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Blog post Part of special issue: Exploring issues in secondary subject English: Reconnecting curriculum, policy and practice

Initial teacher training for GCSE English resit teachers in the further education sector in England: A responsive reform

Kayte Haselgrove, Lecturer and Assistant Programme Lead at University of Derby

Following changes to government policy, the picture of English in the further education and skills (FES) sector has changed dramatically over the past decade. Not only are all students now required to achieve a grade 4 at GCSE, but changes to the examination content means that teachers with English subject expertise are required. As a result, specialist FES initial teacher education (ITE) programmes are having to reconsider the shape of professional formation to support the development of teachers who understand both the English subject content and how to communicate it to an often hard-to-reach cohort.

In 2014, the Department for Education stipulated that all learners aged 16–19 in the FES sector who had not gained a grade 4 must resit their GCSE English Language. These new mandatory classes were taught by Functional Skills teachers whose specialism was not English, but in teaching literacy to students in the FES context – students who, for various reasons, had been unable to achieve grade 4 in school despite years of preparation. The GCSE specifications were revised in 2016, with additional English subject content required, including the ability to analyse challenging 19th-century literature. As a result, many FES teachers – hitherto highly effective in meeting the needs of their students – were forced to step away from GCSE resit teaching as they lacked specialist knowledge related to the teaching of literary analysis. Seven years on, the Association of Colleges has found that while FES learners are now mostly taught by English specialists with higher-level qualifications in the subject, there is a teacher shortage (AoC, 2022).

The authors of The Forgotten Third argue that FES learners should not be resitting GCSE English at all, suggesting an alternative competency-based approach to learning and assessment of English for those who do not achieve a grade 4 at the age of 16 (ASCL, 2019). However, with Functional Skills slowly being removed as an option for learners in the FES sector (AoC, 2022), and with the Department for Education announcing plans to increase taught hours and reduce the number of learners excused from GCSE English resit, the likelihood is that GCSE English in FES is here to stay. The need for suitable teachers remains urgent.

Research tells us that despite high levels of subject knowledge, trainee teachers (in any sector) can lack an understanding of their learners, their context and the pedagogical content knowledge which enables effective teaching and learning (Shulman, 1986). This notion influenced a small-scale research project focusing specifically on the needs of the FES ITE trainee specialising in teaching GCSE English Language resits. A short series of interviews took place, the first with three experienced GCSE Resit English teachers and the second with four trainee teachers who had just finished their teacher training.

All participants highlighted that although they recognised the need for subject specialist and pedagogical knowledge, these two elements were less important than an understanding of the needs and the context of the FES learner (Haselgrove, 2023). Although this may be in part because the needs of the FES learner were areas around which the trainee teachers felt least knowledgeable on entry, the fact that the experienced teachers came to the same conclusion suggests that there is more to explore.

While there is a strong suggestion from Ofsted (2019) that subject specialist teachers need to consider predominantly the sequencing of learning, the suggestion here is that this needs to be in line with an understanding of how to engage disengaged learners and how to create opportunities for learners with barriers to achievement in these qualifications. Research is gradually emerging on the most effective ways to teach the GCSE Resit learner (RCG, 2023) which acknowledges that the approach to preparing trainee teachers should be different to the teaching of other subjects: the focus should be on pedagogical practices which make the content accessible to their learners.

‘The approach to preparing trainee teachers should be different to the teaching of other subjects: the focus should be on pedagogical practices which make the content accessible to their learners.’

It is therefore important to consider how trainee teachers are best prepared to enter the sector. This includes ensuring that that subject specialist pathways support the development of adequate subject knowledge; provide them with appropriate pedagogical principles to communicate content; help them understand how to sequence learning effectively; and increase understanding of the needs of the learners and the sector they are entering. Then, hopefully, we can keep them in a sector which desperately needs them.


Association of Colleges (AoC). (2022). AoC English and maths survey January 2022.

Association of School and College Leaders [ASCL]. (2019). The forgotten third: Final report of the Commission of Inquiry.

Haselgrove, K. (2023, June 30). GCSE English Language resit teacher training in further education: A responsive reform [Lecture]. University of Bedfordshire.

Office for Standards in Education [Ofsted]. (2019). Educational effectiveness research and further education and skills.

Research College Group [RCG]. (2023). English resits practice and literature review [Lecture]. Aston University.

Shulman, L. S. (1986). Those who understand: Knowledge of growth in teaching. Educational Researcher, 15(2), 4–14.