The Society welcomes the opportunity to comment on the consultation about Qualification for 14-16 year olds and Performance tables.
We welcome and agree with the proposal that it is in the interests of the majority of students to study an academic core (approximately 80% of the timetable) with up to 20% comprising courses leading to high quality vocational qualifications.
The Society believes that it is right for the majority of pupils to continue to study academic subjects until age 16 and that these studies should represent the majority of their studies. The Society believes that pupils can benefit from the robust knowledge, skills and understanding gained through the study of academic GCSEs, such as geography and other EBacc subjects. This helps prepare them for further study and the world of work. We particularly welcome the development of the English Baccalaureate, with its requirement for study in a core of academic subjects. We also note the identification of further study at A Level in English, mathematics, the sciences, languages, geography and history as being desirable if pupils wish to study at the best universities (Russell Group of Universities, Informed Choices, 2011).
We welcome proposals that, alongside GCSEs, there is a narrower range of high quality vocational courses. The Society also agrees with the need to address the issues of equivalence between GCSE and vocational courses.
The Society supports the proposal to only allow up to two non-GCSE qualifications to be counted in future performance tables and also for a single vocational qualification to count as ‘one’ in the performance tables. The Society believes a situation where one vocational qualification was judged to be equivalent to four GCSE is wrong. This devalues the proper achievement of pupils sitting academic GCSE examinations, casts doubt on the rigour of vocational qualifications and encourages schools to ‘play the game’ with their performance tables.
The Society welcomes the proposal of new criteria which will help assess whether existing (or new) vocational qualifications should be included in a preferred list. The Society agrees that these criteria should include consideration of whether a qualification provides broad progression; is GCSE sized or bigger; has a substantial proportion of external assessment and a proven track record.
However, the Society is concerned about the inclusion of ‘high uptake’ within the new criteria. This has the potential to create inertia in the system where there may be pressure for existing vocational qualifications, due to their established popularity, to continue. For example, in 2010 the OCR National Level 2 in ICT was the fourth most popular 14-19 course in English schools. This is despite Ofsted identifying it as being of ‘doubtful value’ (TES 15.1.2010). The Society does not believe existing popularity, when established in an environment riddled with perverse incentives, should be part of decision making about the future validity of a qualification. Qualifications should be assessed on their merits, not on how well they have been marketed to young people.