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 682.

    666. Nomad. Carpenters and Brickies have "tools" that do that job for them, I don't know what sites you have been on but it is certainly not the ones I have. An average Brickie wouldn't know his " Pythagoras' theorem " from his Uranus, nor why should he/she. That's what Engineers are paid for.

  • rate this

    Comment number 681.

    No devaluing vocational courses, just the last government's fairly dodgy grading system that saw a BTEC in hairdressing held as eqivalent to 4 GCSEs is being scrapped. This measure was brought in by the last government so they could claim improvements. Basically if the NUT/NASUTW are complaining something is doing something right, upsetting their comfy, no sacking, reward for failure culture.

  • rate this

    Comment number 680.

    635.alisdairthesmith -You forget our generation gave you everything from supermarkets, mobile phones, the web,lifted billions of people out of poverty worldwide, NHS, social security, cleaned the enviroment up (think its bad now I remember the smog in every town in the UK and no fish alive in local streams and rivers!) etc. please lose the 'poor youth' rubbish. I am embarrassed for you!

  • rate this

    Comment number 679.

    The hard truth is that most of these courses are completely worthless and shouldn't carry any kind of GCSE equivalent.

    Yes, vocational qualifications are hugely important but they are not a substitute for a good basic education. And, they would be even more important if they were of a relevance that is recognised in the business world. Until then it is misleading to hold them up as worthwhile.

  • rate this

    Comment number 678.

    567. SAS_MAN
    Who says education isn't working? The young ones have invented a new language, text speak. I would wager most of the sanctimonious people on here complaining have used text speak at some point."

    They didn't invent text speak...

    I was using cul8r, brb etc 25 years ago when I was at university and using JANet or BBSes.

  • rate this

    Comment number 677.

    Why do we even have exams in this country? 1 in 4 GCSE's taken last year resulted in an A. Any scientist will tell you that people are getting smarter by about 1 IQ point per year (yes that much) but exams need to get harder in line with this otherwise in a few years everyone will get the same grades as everyone else and whole thing becomes meaningless.

  • rate this

    Comment number 676.

    662. Gloone
    What are you on about? So your saying that during your time in school you didnt learn a thing? yet you can spell, command english, use a computer etc..... You sound like you didnt get the results you wanted and instead of blaming yourself, you blame the teachers,true some teachers are useless, but as in life you have to further research and read to strengthen what you have been taught

  • rate this

    Comment number 675.

    Hmm, one extreme to another. Education requires careful balancing. Surely, a curriculum which required English, Maths, a language, a couple of sciences and art and a vocation as mandatory would balance this. Legislate that schools MUST offer (say 5 vocations), schools in the same area dividing them up and offering shared facilities for cross-boundary students and who knows....

  • rate this

    Comment number 674.

    Why can't we have two league tables, one for GCSEs and a second for everything else? The public can then choose to place emphasis on their preferred table when deciding which institution is best for them.

    I'm agreed the current system needs to be changed, but why are perfectly good qualifications being rubbished?

  • rate this

    Comment number 673.

    Does anybody else remember the time when there was only one "funny" subject that you could take all the way to O-Level? I refer, of course to "Seamanship, something else and Rules of the Road". Not that anybody actually took it, of course. And what was it that prompted the proliferation of "vocational" subjects in the first place?

  • rate this

    Comment number 672.

    651.Missd_1984. A BTEC is nowhere near a GCSE in maths or science etc so why should people be rewarded the same, it makes the non-academics feel good, but it degrades the academic ones!

    BTECS were for people who have left school. Passing exams at school is easy with good parents. Passing exams after leaving requires self motivation and effort.
    PS. Having a GCSE does not make you academic!

  • rate this

    Comment number 671.

    Vocational doesn't have to mean easier but in too many cases it does which is a problem which needs addressing if such qualifications are to have any credibility.

    We should also recognise that some so called "non-academic" students may just be be lazy...

  • rate this

    Comment number 670.

    Only a small % of kids leave school with any decent level of education due to league tables and targeting only the very intelligent pupils. The vast majority leave school with nothing of any use. There has to be alternatives especially in tough times as we have now. Vocational quals are vital. I have very little confidence in mr Gove i'm affraid.

  • rate this

    Comment number 669.

    645. AlleyCat
    It's my job to be picky about language, so that people like me don't complain to the company I work for about the standard of English in their letter-writers! Nothing smug about it, just saying, the English language doesn't need to be bastardised through ignorance.

    You had to stick the word ignorance in it. Your points scored are in the post.

  • rate this

    Comment number 668.

    one million young people unemployed, half caused by this useless government, would they be working with better education ? no, work creation and apprenticeships are whats needed, but rest assured the tory kids will be alright with old school ties, nepotism etc. he who killed growth has the audacity to lecture the eu on growth, no wonder they treat him like a naughty boy.

  • rate this

    Comment number 667.

    Discussion seems to be about hairdressing. Once upon a time it would have been about manuf. e.g., cars. But Japanese came along and took it to a whole new level: CAD, CIM, JIT, kanban, kaizen, supplier integration etc. Meawhile, Brits thought strikes would solve the problem!

    Now: Toyota, biggest car manuf. in world, & expertise rising year after year. Hairdressing? The UK's future? God help us.

  • rate this

    Comment number 666.

    @652 Paul

    I would disagree, there are many fields where maths might not be the main requirement or even and obvious requirement, but it is vitally important - diving is an obvious example to me, dive tables spring to mind, Carpenters and brickies use Pythagoras' theorem - and trig a lot to check if things are square. I would guess that 80% of the population don't know how important math is.

  • rate this

    Comment number 665.

    Has the Gov have realised that these 'vocational' courses have little merit or usefulness in actually finding a job within those particular areas? If that is true wouldn't it be better to make the courses more relevant? Or do the Oxbridge dominated politicians think the study of dead languages, as they often have, is more useful in getting a job? .

  • rate this

    Comment number 664.

    564 eddie37c
    Like the work produced in exams, reports at work are the product of built up knowledge accumulated through doing my day to day job. For example writing an explanation of how a particular aspect of a financial system works. It is the ability to recall accumulated knowledge and present it coherently in a form tailored to the audience, which is demonstrated by passing many exams.

  • rate this

    Comment number 663.

    I graduated in 2009 with a first class honours management degree and am now completing an Msc in Human Resource Management but fear this may be as much of a waste of time and money as my degree was. All employers are interested in is experience, although non seem willing to give said experience. It is employers, not schools who need incentive to provide the training they all deem necessary.


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