Most GCSE equivalents axed from school league tables


Prof Alison Wolf explains her new criteria for vocational courses

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Ministers have cut the value of more than 3,100 vocational qualifications, ending their recognition in England's school league tables.

Courses such as horse care can be worth the same as four GCSEs.

The government says this has created "perverse incentives" for schools to offer exams that boost their league table position.

From 2014, only 70 "equivalents" will count in the GCSE tables and on a like-for-like basis with GCSEs.

The move could make schools less likely to continue to offer such qualifications, and the government has instructed them to wait for its final list before changing their timetables for September 2012.

Other examples of courses that may not be included in future league tables 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, all currently worth two GCSEs.

Some of those that will still count include a number of BTecs and OCR Nationals in performing arts, sport, health and social care, media, music and engineering.

Figures from the Department for Education show that the numbers of teenagers taking equivalent vocational courses has exploded in recent years - from 15,000 in 2004 to 575,000 in 2010.

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 or university, would count in the future.


  • The size of a GCSE or bigger
  • Externally assessed - at least partly
  • Include grades, rather than just pass or fail
  • Offer progression to further qualifications and careers
  • Have good take-up levels among 14- to 16-year-olds

The shake-up comes after last year's review of vocational qualifications for the government by Prof Alison Wolf, which suggested schools had been tempted to teach qualifications that attract the most points in school performance tables.

This had meant students had been steered into notching up qualifications which may not help them into work or higher education, she suggested.

Mr Gove said: "The weaknesses in our current system were laid bare by Prof 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."


But many who took part in the consultation on the issue feared the new measures may lead schools to only offer qualifications that could be included in performance tables.

Others feared the move might undervalue vocational qualifications altogether and have a negative impact upon disengaged young people who are often encouraged by such courses.

In particular the engineering community reacted angrily to the downgrading of the Engineering Diploma which was developed by leading academics and industrialists to provide a robust alternative to traditional academic qualifications.

Prof Wolf said she hoped the proposed shortlist would give "good vocational qualifications exactly the same status as any other qualifications".

"People were doing lots of qualifications which were getting league points for their schools but which, when they went out into the labour market or when they went to college, they found actually nobody valued.

"So we were essentially lying to kids and that's a terrible thing to do."

She added that she did not want children of 13 making "irreversible decisions" about their futures by choosing such specific courses.

Even after the reforms, the UK was likely to remain the European country which awarded the most vocational qualifications to 14- to 16-year-olds, she said.

Former Education Secretary David Blunkett said it was "entirely wrong" if schools were deliberately seeking to skew league tables but warned the tone of reforms risked discrediting important vocational qualifications.

"If there's a problem, let's root it out. But let's encourage youngsters to mix and match," he told the BBC's Today programme.

"I got my qualifications by getting a vocational qualification in business studies and going to evening classes to get A-levels at the same time."

'Turned off'

James Whiting, deputy head of Chiswick Community School in west London, said it was unfair to accuse schools of bumping up league tables with vocational qualifications.

"I think often the motivation for schools, like ours, is to steer students onto courses in which they are going to succeed.

Start Quote

It should not be up to the government to decide which exams are of more merit than others”

End Quote Christine Blower National Union of Teachers

"What we don't want to do is to create a situation where students are set up to fail on courses that they find very hard."

He said the right, and rigorous, vocational qualifications were needed, but "we don't want to turn young people off".

As well as the 70 equivalents that will count towards the school's five good GCSE grades including English and maths, a further 55 will be valid for other league table measures.

However, the DfE will be reviewing the majority of qualifications to ensure they meet the new standards after 2014.

The shadow education secretary, Stephen Twigg, welcomed attempts to maintain rigour in the qualification system but warned against rushed changes.

"We need to be careful not to throw the baby out with the bath water," he said.

Christine Blower, general secretary of the National Union of Teachers, said: "It should not be up to the government to decide which exams are of more merit than others. This is something which should be assessed by major stakeholders such as the teaching profession and awarding bodies.

"Vocational education has often suffered from being viewed unfavourably. These reforms are likely to exacerbate the vocational/academic divide."

Chris Keates, general secretary of the NASUWT teaching union, questioned the wisdom of downgrading qualifications taken by so many young people.

"Changes of this scale, in the absence of any detailed review of the courses are reckless," she said.

"They will disenfranchise thousands of young people, remove qualifications employers value, narrow the school curriculum even more and lead to disaffection among pupils."


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  • rate this

    Comment number 522.

    There is nothing wrong with vocational qualifications, in fact they are probably more appropriate for many kids. We need people to become bricklayers, hairdressers and so on rather than aspire to useless degrees. What's the point of learning how to do quadratic equations? However it is a complete lie to say that they are equal to 5 GCSE's.

  • rate this

    Comment number 521.

    So much for the government letting professionals get on with the job

  • rate this

    Comment number 520.

    507 shaun
    I agreed!

