Vocational courses face shake-up
Just 70 vocational qualifications will count towards a school's GCSE performance in league tables in future - a cut from more than 3,000 under the current system.
The move is part of an attempt by the Government to stop schools encouraging youngsters to take qualifications that boost their league table position but do not help a pupil's prospects.
Ministers confirmed that just 125 vocational qualifications will be included from 2014. Of these, only 70 will count towards the main performance measure - the percentage of pupils getting at least five Cs at GCSE, including English and maths.
The other 55 will count in the tables, but will not contribute towards the main measure. Plans to slash the numbers of "equivalent" qualifications were first announced by ministers last year following Professor Alison Wolf's review of vocational education.
Under the current system, 3,175 vocational or "equivalent" courses count in the league tables, and some of these are multiple GCSEs. For example, a level 2 BTEC in horse care, one of the qualifications to be cut from the new style tables, is worth four GCSEs at grade C or higher.
The new system will see every qualification count equally in the tables. Among the others that will not be included in the future are the Level 1 certificate in practical office skills, the BTEC level 2 extended certificate in fish husbandry and the level 2 certificate in nail technology services.
Qualifications that will still count include many of the diplomas introduced by the last government and a number of BTECs and OCR Nationals covering areas such as performing arts, sport, health and social care, media, music and engineering. Some of the courses which will count in the tables are still subject to further review because they are either too new, or still have to demonstrate they have all the characteristics needed to be included, said the Department for Education.
Prof Wolf said there had been a 40-fold increase in the number of vocational qualifications being taught in schools in just five or six years. "It would be lovely to think that was just because these were qualifications that were good for children but some of that is chasing league table points," she told BBC Radio 4. "There are a number of schools which are going out there and basically trying to pile up GCSE-equivalent points."
Even after the reforms, the UK was likely to remain the European country which awarded the most vocational qualifications to 14-16-year-olds, she pointed out. "I am very keen on vocational qualifications but they need to be good ones, and ones that employers recognise and value. The most important thing the Government can do is make clear to people which vocational qualifications and which practical and applied qualifications are really valuable," she said.
Former education secretary David Blunkett said it was "entirely wrong" if schools were deliberately seeking to skew league tables but warned that the tone of reforms risked discrediting important vocational qualifications. He said: "By all means slim them down but do not send the message out that this is a wholesale trashing of what was there and that somehow vocational education has been downgraded. If you do that, you will do us a very grave disservice."