A new report from education charity Impetus-PEF has revealed that just a quarter of students who initially fail the exams achieve a C grade or above in English by the age of 19, and only 13% pass maths.
Students from disadvantaged backgrounds are significantly less likely to catch up according to the research, with only 17% passing English and 8% successfully resitting maths.
The organisation is calling on the government to provide more funding for 16-19 education to tackle this catch up “crisis”.
Impetus-PEF chief executive Andy Ratcliffe said: “Re-sitting maths and English GCSEs should be a second chance for young people to succeed. It should be a sequel with a happy ending.
“Instead it’s normally a re-run, a second chance to fail,” he continued.
“We need to give schools and colleges the support and incentives to help all young people get the qualifications they need, whatever their backgrounds.”
The report found that further education colleges face the greatest challenges in this area, serving almost 125,000 catch up students - ten times more than sixth form colleges.
Kevan Collins, CEO of the Education Endowment Foundation, added: “Without good English and maths qualifications, life after school is much tougher, with fewer options and less access to jobs and higher education.
“Our young people deserve the best chance to succeed. Giving catch-up providers extra funding and the right incentives will improve standards and resource. A must for our young people.”
London student Zulaikha Tasawer, now 20, struggled to pass GCSE English.
“I failed English Language at school in year 10 and again in year 11,” she said.
“Then I went to sixth form college and re-sat, but they only told me two weeks before the exam that they were putting me in for the higher exam – so I did not have enough time to revise, and failed again.”
Tasawer said it was only when she received extra support that she was able to pass the exam.
“There were not so many students so I was able to concentrate properly and had more time to revise. I’m now enjoying working in a nursery in Hackney and I love it,” she said.
“My advice to other students is to work hard and most importantly find the right support.”
Impetus-PEF is calling on the government to establish an “Excellence in English and maths fund”.
Under the scheme, schools, colleges and sixth forms would receive an extra £935 per catch up pupil, with one half provided on enrolment and the other on successful completion.
The Department for Education has been contacted for comment.