Only the “very highest quality qualifications” will be included in future secondary school performance tables, to stop schools ‘playing the system’ to boost rankings,the Department for Education announced last week. So will the move raise standards, or “exacerbate the vocational/academic divide” during a recession, when young people need vocational opportunities the most?
The announcement followed recommendations made in a report by Professor Alison Wolf last year, which highlighted how the current performance table system creates “perverse incentives” for some schools to put pupils on courses that might boost their performance table positions – but which “are not qualifications which benefit pupils’ prospects”.
At the moment there are 3,175 so-called equivalent qualifications accredited and approved for study by 14 to 16 year-olds, all of which count in the tables. Under the last government some of these were worth as much as four, five or even six GCSEs.
But from 2014, just 125 of these qualifications (3.9 % of the current total) will count. Full-course GCSEs, established iGCSEs, AS levels and music exams at grade six and above will also be included, all on the same one-for-one basis.
Education secretary Michael Gove said the changes would “extend opportunity because only qualifications which had demonstrated rigour and had track records of taking young people into good jobs and university would count in future”.
Schools will remain free to offer any other qualification accredited and approved for study by 14 to 16 year-olds, but only those meeting the Department’s “rigorous requirements” will count in the tables. Focusing performance tables on the qualifications which benefit pupils’ prospects will also free up time for a more “balanced curriculum”.
“The weaknesses in our current system were laid bare by Professor Wolf’s incisive and far-reaching review. The changes we are making will take time but will transform the lives of young people.
“For too long the system has been devalued by attempts to pretend that all qualifications are intrinsically the same. Young people have taken courses that have led nowhere,” said Michael Gove.
Unions slammed the move; the NASUWT said that the government’s intention is to “privilege the academic over the vocational courses and to remove any notion of parity of esteem, in pursuit of its elitist approach to educational provision”.
“Thousands of young people who have worked hard for their qualifications are now having their worth publicly questioned,” commented NAWUWT general secretary Chris Keates.
“When faced with spiralling youth unemployment, this announcement is the last thing they need to hear.
‘Disaffection among pupils’
“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 that employers value, narrow the school curriculum even more and lead to disaffection among pupils.”
Meanwhile Christine Blower, general secretary of the National Union of Teachers, said that it should not be up to the government to decide which exams are of more merit than others, but rather this is something to be assessed by major stakeholders such as the teaching profession and awarding bodies.
“What is needed is a single system of diplomas which incorporate the current best features of existing GCSE, A-Level and vocational programmes and would play to the strengths of all pupils. It would also help ensure that every young person had access to quality academic and vocational education without the need to separate pupils into technical or academic institutions at far too early an age.
“The distorting effect that league tables have on our children and young people’s education will not be changed by these reforms and could make matters worse by limiting the subjects which will now count towards them. It really is time that this pointless exercise ended.”
Pointless exercise, or necessary to raise standards: what’s your view?