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Taking GCSEs in an alternative provision

One of the first questions parents ask when they visit In Toto Ed is “can my child sit their GCSEs here?”. As an alternative provision, we pride ourselves on giving young people the chance to take - or resit - GCSE Maths, English, Science, Computer Science, and Music. In some circumstances, we may be able to offer other subjects too. Our ethos is that every student deserves their own bespoke pathway to give them the best possible chance of success.

One of the reasons I am so proud to work for In Toto Ed is the broad curriculum we have on offer. It is incredibly important to us that we tap into the interests of our students and inspire them in a way that mainstream education has not. All students in Key Stage 4 study the core subjects – English, Maths, and Science - and choose four additional subjects that interest them. For our post-16 students, we look at focussing on a specific pathway to ensure they can achieve the qualifications and experience required for them to take their next steps into employment, vocational routes or higher education. This combination of need and passion often inspires a profound motivation in students as they are given distinct reasoning to apply themselves and gain qualifications in subjects they make not like, but understand are necessary for their goals.

At each of our schools we have a core of students who are with us on a permanent basis, as well as other students who drop in for six-week placements before heading back to their mainstream school. Whether you are here for six months or six weeks, you will be taught a thoroughly planned curriculum by highly qualified and experienced teachers, who are adept at finding gaps in knowledge and understanding, and work hard to fill them while instilling confidence in our students. Depending on the needs of our students, class sizes range from 1:1 to no more than six students. Where necessary, all classes have Teaching Assistants to help and nurture those who are disengaged with learning or need some additional support, and this continues right up to GCSE exams.

As an accredited centre, we have access arrangements in place, allowing our students to feel as comfortable as they can not only in the run-up to the exams, but on the actual exam days themselves. Many of our students have Education, Health and Care Plans (ECHPs) which allow them 25% extra time, but we can also offer a scribe, reader, coloured paper, rest breaks, access to a laptop, and for exams to be taken in a smaller room with only the invigilator present, if we have enough supporting evidence to do so. Students who take their lessons online have the option to sit their exams at home, with In Toto Ed staff present as invigilators.

We are now planning for the next exam season in Summer 2024 with the entry deadline being in February 2024. With this in mind, we are busy holding meetings with parents, students, and mainstream schools to ensure we have a clear plan on what needs to be put in place. Teachers are periodically assessing students, with mock exams planned for November, to monitor progress and help decide whether GCSE English and Maths should be taken – and if so, at what level - or Functional Skills. I always think that Functional Skills are a secret jewel in the education system’s crown that most people are not aware of. They are different to GCSEs, but for many students they are any excellent way to progress into further education or an apprenticeship. In a nutshell, they (available in English, Maths and Digital IT Skills) are skills-based qualifications. Therefore, Functional Skills courses offer students the opportunity to learn how to use English and Maths in everyday situations. GCSEs, on the other hand, are academic qualifications and equip learners with a strong theoretical knowledge base and skill set. Whilst GCSEs are graded 9-1 and can only be take once a year (or twice, if you are doing a resit in November), Functional Skills can be taken at any point and are available to take online or in paper format. They are pass or fail, and a pass at Level 2 is the equivalent of a 4 grade at GCSE.

Students who do not achieve a ‘good pass’ at GCSE (grade 4 or above), or a pass at Level 2 Functional Skills, will be required to continue to study English and Maths at post-16 level as these are qualifications most career paths consider essential. For some learners, passing the core subjects can be exceptionally challenging and many feel that this becomes a real barrier to them persuing a course at university. Although universities would generally expect you to have a pass in GCSE English and Maths, many do accept Functional Skills - particularly if you have a strong skill set in the subject you are applying for. For example, if you are applying to study a subject such as photography, having a good portfolio counts for a lot and while there are still likely to be UCAS points-based entry requirements, there are universities who will accept Functional Skills as equivalents. It is best to research this before choosing your subjects and ultimately making your applications to avoid disappointment, and this is absolutely something the In Toto Ed staff assist learners in doing.

When students attend an alternate learning centre, many people think this means their chances of gaining qualifications are reduced. At In Toto Ed, we see it as a positive move. Everybody learns in different ways, and an alternative provision is simply a learning environment that can be tailored to how you learn best, rather than how the majority learn best. Last year, we had a 100% pass rate at GCSE; every student entered for a vocational qualification from Entry Level up to Level 2 passed; and all students who applied for college or university got accepted and gained the qualifications needed for them to start in September. We were delighted that one of our London students started on the BMus course at the SAE Institute, following a successful two years with us. Alternative provisions are a vital part of the education system and I am proud that In Toto Ed is not just any old AP; we are one with the setup, resources, and staff team needed to help our students succeed and take their next steps into a brighter future.


By Emily Gunton, Director of Learning & Development, In Toto Ed

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