Education Secretary questions students starting university after failing GCSEs

·3-min read

The Education Secretary has questioned whether universities should admit students who have failed their English or maths GCSEs as he called for “rigour” in the higher education admissions system.

Gavin Williamson said he found it hard to understand why entry requirements would be lowered to allow school leavers – who have not yet secured a pass in key subjects at GCSE – to progress onto degrees.

In a speech to the Higher Education Policy Institute annual conference, Mr Williamson also called for the “unacceptable” lowering of literacy standards in degree assessments to “come to an end”.

His comments came after England’s watchdog the Office for Students (OfS) launched a review of “inclusive” assessment practices that disregard poor spelling, punctuation and grammar as it warned it would be “patronising” to expect lower standards for certain groups of students.

It comes after a Mail on Sunday report claimed academics at some institutions have been told that insisting on good written English discriminates against ethnic minorities and those who went to “underperforming” schools.

Addressing university sector leaders. Mr Williamson said: “I want to be clear that certain practices such as lowering of literacy standards in degree assessments are unacceptable and must come to an end.

“If a graduate begins a job without basic literacy this serves no-one, not them, not their peers, not the employer, and not the nation. It undermines the value of a British honours degree. High standards are the bedrock of which our university’s reputation rests, and they must be maintained.”

In his speech, the Education Secretary added: “We expect the same rigour in admissions as we do in every other aspect of higher education.

“Is it really in anyone’s interest if entry requirements are relaxed so much that an 18-year-old who has not yet passed their English or maths GCSEs should progress straight to an honours degree?

“We have to make sure that those with an ability can go to university, if they have the desire and application to do so as long as they can prove that they are up to it.”

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When asked about minimum entry requirements during a Q&A, Mr Williamson said: “I do sort of find it hard to understand that if actually we haven’t got students passing a Level 2 qualification in English and maths as to whether it is right to take that 18-year-old immediately onto a Level 6 qualification.”

In January, the Government announced in its long-awaited interim response to the Augar review of higher education that minimum entry requirements to universities will be considered.

“This is obviously something that we’re going to be consulting on in terms of minimum entry requirements, but I do think there has to be a very real question as to whether that is the right sort of progression and the right sort of route,” the Education Secretary added.

Mr Williamson welcomed Lord Storey’s private members bill which aims to end “the scourge of essay mills”, adding that the Government would like to work with Lord Storey “to see if we can deliver it”.

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