Schools 'promote bogus training courses'

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The Independent Online

Schools are encouraging pupils to take courses in how to serve drinks and identify airport facilities rather than studying academic subjects, a report claims today.

A new paper by the Civitas think tank claims schools are urging pupils to take qualifications that will boost their standing in league tables.

The report says that in 2008, 311,000 "vocationally-related qualifications" (VQR) were taken by 14-to-16-year-olds.

But these qualifications do not necessarily provide youngsters with the skills they need for working in a particular industry, it claims.

Under the current system, one of these qualifications can be worth up to four A*-C grades at GCSEs in school league tables.

This "greatly incentivises their uptake in schools", the report claims.

It adds: "Despite their value in the league tables, all too often a bogus vocational training route is being used simply as a way to take lower achievers off academic subjects."

An English teacher from south-east London told Civitas: "The bottom sets and vocational qualification students correlate completely. You never encourage the top people to do vocational qualifications.

"To give an example, there was a really bright girl last year who is a fantastic cricketer who really wanted to do BTEC Sport because of the coaching and hands-on element. She wasn't allowed to because the school wanted her to do academic subjects."

The report claims that a unit in the BTEC First Certificate in Hospitality entitled "Serving Food and Drink" says "learners will serve food and drink to customers using a range of methods and equipment", as well as "learn the presentation and personal skills, including being polite to customers, which are necessary for efficient and effective food and drink service".

And a unit on "investigating airports" for OCR Nationals Level 2 Travel and Tourism qualification says: "Candidates will develop knowledge and understanding of the key characteristics of the airport and airline sectors and the facilities and services offered."

Such qualifications are not academic or vocational, the Civitas report claims.

Report author Anastasia de Waal said: "Those defending qualifications mis-sold as vocational, in which you learn not skills but random bits of information tenuously connected to an area of work, are simply exposing their very low regard for vocational training."

A spokesman for OCR said: "Civitas is wrong. OCR Nationals incorporate inherently practical, applied learning - founded on a solid base of knowledge and understanding.

"OCR has never claimed they fully prepare somebody for work in that sector - any more than a GCSE in an academic subject equips you to become a university don in a discipline."

He added: "Sector-based Nationals give students an insight into work in a particular sector, and a platform on which learners can make a more informed decision about their future career."

A separate report by the Institute of Education and the Centre for Market and Public Organisation (CMPO) found that children are more likely to do better in their GCSEs when their parents use league tables to help them choose a school.

The researchers studied half a million children who had to pick a school in 2003, and then analysed how well they did in their GCSEs in 2009. Each child was then compared with similar local children who chose a different school.

"A child who attends the highest performing school within their choice set on 2003 data will turn out to do better than making a choice at random twice as often as they will do worse," the researchers said.

The study concludes that league tables are most useful for students who have to choose between schools with very different levels of performance.

A spokesman for Pearson exam board said: "We absolutely stand by the rigour of the BTEC vocational qualifications we offer, which develop not only practical skills, but knowledge that young people can apply in their future careers.

"Every major employer in the UK agrees on the importance of skills to the UK's economy. Plenty of schools and colleges say that BTEC qualifications stretch and engage their pupils in very different ways from GCSEs.

"We need a grown-up debate about how to make sure young people get the skills that will get them a job or a place in ongoing education. This hastily-assembled report seems to be based more on anecdote than facts."

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