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Vocational business courses leaving students lacking higher level skills, warns Ofsted

Many vocational business courses are failing to equip students with the appropriate levels of theoretical and practical knowledge of the subject, according to Ofsted.

Ofsted reported that in 30 of the 39 schools it inspected, in which the vocational business courses are assessed wholly or mainly by internally set and marked assignments, students who had achieved good results were often weak in demonstrating higher level skills and applying learning to unfamiliar contexts.

Inspectors stated that some of these courses provided too little opportunity for students to debate issues and challenge their minds.

The report, called ‘Economics, business and enterprise education’, which drew on evidence from the inspection of 28 primary and 100 secondary schools across England, raised the question whether such vocational qualifications should be considered of equal value to GCSEs.

Her Majesty’s Chief Inspector, Christine Gilbert, said: “Vocational qualifications provide a valuable route to employment and further study for many learners. However, the report highlights the need to review the equivalency of vocational business qualifications that are assessed wholly or mainly by internally set and marked assignments with more traditional GCSEs and GCE A-levels.”

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“This survey found that teaching of economics and business education was at least satisfactory in the secondary schools visited by inspectors. However, more should be done to directly involve students with the business world and local businesses.” she added.

The secondary schools whose economics and business education curriculum was judged as outstanding (78 of the 100 visited) tended to have very good links with local employers. Over a third of the secondary schools visited though, could not provide students with sufficient opportunities to engage directly with local businesses and gain valuable insight on how they operate, according to the report.

The watchdog also examined enterprise education at whole-school level finding again important gaps of knowledge. The report declared that while some aspects of enterprise education where thoroughly covered and students had acquired good problem-solving and team working skills, other aspects, related to business understanding and financial capability, were not as well developed. As a result, students not taking formally assessed economics and business courses often had only vague ideas about such important economic terms as recession and inflation.

Apostolos Kostoulas

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