    I had a pressing need to get refreshed in modern electronics for a robotics project. Not done any hobby electronics since Manchester uni in the mid 80s.

    My local college can teach me to weave hair & make cupcakes.
    The welding course closed because of 'legal problems'... with the 'burny hot stuff', one supposes!

    Back to teaching myself what I need to know then... as usual!

  • rate this

    Comment number 519.

    Some students excel in academic subjects, and others in vocations (a few do well in both). Why not do two things? 1) redesign vocational courses to more clearly identify students with talent and passion; 2) have more than one league table (1 for academia; 1 for vocations). This would reflect the fact that academia is not the only way one can be considered a success in society.

  • rate this

    Comment number 518.

    @452 OLDBOBO
    Technical schools weren't just below Grammar Schools. My father passed the 11+, but after discussion with the headmaster, his parents chose to send him to a Technical School, because he excelled in Maths and Science subjects. My father was offered a place at Cambridge, but chose Imperial College, where he joined the academic staff.

  • rate this

    Comment number 517.

    Some students are just not academic or do not have the emotional maturity to cope with "academic" quals however this does not mean that they do not have aspirations or cannot succeed in a vocational area , what should be questioned however is why some schools feel the need to massage the numbers in order to be deamed successful OFSTED is to blame not staff or students just let us teach !!!

  • rate this

    Comment number 516.

    I know of schools/colleges who "encouraged" student to miss exams so not to have poor results affecting their standings

    IMHO it's time to get rid of school tables. Many parents know if the school is good or not so Gov tables don't mean as much as the Gov wants us to believe.

    Also, bring back proper apprenticeships and make them worthwhile. Hands on experience can be worth much more than exams

  • rate this

    Comment number 515.

    @508 David H Parry

    Some would say the love of learning and discovery, something a good educational foundation should instill in both its academic and non academic students

  • rate this

    Comment number 514.

    We need a diverse and effective workforce who are trained and educated so that they can improve themselves even after qualification and doing what they enjoy.

    This is just a case of ministers wanting to hark back to their school days who've found a professor that roughly agrees but her arguments don't have have enough evidence in support.

  • rate this

    Comment number 513.

    It's about time education stopped being treated as a political football. Some children do better with practical subjects, some with academic, some with a mixture. Instead of constant tinkering with league tables which don't really tell how a school will work for a child, we need a better measure; something that will not be changed by each power-crazy idiot of a politician who takes over.

  • Comment number 512.

    All this user's posts have been removed.Why?

  • rate this

    Comment number 511.

    Someone below referred to "highly skilled" hairdressers. My sister has cut and highlighted my hair for years (no training whatsoever). I regularly get complimented and asked where I get my hair done. By contrast, I've had some dreadful wonky cuts from trained stylists in salons! There are some really valuable skills (I'm no mechanic), some that anyone can do themselves.

  • rate this

    Comment number 510.

    "If someone does a vocational course in hairdressing and someone else does a GCSE in maths which one is more employable immediately in that line of work. Probably the hairdresser. So how can they not be equivalent?"

    Good point. Perhaps we should all train as circus monkeys and leave Apple, Toyota and Samsung to the time wasters.

  • rate this

    Comment number 509.

    I never understood why we pushed for so many to go to uni. We've led ourselves into a situation where we no longer have the skills necessary to maintain high-tech manufacturing industries in this country.

    At the same time graduates are pouring out of university, saddled with debt, demanding higher wages yet lacking the proper skills for business.

    Something has to change.

  • rate this

    Comment number 508.

    None of this should surprise us.
    Humans are lazy animals.

    Why do the hard things when you can play with your marbles & call it 'maths'?
    Why teach Ohm's Law when you can finger paint & say we're learning about gels & 'doin chemistry'?
    Why struggle to learn something intrinsically difficult based on the implications of an equation when we can play with paper aeroplanes & say we 'done some science'?

  • rate this

    Comment number 507.

    I built my career with maths, engineering and business study's the later two courses have been scraped by the four colleges in my area, oh but they do offer loads of useless courses such as nail technology, sugar craft diplomas, Indian head massage anyone?. Who ever came up with these courses and scraped business and electrical engineering should be thrown off a tall building.

  • rate this

    Comment number 506.

    Why should it not be up to Mr Cameron to decide which courses are of merit. He is an expert on eveything!!

  • rate this

    Comment number 505.

    This is the tail wagging the dog. League tables are determining what children are taught. Why have any comparison between vocational and academic courses?

  • rate this

    Comment number 504.

    Gove you are such a irresponsible meddler. Spoiling kids aspirations like you have done will do nothing for kids to find work,. You can expect more kids to be at the bottom of the pile by making this absolute arrogant, ridiculous political decision ..shame on you ...

  • rate this

    Comment number 503.

    If someone does a vocational course in hairdressing and someone else does a GCSE in maths which one is more employable immediately in that line of work. Probably the hairdresser. So how can they not be equivalent?


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