Ofsted inspectors attack business courses
Many vocational business qualifications are failing to develop pupils' understanding and skills in the subject, inspectors have warned.
Ofsted said 30 of 39 English schools whose vocational business courses it inspected had a "serious problem".
Its report questioned whether business courses examined through internally set and marked assignments should be seen as equivalent to GCSEs.
Ministers said there were concerns about the quality of some courses.
Inspectors found some lessons focused too much on completing "narrow written assignments" that gave students little opportunity to debate issues, extend their thinking and develop a broader understanding and skills in the subject.
Despite students achieving good results, the quality of their work was weak, they said.
The report added: "Evidence from lesson observations, scrutiny of written work and discussion with students brings into question the case for claiming that such courses are equivalent to between two and four single-award, traditionally examined GCSEs at Key Stage 4."
End Quote Ofsted report
Students often had only vague ideas about the economy, interest rates and their impact”
The report - called Economics, business and enterprise education - looked at enterprise education across the whole school, as well as formal qualifications for 14 to 18-year-olds.
In the secondary schools inspected, Ofsted found enterprise education - which is statutory at Key Stage 4 - to be wanting.
"The provision for, and development of, all students' economic and business understanding and their financial capability were [...] often weak," the report said.
"As a result, students often had only vague ideas about the economy, interest rates and their impact, recession, inflation, why prices vary and the ownership of companies."
Chief inspector Christine Gilbert said economics, business and enterprise education was about equipping young people with the skills to leave school well-informed as consumers, employees and potential employers.
"More should be done to directly involve students with the business world and local businesses," she said.
"The report highlights the need to review the equivalency of vocational business qualifications that are assessed wholly or mainly by internally set and marked assignments with more traditional GCSEs and GCE A-levels."Reforms planned
The Ofsted report comes just weeks after Education Secretary Michael Gove announced his plans to reform vocational education.
Under the measures 14-year-olds will be given more opportunities to study at college rather than school, and league tables will be overhauled so that only vocational qualifications identified as high quality are likely to be included.
A spokesman for the Department for Education said: "This report raises serious concerns about the quality of some courses taught in our schools.
"All young people should have access to high-quality qualifications that lead to employment, further or higher education.
"This summer, we will be carrying out a consultation on the characteristics of high-quality vocational qualifications so we can ensure that only those qualifications that meet the criteria are taught in our schools.
"We also plan to do more to encourage industry experts to teach in schools - providing students with a better understanding of how the business world works."
The report follows the publication in March of a report by Professor Alison Wolf on vocational education.
Professor Wolf said hundreds of thousands of young people in England were doing vocational courses which did not lead to university or a job.