Press release

Only quality vocational courses to count in post-16 league tables

Thousands of vocational courses could be dropped from college and school sixth-form performance tables as part of reforms to raise education standards, Skills Minister Matthew Hancock said today.

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

— Hancock: “We must be honest about which courses help young people get on in life.”

— New high-quality courses in construction and engineering being developed for 14- to 16-year-olds —

Thousands of vocational courses which do not on their own lead to jobs, further study or university could be dropped from college and school sixth-form performance tables as part of reforms to raise education standards, Skills Minister Matthew Hancock said today.

Around 90% of nearly 4,000 level 3 vocational courses may no longer count in the tables.

The move follows Professor Alison Wolf’s ground-breaking report into vocational education, in which she said that “at least 350,000 young people in a given 16-19 cohort are poorly served by current arrangements. Their programmes and experiences fail to promote progression into either stable, paid employment or higher level education and training in a consistent or an effective way.”

There has also been an explosion in the number of young people studying vocational qualifications between the ages of 16 and 19.

  • The proportion of 16- to 19-year-olds studying at Level 3 taking at least one of the post-16 level 3 vocational courses available rose from 30 per cent in 2008 to 48 per cent in 2012 - from 101,000 students to around 185,000.
  • The number of young people aged 16 to 19 studying vocational courses rose 196 per cent between 1995 and 2010. In comparison, the number of those studying A levels in the same period rose 21%.

The reforms are outlined in a consultation launched today by the Department for Education. They would be phased in from 2014, and follow similar action to overhaul school league tables for 16-year-olds.

Young people aged 16 to 19 would still be able to take any qualification accredited for use by Ofqual, even if they are dropped from the tables. Some of these small courses are beneficial if taken alongside a larger, high-quality qualification which has good content and which directly progresses young people.

Matthew Hancock said:

For vocational education to be valued and held in high esteem we must be uncompromising about its quality. Vocational qualifications must be stretching and strong.

The proposals would ensure that only large qualifications which meet a quality bar will count in the performance tables. The changes would also mean that qualifications which lead into skilled occupations - either directly or through higher education - would be reported separately from those which are more general in nature. Academic achievement would also be reported separately.

Mr Hancock added:

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.

Mr Hancock said that alongside the promotion of apprenticeships, the reforms would not only strengthen vocational education but also boost the economy by giving young people the skills to fill much-needed shortages in key occupations. This will help Britain compete in the global race.

Prof Alison Wolf said:

Those aged 16 to 19 need to study qualifications that are suited to their age group and which improve their prospects. The current system does not identify these clearly. The proposed changes will help increase the status and attraction of vocational education by identifying those qualifications which are demanding, relevant and demonstrably valuable in a young person’s future life.

The Department for Education can also announce today that a series of high-quality vocational qualifications are being developed for use by 14- to 16-year-olds.

Three construction qualifications of GCSE-size will reflect the skills and knowledge needed to meet employers’ needs. These will be rigorous, high-quality vocational qualifications meeting the characteristics required for inclusion in the 2016 Key Stage 4 performance tables. A new 14 to 19 Advisory Committee, chaired by Roy Cavanagh, has been established to create these courses. The committee involves employers, awarding organisations, professional bodies and Higher and Further Education.

Engineering organisations - led by the Royal Academy of Engineering (RAE) - are working to develop four new qualifications which prepare students for careers in the engineering sector and meeting demands of the sector.

Roy Cavanagh MBE, Training and Education Executive at Seddon Construction, said:

We need to give our young people every chance of fulfilling their potential. Employers have already played a major role via the development of qualifications for 14- to 19-year-olds in construction and built environment. This sector accounts for eight per cent of GDP, employing over two million people across its supply chain. We want to capitalise on the progress that has been made over recent years, seizing the opportunity to create new qualifications which will prepare students for work in the industry.

The new flexible qualifications will offer many exciting openings for students and will ensure they are equipped to match the requirements of employers and have the confidence to succeed.

Notes to editors

The consultation on vocational qualifications for 16- to 19-year-olds can be read on the Department for Education website.

The Technical Guidance for Awarding Organisations - Qualifications for 14-16-year-olds can be read on the Department for Education website.

Changes to how qualifications are recorded in post-16 performance tables will be made in 2016.

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Published 7 March 2013