An unlovely snobbery can emerge in the discussion of vocational courses in schools, and there was plenty of sneering yesterday about qualifications in, say, fish husbandry or nail technology being run as GCSE equivalents. Such talk is not only unhelpful, it is mistaken. It should scarcely need saying that these courses – and the jobs that result – are of no less value to the individual and the economy as a whole than more academic alternatives.
Having said that, the Government is quite right that vocational courses should not count as GCSE equivalents in school league tables. A focus on rigorous exams in core subjects – particularly English and maths – is essential in assessing school performance. Given that the number of 16-year-olds taking vocational qualifications leapt from 15,000 in 2004 to 575,000 in 2010, there are grounds for thinking some have been looking for easy options. Put simply, academic and non-academic qualifications do not compare, and there is no reason they should.