s university tuition fees and living expenses.

The rule would also mean a block on university for pupils gifted in maths and science, but performing more poorly in English, or vice versa.

The proposals prompted an outcry on social media.

One Twitter user posted: “This is devastating and unnecessary. Why should you be kept out of a music, or art, or dance, or drama degree for getting a grade 3 in maths? Why should you be stopped from gaining a maths degree for getting a 3 in English? And why let rich kids avoid these rules?!”

Another Tweeted: “Pupils who fail English and maths ‘will be barred from student loans’. Ridiculous! I got GCSE 3 (fail!) for my maths, largely because no-one noticed I was dyslexic. I went on to get a degree from a red brick university – and I have a successful career.”

The government added that the plans won’t limit access to higher education: “If implemented, student number controls will not control the overall number of students that enter higher education but aim to control growth of courses that offer poor outcomes for students.

“Our aim is to make sure that a student’s access to higher education is determined by their ability and not their background. That is why we have also announced measures to promote widening access.”

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