‘Mickey Mouse’ courses axed from school tables

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.

‘Demonstrating rigour’

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.

‘Elitist approach’

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.

‘Pointless exercise’

“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?

9 thoughts on “‘Mickey Mouse’ courses axed from school tables

  1. My students worked hard for their GCSE on DIDA yes they got more than one gcse but they also worked for it how can getting rid of vocational courses benefit
    1 our students and 2 industry that needs the skills not everything can be assessed on paper.
    This is why despite improving my results and the schools by 30% I find myself out of a job and also branded for not teaching in a conventional way I believe that children learn best by doing and doing it for them is not the right approach, this is why I’m disillusioned with teaching and not sure I want to go back as teachers like me who care and get results are trodden on by those that cant do and don’t understand. This is yet another thing brought in by this government to destabilise the state sector and undermined teachers so they can make excuses for their mates in the private sector to take over.

  2. Looking at the problem from the wrong end
    This latest move is typical of a Government failing to recognise the fundamental issue. Regardless of whether the qualification is academic or vocational, our young people are not faring well when compared to their European counterparts. Business communities have expressed concerns that our school and Uni leavers are, in a lot of cases, ill-equipped for the workplace. The only result of this latest move will be to create more disenfranchised young people with no hope of a bright future. It is truly heartbreaking.
    The Government caused the league table fiasco, and is now trying to solve it by limiting the life chances further of a significant proportion of students. I don’t advocate the idea that all qualifications are equal, but the Government has failed to understand that a good education is not only achievable by studying traditional academic subjects.

  3. I taught horticulture in a PRU for 3 years. It gave my pupils valuable life skills. It was then dropped as it had no accreditation/GCSE’s and I lost my job.

  4. About time, what a great idea – as someone with 4 As at A level, which I worked incredibly hard for to get into Uni, I feel somewhat despondent to think that this would be equalled to someone getting an NVQ in beauty.

    I do understand the flip side of the argument, but why not have two league tables, on for academic and one for vocational. There is no harm in separating them. Society need both and each have value in their own way.

  5. Mr Gove needs a reality check. How can he determine through his “rigorous requirements” which qualifications will lead to a successful employment future?
    I wish I had his crystal ball when my son spent six years up to his 22nd birthday studying at university and training to be a commercial pilot; we are in massive debt and no job available as a first officer with low flying hours.He his selling stationary; what a waste.
    My point being is that there is no way of being able to know what to train in or what to study to get employment.
    I work in school and with a lot of SEN students who struggle in a lot of their academic subjects but thrive in the vocational subjects. It is all about inclusion and making those students feel included;not just the SEN students either,there are lots of our other students who struggle to access the school curriculum.
    We must include and make sure that every student leaves school with some form of qualification for their own self esteem.
    Most employers know how difficult education can be and will always welcome someone who is willing and tries hard. These vocational subjects will show future employers that our students have tried to succeed in one way or another and had a GO!
    The worth of these qualifications should not be questioned and we should continue with them.
    Mr Gove and his ministers should spend some time in school working with students; getting to know the importance of feeling included especially by gaining some kind of qualifications.
    Lets face it what as the all singing and dancing qualifications done for my son and probably thousands like him. I vote Vocational 100%.

  6. I think it’s a shame that vocational courses are being publicised as less worthwhile than academic ones. I work both in a high school and a college and have worked with many students over the years who struggle with the standard GCSEs but excel at more practical courses which tend to be vocational. Also what about young people who have learning difficulties such as Dyslexia who again tend to perform much better in vocational courses than acedemic ones?

    I agree some vocational courses are not equivalent to 3/4 GCSE’s and the amount of courses did need streamlining but personally I feel that it is the league tables and the pressure the government puts on teachers to jump through numerous hoops that needs reforming not the selection of courses.

    My son did engineering at school which I understand is classed as a vocational course (equivalent to 2 GCSEs) he then studied engineering at college and now has an apprenticeship with one of the top international engineering companies. He did not chose a vocational course because it was an easy option or because he was not very acedemic, it was because he enjoyed practical skills and is very good at problem solving which is an important skill in engineering.

