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The End of Vocational Qualifications?

February 29, 2012

Last month the Department for Education announced plans to slash the number vocational qualifications that would be allowed to count towards schools GCSE league table results.

The number of qualifications regarded as equivalent to GCSEs will be reduced from 3,000 to just 125, with only 70 of those counting towards the main GCSE performance measure of five A* to C grades at GCSE.

The announcement followed a review of the current system carried out by public policy expert Professor Alison Wolf, who argued that, whilst vocational qualifications should indeed be included amongst the most respected school subjects, too many have “no real value” and, in some cases, were simply being used by schools to improve their rankings.

Some of the courses used to highlight the alleged problem where a BTEC in fish husbandry, a level 2 certificate in nail technology and a City and Guilds level 2 diploma in horse care – all of which will now be no longer considered as equivalent to several GCSEs.

Although schools will still be able to offer these courses, they will no longer be able to use them boost their position in league tables. Full-course GCSEs, established iGCSEs, AS levels and music exams at grade six and over will however still be counted.

Education secretary, Michael Gove believes that the changes will take time but that they will eventually “transform the lives of young people” suggesting that the current system had been devalued by trying to make all qualifications the same and that many young people had taken courses that had led nowhere.

Professor Alison Wolf’s report said that whilst vocational qualifications should still be included, too many have little value with pupils better served by acquiring “broad skills”.

Will students suffer?

Some education experts have hit back at the plans however, saying that students may now be put off taking vocational qualifications as well as leaving students who are currently studying the vocational qualifications in question feeling disheartened.

It is also feared that parents may now be put off vocational courses and could pressure their children into studying subjects unsuited to their children’s ability when a vocational course may have been more suitable.

Speaking in opposition to the proposed changes Chris Keates, general secretary of the NASUWT teaching union, was quoted by the BBC as saying:

Changes of this scale, in the absence of any detailed review of the courses are reckless. They will disenfranchise thousands of young people, remove qualifications employers value, narrow the school curriculum even more and lead to disaffection among pupils.

It’s not only students who may suffer due to the proposed changes either. Many vocational qualifications are in fact developed in partnership with businesses to provide students with real-world experience in order to prepare them for work.

A lower take up could therefore also see employers missing out on ‘work-ready’ employees who have traditionally been able to ‘hit the ground running’ with the skills they have gained.

Time will tell as to whether the decisions taken by the government will help to prevent schools from offering some exams simply to boost their league table position or whether the move will simply mean that schools simply stop offering such qualifications – a move that surely achieves nothing.

Surely if the problem is that the vocational subjects aren’t relevant to the real work, then the answer is to work harder to make these subjects relevant as opposed to just throwing them on the scrapheap.

That’s just one school of thought anyway. What do you think? Should we expect all students to verse themselves in the classical subjects? Or do vocational subject still have a part to play in our education system?

This guest post was contributed by Michael Smith from iTutorMaths.

[Photo Credit: comedynose on Flickr. Used under a Creative Commons licence.]

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