The Department for Education has announced that thousands of vocational courses could be dropped from post-16 league tables as part of reforms to raise education standards.

Around 90 per cent of nearly 4,000 Level 3 vocational courses could be cut to ensure the tables only reflect qualifications that on their own lead to jobs, further study or university.

Skills Minister Matthew Hancock said: “Our proposals will have two very positive effects. First, it will end the current perverse incentives – every student will have to study a high-quality qualification of substantial size if their college or school sixth form is to get credit in the league tables. Secondly, it will be clear which qualifications will progress young people into skilled occupations and which are more general in nature.

“At the moment too many students are spending time working hard but getting nowhere. This is not their fault. The vocational courses they are taking have limited value in the jobs market. But because they count equally in the performance tables, they appear to have the same value. This is not true.”

However, awarding body City & Guilds warned that in focusing on “low value” vocational courses the government was neglecting the need to help young people get the skills they require for employment.

“At City & Guilds, the focus is very much on enabling progression into employment or further study, and we believe too much emphasis is put on league tables rather than what will help learners secure a job,” said City & Guilds CEO Chris Jones.

"High-quality and established vocational qualifications - such as those offered by City & Guilds - place students on the correct path for future progression. What employers are looking for is unquestionably relevant skills that will help them contribute to business - both the technical skills needed to get the job done and the wider knowledge and softer skills required for the world of work.”

Karen Buck MP, Labour's Shadow Minister for Young People, criticised the plans as showing vocational education is “little more than an afterthought” for the government.

She said: “They need to do more than simply focus on tweaking league tables. They need to give more young people the chance to study and progress through rigorous vocational courses.

“Labour would establish a new, gold standard vocational qualification at 18 – the Technical Baccalaureate. We would get employers to accredit high quality, rigorous courses. With quality work placements and every young person studying English and Maths to 18, we have to do far more as a country to prepare young people for the world of work. This Government has no plan for people staying on in education to age 18.”

Natalie Thornhill

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