    Schools such be able to offer a wide range of courses which caters for all needs (not just acedemic) and allows young people to learn and experience a variety of different skills

  7. I totally agree that these reforms are elitist as stated by Teachers’ Unions. There are many children in our education system who cannot & willnot ever aspire to even 5 A-C’s. So, why keep making the targets completely ‘unachievable’? The vocational courses may not come with the same robust qualifications as Diploma’s or GCSE’s but are a lifeline for the less academic. Sometimes, being the only courses they actually enjoy, feel successful in and can see some purpose in following. Hence, attendance figures which, if closely examined at KS4, would indicate that a considerable percentage of those puplis only attend ‘ Education Offsite” or,’B’s on their school register. They vote with their feet – the education offered in school is not appropriate. Too many times have I witnessed ‘square pegs’ and ’round holes’ as schools expect all young people to follow not only the same core curriculum, but also limited inappropriate option choices as well.
    I left teaching 10 years ago because the mantra then was ‘if it moves – accredit it”. And that applied to every subject. This meant in my school all Y10 students (350) had to take GCSE PE regardless of their ability, aptitude or enthusiasm. The end result, after 2 difficult years during which students regularly forgot vital PE kit, or were absent for moderation was a very poor set of exams results. Much worse though, was that the experience had served to belittle young people’s enthusiasm and enjoyment for activities they were not very capable at, but actually enjoyed taking part in. So much for ‘Learning for Life” and understanding about a healthy active lifestyle. That Headteacher put exam results at the top of her own agenda, not what was best for her pupils. This will happen again with the proposal to eliminate the vocational courses – just at a time when we need to be enthusing young people to remain in education or learning as the school leaving age is soon to be raised.
    I have since been involved with many of those same KS4 disengaged students working initially for the now defunct Connexions Service and recently for the soon to be called Youth Justice – Youth Offending Service (YOS). Virtually all the 14-16 year olds I have come across have been failed by the education system – they do not ‘fit’ into the conventional timetable, or indeed the formal school structure. Having expectations that all students can cope in mainstream schools is bad enough, but to expect them all to follow a more similar pathway with fewer choices is not just shortsighted but completely blind to the much more individual needs those children present.
    I often wonder when new initiatives are written or discussed in the press who is involved with such vital decision-making? I cannot believe anyone who had spent time in ordinary schools, or worked with 14-16 year olds at the ‘sharp end’ would agree to any of these latest proposals.
    But, hey, I’ve only been in education for 35 years – who am I to have an opinion or make comment? Obviously, a nobody!

  8. Whilst I do agree there are far too many courses that appear to be completely irrelevant with regards to job prospects, I do not agree that all relevant education is academic. The fact is, this country needs more young mechanics, electricians, plumbers and construction workers, all jobs where academics may be desired but not essential but also Doctors, accountants and teachers that do need a good level of academics. I got to where I am now through working hard at school, then going onto college to take on a vocational course which got me the grade I needed to go to university, where I was equally successful. I am now going on to teach at secondary school, but you know what landed me the job? Work experience, they valued the fact that I knew what I was doing, because I have done it, not because I’m a philosopher.

  9. The veiw of NVQ’s held by Jo is frankly nothing short of outragous. I teach in FE and HE and I see fantastic students work very hard to achieve their NVQ’s in their chosen subjects. Perhaps Jo should consider NVQ’s as my experience, having studied both A level and NVQ’s is that the harder subjects were indeed NVQ’s. A level 3 NVQ is equivalent to three A levels and perhaps jo should try getting a job on 4 a level when going head to head with someone that has gained some work experience via NVQ’s. I find the whole topic of denegrating the FE sector and the hard work that students and teachers alike strive to achieve nothing short of an insult. I think Jo should keep her opinions, albeit shallow and crass as well as demonstrating a serious short coming in intelligence to herself or himself. I would love to hear Jos performance at a job interview on the basis of only getting experience of life threough a college education.

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