Minister admits flaws in vocational qualifications

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The Independent Online
THE GOVERNMENT'S new vocational qualifications being taken by 80,000 young people this year are not good enough, Tim Boswell, minister for higher education, admitted yesterday.

Mr Boswell told a Confederation of British Industry conference that both the content and testing of vocational A-levels must be more rigorous.

His six-point action plan is being introduced after criticism of General National Vocational Qualifications (GNVQs) from academics and school inspectors.

The first 1,500 students gained the qualifications last year when Mr Boswell presented the first award for a vocational A-level to a student who is now at university.

Mr Boswell, who gave no timetable for reform, said: 'GNVQs are surging ahead. One in seven of our 16-year- olds is taking them. They are good qualifications. We want them to have parity of esteem with GCE A-levels. But we recognise that esteem must be earned.' If they were to attain and retain universal respect the qualifications' external testing needed to be improved and the knowledge needed for each qualification must be clarified, he added.

The Government wants a quarter of 16-year-olds to be taking GNVQ course by 1996.

Professor Alan Smithers of Manchester University, who last year published a report criticising the qualifications, told the conference that too much discretion was left to individual teachers and colleges in testing them.

'It is likely, therefore, that standards will be very variable and universities will only be confident in admitting students from schools and colleges they know.' While an A- level had national currency, vocational A-levels would be only local, he predicted.

Some of the most vulnerable pupils are being excluded from school for as long as three years, according to a report published yesterday by the charity Barnardos and Family Service Units.

Schools do not always follow the correct legal procedures. Parents feel powerless to challenge them and believe teachers blame them for their children's behaviour. Some pupils are excluded after illness or bereavement in their families has affected their behaviour.

The number of exclusions has been rising and may be as high as 66,000 a year according to a Mori survey. A disproportionate number of black pupils and of those with learning and behavioural difficulties are excluded.

Brenda Allan, head of policy at Barnardos, said: 'We all know that if children are out of school, they are more likely to misbehave. Children should not be excluded from school for long periods unless there is no alternative.'

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