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 742.

    It doesn’t matter how much you grease the axle, if the wheels attached to it are square, it’s still going to be a bumpy ride that shakes the cart to bits.

  • rate this

    Comment number 741.

    You'd think the GCSE was some sort of gold standard in education. It seems shortsighted to devalue vocational based courses. Surely the approach is to focus on standards, so youth get practical skills and can contribute to society and the economy, regardless of their academic prowess. We've got to turn around the low aspirational youth culture otherwise this country hasn't got a future.

  • rate this

    Comment number 740.

    People seem to think that pupils doing vocational courses don't also do GCSEs in English, Maths and Science. This is rubbish. They do all the Core subjects and choose a vocational subject in addition, within the option process. My experience has shown that the vocational options that low attaining pupils choose keep them in school and interested. This has got to be worth something?

  • rate this

    Comment number 739.

    I have one comment and it is this: When all youngsters can reach a standard good enough to gain a C grade minimum in English Language then perhaps we can expand this discussion,but until that time, which is highly unlikely,this argument is worthless. Let them do their vocational qualifications and find work; far more important than going to university and be unemployed with a heavy debt..

  • rate this

    Comment number 738.

    Many of the comments to this item are missing the point.
    This isn't about scrapping vocational courses. This is about the worth of some vocational courses against GCSE courses.

    Regrettably, some schools do chase league tables, and do this at the expense of our children.
    Many vocational courses are not worth GCSE equivalent and it's about time that this was recognised.

  • rate this

    Comment number 737.

    Have just read an article where Gove said of parents objecting to turning Downhills into an academy as "It's a pity that the Labour party hasn't spoken out against this Trot campaign,". It seems that we are returning to the Tory party using smears, disinformation and demonisation to dismiss any objection to their policies. I had really hoped that Cameron had changed them, seems I was wrong

  • rate this

    Comment number 736.

    I am one of the 'lucky' ones who went to Private School, Grammar School and then University (90's & 00's). At NO POINT was I even informed that such a thing as vocational training existed.

    What is missing from schools is career guidance and support. Education should be about setting you up for employment and success. At 21 I was not prepared for the real world.

  • rate this

    Comment number 735.

    22 Minutes ago
    You're the future manager about whom subordinates will be saying the same thing. Or do you have no promotion ambitions?
    Why should they say that? Do you think sole qualifications in management are fit for purpose? One should not be allowed to study management without a qualification in something useful first.

  • rate this

    Comment number 734.

    I think good vocational qualifications which are valued by employers need to be taught in conjunction with basic academic qualifications but certainly not instead of these simply because schools are trying to give pupils easier options and also bump up their results in league tables. They are not equivalent to GCSEs though and should not carry same weight.

  • rate this

    Comment number 733.

    Of course vocational quals have value. They provide a way for those not academically minded to achieve. But the key word is "vocational". Schools should concentrate on good general education, including a decent grasp of English, maths and ICT. Vocational quals should be delivered after school life has ended, in the workplace, by organisations/people qualified and experienced in those subjects.

  • rate this

    Comment number 732.

    the country is over run with graduates with pointless degrees and no job prospects, we need trades back, building more houses, things like the london victorian sewers , one day the whole lot will need replaced...lets see outsource it !!! we need british trade back to what it once was ( before my time thought ) i get a pole if i need a plumber becuase glasgow has many !

  • rate this

    Comment number 731.

    The right type of vocational courses is more useful for young people than the narrow old fashioned range of academic GCSE's which Mr Gove is promoting. The right type of curriculum is more important to the future of our country than the narrow league tables of school performance the government produces. More cooperation and consultation with employers is needed to improve education.

  • rate this

    Comment number 730.

    713.Simon Heathwood

    ... produce two seperate league tables, one for academic and one for vocational results, hat way parents could make an informed choice ...

    or is that just too simplistic?

    Probably so, but is the best idea I've seen. 'Vocational' does not equal 'academic' but both are important in their own context.

    'Grammar vs Secondary Modern' anyone?

  • rate this

    Comment number 729.

    Down with league tables. Have yet to see what benefit they have.

  • rate this

    Comment number 728.

    Vocational and academic courses in school have separate merits, it is futile trying to compare them. Schools have a duty to instil in pupils that all courses are merely stepping stones to more advance studies, further hard work is needed for years to come, either with hands on professional attachments or late night studies after work for chartered qualifications.
    Yet we bicker over semantics.

  • rate this

    Comment number 727.

    724 Nightwolf I admire you for trying your hand at different types of learning & not being put off academic work - as well as your academic success.
    No doubt some one will come on & have a pop at your spelling, grammar or something but you prove it is possible to do academic & practical types of work - & by the sounds of it, enjoy both. What area do you work in now, I wonder??

  • rate this

    Comment number 726.

    Clearly different kids have different strengths and all should be valued. Vocational and academic skills are as different as apples and pears and I think the problems arise when we try and find a formula to establish 'equivalence' between the two. Schools should be judged in terms of how well they equip kids for the world of work and this will require 2 distinct measures: academic & vocational.

  • rate this

    Comment number 725.


    I left school with no qualifications and took a vocational C+G Bricklaying course. A very basic course. It may well have changed, I only speak from experience.

    I totally agree with you. However if Governments introduce post-school vocational courses to lower unemployment statistics rather than educate, then those courses are.. as mine was, totally worthless.

  • rate this

    Comment number 724.

    You all are commenting on how these courses are worthless. I am not good with exams, never have been. I took a First Diploma and National Diploma in Horse Management at collage because I KNEW I would not be able to do written exams. And you know what, those courses got me into University and I now have a B.c.s in Geology and work and live in the USA. These courses are not a waste of time!!

  • rate this

    Comment number 723.

    'Well worth the equivalent of a Home Economics and a Religous Studies GCSE'

    There shouldn't be a GCSE in Religious Studies, it should be no more than an 'awareness' subject learnt during social studies or whatever they call it nowadays. The time would be better spent on academic or vocational subjects.


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