Vocational courses harder to pass than normal exams

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The Independent Online

The Government's new vocational A-level proved harder to pass than the traditional exam, statistics published yesterday indicate.

The Government's new vocational A-level proved harder to pass than the traditional exam, statistics published yesterday indicate.

The results are the first full set of figures for the work-related qualifications introduced in 2000 in an attempt to create a high-status vocational alternative to traditional A-levels.

Education experts welcomed the figures, arguing that they were much better than previous results for work-related qualifications.

The proportion of candidates achieving A grades in the work-related exams this summer was 4.3 per cent, compared with 20.7 per cent in traditional A-levels. The overall pass rate was 78.7 per cent, compared with 94.3 per cent for A-levels.

The pass rate is better than last summer's results for students working towards the new qualifications. In 2001 there was a collective pass rate of 54.4 per cent, with only 1 per cent of students passing with a grade A.

Alan Smithers, director of Liverpool University's Centre for Education and Employment, said the exam would always struggle to compete with traditional academic exams. He said: "Students with A, B and C grade GCSEs are still more likely to take the traditional A-level, while those with lower results take the vocational option."

The six-module exam was introduced in September 2000 to replace the Advanced GNVQ and is graded in the same way as conventional AS and A-levels. It attracted controversy as soon as students sat their first modules. Many candidates failed at their first attempt because all six vocational modules were deliberately set at full A-level standard while traditional A-levels contain three AS-level modules, which are designed to be easier.

The exam was taken by 32,246 students in 14 subjects including business, construction, catering, retail and travel.

There was a marked sex bias in the subjects chosen by vocational students. All but 22 of the 478 engineering students were male, while 4,349 of the 4,580 health and social care candidates were female.

The vocational AS-level was sat by 12,411 students this summer compared with 5,700 last summer. More than one in four candidates failed and only 5.6 per cent were awarded A-grades.

This year saw the first publication of results of the new Advanced Extension Awards for the brightest 10 per cent of 18-year-olds. Only 47.9 per cent of the 6,841 entrants passed.

The papers are designed to ask more in-depth questions about the topics covered in the A-level syllabus. Estelle Morris, the Secretary of State for Education, has proposed scrapping them and introducing extra-challenging questions to each A-level paper, which would allow students to achieve distinction A-levels.