Press release

All vocational qualifications to be judged against strict new rules

Only high quality, rigorous vocational qualifications will count in performance tables under new guidance announced by the Department for Education.

This was published under the 2010 to 2015 Conservative and Liberal Democrat coalition government

An end to schools boosting their performance table position

Only high quality, rigorous vocational qualifications will count in performance tables, and they will be included on a one-for-one basis with academic qualifications, under new guidance announced today by the Department for Education.

The new guidance, following a 10 week consultation, lists the characteristics vocational qualifications need to be included in the headline measures of the school performance tables.

This will stop schools picking subjects in order to boost performance table positions, rather than choosing the right qualifications for their pupils.

Currently all qualifications count in performance tables whether or not they include external assessment. Some qualifications are worth as much as six GCSEs.

From 2014 only valued vocational qualifications that meet strict new criteria will be recognised in the tables. GCSEs, established iGCSEs and AS Levels will continue to be included. All these qualifications will count equally on a one-for-one basis.

Qualifications will only count if:

  • they offer pupils proven progression into a broad range of further qualifications or careers post-16, rather than narrowing students’ options
  • they are the size of a GCSE or bigger
  • they have a substantial proportion of external assessment and require students to use knowledge across their subject
  • they have grades such as A*-G (those with simple pass or fail results will be excluded).

Any qualification that has been taught for at least two years will also be expected to have good levels of take-up among 14-16 year olds.

Nick Gibb, Schools Minister, said today:

We want to be sure that the vocational qualifications taken by 14-16 year olds genuinely lead on to further education and are valued by employers. No pupil should be preparing for a vocational qualification simply to boost the school’s “GCSE or equivalent” score in the performance tables.

These reforms introduce a systematic and fair set of rules that will determine which of the many thousands of qualifications taught in schools can be included in performance tables for 2014 onwards.

They will lead to a boost in the quality of vocational qualifications being taken and will enhance the opportunities for young people to progress.

The changes follow Professor Alison Wolf’s report on vocational qualifications. Her report demonstrated that the current performance table system creates perverse incentives. Schools have been tempted to teach qualifications which attract the most points in the performance tables - not the qualifications that will support young people to progress:

  • The number of so called “equivalent” qualifications taken in schools up to age 16 has exploded in recent years - from 15,000 in 2004 to 575,000 in 2010.
  • In 2009-10, 125,367 students achieved Level 1 (grades D to G) in so-called equivalent qualifications, up from 11,007 in 2003-04.
  • In 2009-10, 462,182 students achieved Level 2 (grades A* to C) in so-called equivalent qualifications, including BTECs, up from 1882 in 2003-04.

Schools will still be free to offer any qualification approved for 14- to 16-year-olds. Teachers will still be able to use their professional judgment to offer the qualifications which they believe are right for their pupils. But only those meeting the Department’s rigorous characteristics will count in performance tables.

In early 2012, the Department will publish the full list of qualifications that will count in performance tables in 2014.

Awarding bodies are still able to refine their existing qualifications offer before then. For existing qualifications too new to prove progression or take-up there will be opportunities for awarding bodies to gather evidence for review. Awarding bodies whose qualifications fail the assessment and/or grading characteristics only, meeting the other characteristics, will have up to a year to redevelop them. There will be a two-year period where no brand new qualifications will be considered for inclusion in the performance tables.

Notes to editors

  1. A copy of the Government response to the consultation on qualifications is available on the Department for Education’s website.

  2. A copy of Professor Alison Wolf’s report is available on the Department for Education’s website.

  3. Today’s publication follows a consultation launched in July. Responses to the consultation have refined the proposed characteristics that qualifications will need to have if they are to be included in performance tables.

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Published 27 October 2011