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 562.

    Something the maths basher forget - and I hate math with a passion, is that math teaches logic.

    @547 leftrightleftright

    The ability to give a pedicure - I'm sorry it's not a science or technology stop talking it up, is worth 2 GCSEs, and the ability to feed and water a horse - the ability look after a pet in essence, don't kid yourselves your not pimples on a vets posterior, is worth 4 GCSEs

  • rate this

    Comment number 561.

    Cameron said only last summer that he wanted to see more vocational qualifications rather than academic ones. What's changed his mind, does he really know what he's talking about?

  • rate this

    Comment number 560.

    545.Doctor Bob
    2 Minutes ago
    I've just heard that the engineering diploma is to be cut from equivalent to 4 GCEs to just one. That is BARMY!
    Your "engineering" is a misrepresentation of engineering. Engineering is applied science and should not be studied without "A" level maths.
    Your "engineering" is a skill or a craft. The word "engineer" is misused in the UK.

  • rate this

    Comment number 559.

    "Courses such as horse care can be worth the same as four GCSEs." Any 4 in particular? i.e is horse care the same as GSCE Maths, Physics, Chem & History?? Please, these courses have their place but they are hardly the same as the basic educational skills required for the generic workplace. Are colleges now out of fashion, they used to work quite well before they were belittled.

  • rate this

    Comment number 558.

    517 ele
    "Some students are just not academic..."

    Then put them somewhere where the kids who are academic won't be tripping over them or hearing them disrupt the class!

    The 'disruptive' ones tend to be the ones who shouldn't be in that particular class... like the people who talk at the cinema, they obviously aren't interested in the movie much to the detriment of those that are.


  • rate this

    Comment number 557.

    Dr_Ads - Polytechnics never taught "Hair dressing" or "Car mechanics" they weren't trade schools. They taught professions like surveyors, accounting or hnd engineering. Often university educated people went to polytechnics to enter a profession.

  • rate this

    Comment number 556.

    I'm very very worried when I see teachers (of all people) coming on here and arguing that Gove is clueless because he thinks a BTEC in 'horse care' should not be worth 4 GCSE's.

    These are the second rate minds who are teaching our next generation. We need real vocations and real academic subjects, and we need not overvalue one to overcompensate. 1 BTEC = 4 GCSEs? Get real. That's Labour's logic.

  • rate this

    Comment number 555.

    Everyone complains about tables but I'm sure many parents find them useful. If we're worried about them being 'corrupted' by the inclusion of vocational subjects then (a) label these qualifications for what they are ie NVQ, BTEC etc so we do not lump them with GCSEs (b) allow us to extract and sort the information we need ie select those subjects we are interested in and see which schools do best

  • rate this

    Comment number 554.

    What we need are more students going to toy-town universitys studying mickey-mouse degrees, then we wont need to manufacture anything at all in this country...oh dear wait a minute...
    I know...lets all study quadratic equations and the history of Upper Silesia, that'l make it all better.

  • rate this

    Comment number 553.

    mathsman that does happen, but its a catch 22. give more funding to schools who don't perform well and there's no competition driving education. give less as happens now, and the worst will find it harder to catch up.

  • rate this

    Comment number 552.

    None of these words solve the real scandal of education - that people roughly my age 25-35 that basically got told - do A-Levels etc. now find they want to do courses like social work/health care professionals etc. find themselves priced out of the market by high fees+mortgages etc. Yet we could have done these courses for "free" had we the life experience & career guidance at 16-19.

  • rate this

    Comment number 551.

    Good news. While vocational courses should be valued and encouraged in takeup there is no value to them as academic achievement. In which case you shouldn't quantify them as academic achievement as it just creates a false result.

  • rate this

    Comment number 550.

    @540 Nomad

    As part of these vocational courses, maths and english skills are developed in a different way, they aren't ignored. With 'artistic' studies they are taught with business in mind, with 'technical' studies others its taught as a function of the vocation.

    Informed debate is better than Daily Mail style bandwagon jumping

  • rate this

    Comment number 549.

    542 eddie37c
    Untrue. I regularly get asked to produce a report/memo in as little as one hour at short notice, with limited info, and no time to prepare endless drafts. I go away, and write it, if it isn't good enough, this impacts my reputation at work. Reports usually require a high level of grammar, need to included well constructed arguments and analysis. I work in finance, so need maths too..

  • Comment number 548.

    This comment was removed because the moderators found it broke the house rules. Explain.

  • rate this

    Comment number 547.

    How come then each year we are told that kids today are getting cleverer and cleverer due to GCSE and A level results.....can't have it both ways!

  • rate this

    Comment number 546.

    @540.Nomad, that was my point, without proper GCSE's they are limited to 1 career path!! i think your arguing a point against something that said the same thing!! A hairdressing qualification is never going to lead to being an MD of a national corporation or running a massive business empire, whilst lots of valuable GCSEs gives you far more options!! No brainer to me which is the more valuable!!

  • rate this

    Comment number 545.

    I've just heard that the engineering diploma is to be cut from equivalent to 4 GCEs to just one. That is BARMY!

    We have a dire shortage of engineers in the UK and it isn't too easy a subject: needs maths physics and the technology of materials. What a copout this Gove bloke is.


  • rate this

    Comment number 544.

    Vocational qualifications are to Tracey Emin what GCSEs/degrees are to Constable. Take your pick.

  • rate this

    Comment number 543.

    I do not know, but i would hope that, vocational education is just not about teaching some one how to cut hair, do nails or fix a car.
    I would like to think that it includes the practical application of the core subjects, allowing someone to run a business, employ others,advertise, understand their marketplace/ product etc.etc.etc.
    Feel like I'm in danger of making school interesting.


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