Huge drop-out rate for vocational A-levels

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The Independent Online

Education Correspondent

More than two-thirds of students taking vocational A- levels have failed to complete them within two years, this year's results for the new exam reveal. Only 13,000 of the 42,000 who embarked on the new courses by September, 1993, gained a full qualification by this summer.

Labour's education spokes-man, David Blunkett, is calling for an investigation into why they dropped out and how far they got before doing so. Despite popularity with schools, students and universities, the new job-related route to higher education, introduced in 1992, has not solved the problems of failure and drop-out.

Traditional A-levels have been criticised because 15 per cent of those who start a course drop out and 17 per cent fail. The new modular courses with a test at the end of each separate unit were supposed to counteract the problem

Although those taking advanced General National Vocational Qualifications (GNVQs) can take as long as they like to complete the 15 units, few do so within the two years believed to be sufficient. The courses include leisure and tourism, business and health and social care, and are equivalent to two traditional A-levels if taken to advanced level. Intermediate and foundation courses are also available.

The new courses have proved popular, with 74,000 enrolling for the advanced level in 1994 and more expected to do so this September. They have also been welcomed by universities, with almost 90 per cent of this year's 9,000 applicants being offered a place on condition that they completed their course.

Last year, 85 per cent of the 900 GNVQ students who applied to university were offered places, but only half of them took them up. Among A-level students, three out of four were offered places and two-thirds took them up.

Mr Blunkett welcomed the results but said more details were needed on drop-out rates. "We must do more both in the GNVQs and A-levels to track the reasons why students decide not to stay with their chosen course. In that way, we could start offering better advice to 16-year-olds," he said.

Martin Cross, chairman of the Joint Council of National Vocational Awarding Bodies, said it was not surprising that students were taking longer than two years to complete. Schools and colleges did not feel under pressure to push them through by the summer and many were expected to qualify in the autumn, he said. "This is still a new qualification and I think schools and colleges are experimenting with the pattern of their timetables. The really interesting thing is its popularity and the positive feedback."

Lord Henley, the education and employment minister, welcomed the news that 41,000 of the students who failed to complete the course had achieved some units - 24,000 at advanced level and the rest at a lower level.

"Today's figures strongly suggest that many of those will go on to successfully complete their GNVQs within the next few months," he said.