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School league tables to exclude thousands of vocational qualifications

Vocational Training

Thousands of vocational qualifications which do not offer pupils a chance to go on to further study after 16 are due to be stripped out of school league tables, the government has announced.

Qualifications such as an NVQ level 2 in hairdressing, which is worth the equivalent of six GCSEs, and an OCR level 2 national certificate in travel and tourism – worth four GCSEs – are likely to be ditched.

But ministers are expected to allow graded music exams to count as the equivalent of a GCSE from 2014. Music exams are currently given the same value as part of a GCSE.

Schools will still have the freedom to offer a range of courses but only results in the most rigorous qualifications will boost their position in league tables.

Ministers are proposing that qualifications should count only if they have been taught for at least two years and have good levels of take-up among students. Pupils must also be offered “good progression” into post-16 courses rather than a limited number of occupational areas. The qualifications must also have a substantial proportion of external assessment.

More than 4,800 qualifications currently count towards school results whether or not they include external assessment. Only two non-GCSEs will be allowed to count towards the existing five A* to C GCSE benchmark of success, the government says.

The number of “equivalent” qualifications taken in schools up to 16 has boomed in recent years from 15,000 in 2004 to 575,000 in 2010. The proposed changes follow a review of vocational education carried out by Professor Alison Wolf, a public policy expert. She argues that pupils need to acquire “broad skills” to enable them to thrive over a lifetime of change.

Wolf said: “In recent years schools have been under enormous pressure to pile up league-table points. When any qualification under the sun can contribute these, the pernicious effects are obvious. We need a single list of good qualifications, which all have the same key structural characteristics, but cover a wide range of content. They need to be stretching, standardised, and to fit easily into a typical pupil’s programme and into a school’s overall timetable.”

The government confirmed on Wednesday that the makeup of the English baccalaureate will stay the same for the next set of league tables, which will be published in January based on this year’s results. Pupils’ results will count towards the EBacc if they achieve a C or better at GCSE in English, maths, geography or history, the sciences and a modern or ancient language.

Brian Gates, chair of the Religious Education Council of England and Wales, accused the government of undermining religious education by not including it. He said: “The rigorous study of ethics, faiths and beliefs allows those selecting GCSE RE to develop strong written and verbal skills, as well as to gain a factual knowledge of the world we live in. It is a travesty that as we face challenges of cohesion and a weakening of our collective identity, the very subject that can make sense of it all has been deemed less academically viable than geography and history.”

The Guardian, July 20, 2011


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