Government shake-up for vocational qualifications

 

Just 70 vocational qualifications will count towards a school's GCSE performance in league tables in future - a cut from more than 3,000 under the current system.

The move is part of an attempt by the Government to stop schools encouraging youngsters to take qualifications that boost their league table position but do not help a pupil's prospects.

Ministers today confirmed that just 125 vocational qualifications will be included from 2014. Of these, only 70 will count towards the main performance measure - the percentage of pupils getting at least five Cs at GCSE, including English and maths.

The other 55 will count in the tables, but will not contribute towards the main measure.

Plans to slash the numbers of “equivalent” qualifications were first announced by ministers last year following Professor Alison Wolf's review of vocational education.

Under the current system, 3,175 vocational or “equivalent” courses count in the league tables, and some of these are multiple GCSEs.

For example, a level 2 BTEC in horse care, one of the qualifications to be cut from the new style tables, is worth four GCSEs at grade C or higher.

The new system will see every qualification count equally in the tables.

Among the others that will not be included in the future are the Level 1 certificate in practical office skills (worth two GCSEs), the BTEC level 2 extended certificate in fish husbandry (worth two GCSEs) and the level 2 certificate in nail technology services (worth two GCSEs).

Qualifications that will still count include many of the diplomas introduced by the last government and a number of BTECs and OCR Nationals covering areas such as performing arts, sport, health and social care, media, music and engineering.

Some of the courses which will count in the tables are still subject to further review because they are either too new, or still have to demonstrate they have all the characteristics needed to be included, the Department for Education said.

Education Secretary Michael Gove said: “The weaknesses in our current system were laid bare by Professor Wolf's incisive and far-reaching review. The changes we are making will take time but will transform the lives of young people.

“For too long the system has been devalued by attempts to pretend that all qualifications are intrinsically the same. Young people have taken courses that have led nowhere.”

Qualifications that do not meet the set standards can still be offered by schools but will not count in the league tables.

Prof Wolf said there had been a 40-fold increase in the number of vocational qualifications being taught in schools in just five or six years.

“It would be lovely to think that was just because these were qualifications that were good for children but some of that is chasing league table points,” she told BBC Radio 4's Today.

“There are a number of schools which are going out there and basically trying to pile up GCSE-equivalent points.”

Even after the reforms, the UK was likely to remain the European country which awarded the most vocational qualifications to 14-16-year-olds, she pointed out.

“I am very keen on vocational qualifications but they need to be good ones, and ones that employers recognise and value. The most important thing the Government can do is make clear to people which vocational qualifications and which practical and applied qualifications are really valuable.”

Former education secretary David Blunkett said it was “entirely wrong” if schools were deliberately seeking to skew league tables but warned that the tone of reforms risked discrediting important vocational qualifications.

“If there's a problem, let's root it out. But let's encourage youngsters to mix and match. I got my qualifications by getting a vocational qualification in business studies and going to evening classes to get A-levels at the same time.

“By all means slim them down but do not send the message out that this is a wholesale trashing of what was there and that somehow vocational education has been downgraded.

“If you do that, you will do us a very grave disservice.”

He questioned whether schools really were offering some of the subjects being reported.

“I don't know anybody in my neck of the woods who takes horse care. I think the only people in my constituency who have horses are the police” he said.

Shadow education secretary Stephen Twigg said: "Labour will support attempts to maintain rigour in our qualification system. It is not right that some young people are told they can get a qualification which won't be valued by universities, colleges or employers.

"However, we need to be careful not to throw the baby out with the bath water. As employers like JCB have said, the Government is undermining important subjects like the engineering diploma.

"However, the Tory-led Government should talk to teachers, parents and pupils rather than rushing a decision. We saw with the cancellation of the schools building programme, how ill-thought-through changes can cause chaos.

"Practical and vocational skills are important to our economic success and the Government need to make sure they don't devalue them."

Russell Hobby, general secretary of the National Association of Head Teachers (NAHT), said: "The Government seems determined to construct a rigid system of incentives that constrains and crowds out the professional and moral judgment of teachers.

"Playing with the equivalencies of vocational qualifications is part of the problem rather than the solution. A system which placed more trust in teachers would help them make judgments that are right for children rather than the school's position in a league table. Instead, the approach is an escalation of restrictions.

"Schools must focus on what is right for every individual pupil, not on their standing in the league tables. However, when your school can be closed and your staff sacked for a fall in league table standings, it can be hard to do so.

"Vocational qualifications are an essential part of the mix, and should not be treated as second-class courses. Of course, they need to be rigorous and they need to be relevant to the expectations of employers."

PA

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