From education to employment

League table changes prompt cuts to valuable vocational qualifications

Jan Hodges is chief executive of Edge

Just a year after the decision to strip the majority of vocational qualifications from performance tables, schools are axing practical training courses despite recognition by school leaders of their value to learners.

New research, supported by the Edge Foundation and carried out by think tank Institute for Public Policy Research (IPPR), shows that 60 per cent of schools are either planning to cut the provision of vocational qualifications or have already done so. This is despite 85 per cent of school leaders agreeing that vocational qualifications are valuable for their students.

It was of real concern to us when, in January 2012, Education Secretary Michael Gove ordered 96 per cent of GCSE-equivalent vocational qualifications be stripped from school league tables, following recommendations made in the Wolf Report.

We want high quality vocational qualifications to achieve parity alongside other educational routes for young people. In attempting to guarantee quality the Government has used a sledgehammer to crack the nut. Schools are now being forced to drop valuable technical, practical and work-related courses or risk getting no credit for the provision.

When interviewed, two thirds (66 per cent) of the senior school leaders whose schools were cutting vocational provision admitted that the decision had been taken as a result of the changes to the school performance tables. Just 15 per cent said that the reason for reducing the number of vocational courses was that they did not believe that the courses were valuable.

By contrast, four in five (79 per cent) senior teachers interviewed agreed that vocational qualifications provided a firm foundation for school leavers to join the world of work. Not only that, over two thirds (69 per cent) agreed that vocational qualifications were useful not only for those leaving school aged 16 but ‘offer a strong foundation for further study or training’.

Edge is going to continue working with IPPR to explore the relationship between the accountability system and the vocational offer in schools, including a roundtable event with contributors from National Association of Head Teachers, Association of School and College Leaders, Specialist Schools and Academies Trust and The Design and Technology Association.

In the meantime we are going to continue celebrating vocational achievement and showcasing vocational excellence.  Plans are already underway for the sixth annual VQ Day on Wednesday 5th June 2013.  VQ Day recognises the value of vocational qualifications and celebrates high quality vocational achievement.

High quality VQs play a vital role in society; they provide young people with the skills, experience and clear progression routes they need to get ahead.  They provide the vital skills employers are crying out for and our economy needs.

By celebrating this achievement and presenting high quality practical and vocational learning equally alongside academic study we will ensure that young people are offered the many paths to success leading to:

  • Further study, e.g. University or further VQs
  • Greater job prospects and relevant career options
  • Enhanced skills/knowledge
  • Higher pay
  • The motivation and inspiration to help drive forward the UK economy.

Jan Hodges is chief executive of Edge, the independent education foundation dedicated to raising the status of technical, practical and vocational learning

To get involved with the debate and share your views log onto www.edge.co.uk and add your comment.


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