'Tech levels' backed by industry unveiled
A range of A-level standard "Tech level" qualifications, ranging from motorcycle maintenance to craft baking, has been announced in England.
Leading employers are backing the vocational qualifications, designed to boost teenagers' work skills.
The overhaul follows concerns that some vocational exams were of poor quality.
The new qualifications, due to be taught from 2014, "will lead to better employment opportunities", said Skills Minister Matthew Hancock.
The government unveiled 142 Tech levels, each supported by leading businesses or trade associations, including Vauxhall, John Deere, Procter and Gamble and Kawasaki.
They are designed to lead to a recognised occupation, such as engineering, accounting, construction, agriculture or information technology.
In addition the government announced 87 Applied General Qualifications, which provide broader study of a vocational area and are each endorsed by at least three universities.
The new qualifications will be ready for first teaching in 2014, will first be awarded in 2016 and will count in school performance tables from 2017.
Schools can still teach other qualifications but most of these will no longer count in the tables.
The changes are a response to Prof Alison Wolf's 2011 review of vocational education which suggested the system was failing young people.
The review said schools were often tempted to teach qualifications that attracted the most points in performance tables but would not necessarily help students into work or higher education.
Mr Hancock said: "For the first time young people will know which qualifications are backed by top employers and lead to better employment opportunities.
"Tech levels and Applied General Qualifications will give students the skills so vital to getting on in life, preparing them for employment, training and higher education."
He said the new qualifications would help fill the skills gap holding back UK business and were part of a long-term plan for the economy.
Prof Wolf said the new system would "serve the needs of motivated and ambitious young people, of employers, and of the country as a whole."
Labour's minister for young people Rushanara Ali said three years of "downgrading rigorous vocational courses" showed that vocational education was "an afterthought for this Tory-led Government".
"Almost a million young people unemployed. David Cameron has proved he has no plan for the forgotten 50%, those young people who do not plan to pursue A-levels and university.
Ms Ali said Labour would ensure there were "qualified teachers in all schools and colleges, maths and English for all to 18 and a new gold-standard Technical Baccalaureate that will be accredited by business. Colleges will have to earn accreditation to deliver the 'Tech Bacc', driving up standards in vocational education."
In a separate move, the government also announced new vocational courses in engineering and construction for 14- to 16-year-olds.
These are among 73 new courses for this age group, which will each count as a GCSE equivalent in league tables.
The engineering courses were developed by the Royal Academy of Engineering and backed by businesses including JCB, Rolls Royce and Siemens.
The aim is to replace the Engineering Diploma which was controversially downgraded by the government as part of its initial response to the Wolf Review, despite having been developed by academics and industrialists.
Prof Matthew Harrison, director of engineering and education at the Royal Academy of Engineering, said: "This announcement really matters to the engineering profession.
"Four of the qualifications included on the list are the product of deep engagement between awarding bodies, engineering employers, universities and professional engineering institutions.
"This is real partnership working to produce vocational qualifications that really deliver for young people and for engineering in the UK."