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Volume 450: debated on Monday 16 October 2006

To ask the Secretary of State for Education and Skills what steps the Government are taking to ensure that more pupils achieve grade C or above in English and mathematics at GCSE level. (91876)

We are committed to increasing the number of pupils achieving grade C or above at GCSE level. Over 365,000 pupils are achieving grade C or above in English, and nearly 329,000 are doing so in mathematics. Compared to 1997, around 52,000 more pupils are now achieving five or more A*-C GCSEs including English and mathematics. For the first time, in 2008, local authorities and schools will be required to set targets for the proportion of pupils achieving five A*-C GCSEs, including English and mathematics.

Throughout all key stages we have made efforts to ensure that standards of attainment in English and mathematics continue to rise. We know from experience that children who achieve level 4 (the expected level for their age) or above in English and mathematics at the end of key stage 2 tests are more likely to achieve grade C or above in their English and mathematics GCSEs. The reforms we are pushing through at primary level, particularly the renewed primary framework for literacy and mathematics, will play an important part in helping children achieve more at GCSE.

The secondary national strategy is improving the quality of teaching and learning in the classroom by providing a comprehensive professional development programme for teachers, including training, materials and support from local consultants who are experts in their field. Support is also available to help teachers deliver effective tailored interventions for pupils who have fallen behind, particularly in English and mathematics. This includes additional funding, structured teaching resources for use with individuals and small groups, and training on how to use these resources effectively. We are also piloting a model, “Study Plus”, of extra support for key stage 4 pupils at risk of missing a grade C.

The 14-19 education and skills White Paper set out our proposals to strengthen and improve GCSEs, with a particular emphasis on English and mathematics. We will continue work to reform mathematics and improve motivation and progression. In response to Professor Adrian Smith's post-14 maths inquiry, we have withdrawn the three-tier mathematics GCSE and replaced it with a two-tier qualification, meaning that all pupils will have the opportunity of achieving a grade C; and have established a national centre for excellence in the teaching of mathematics. We are also making changes to the mathematics curriculum to better meet the needs of diverse employers and individual pupils. As part of our overhaul of literacy and numeracy qualifications, mathematics and English GCSEs will be restructured to place functional skills at their heart. In addition, the review of the key stage 3 national curriculum will provide greater flexibility for teachers to meet pupils' needs and opportunities to concentrate on securing the basics in English and mathematics.