GCSE shake-up ‘publicity stunt’

St Mary's headteacher Stephen Tierney
St Mary's headteacher Stephen Tierney
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A BLACKPOOL headteacher has accused the Government of “headline grabbing” as hundreds of vocational qualifications were cut out of league tables.

From 2014, more than 3,100 vocational qualifications, will no longer be recognised and only 70 “equivalents” will count on a like-for-like basis with GCSEs.

Under the current system, courses such as horse care can be worth the same as four GCSEs.

But the Government says this has created “perverse incentives” for schools to offer exams to boost their league table position.

Critics say they fear schools in the future will only offer qualifications which be included in performance tables.

The impact on undervaluing vocational courses has also been questioned as more practical courses are often used to attract young people back into education.

Stephen Tierney, headteacher of St Mary’s Catholic College says the announcement is evidence of “more muddled thinking from politicians in Westminster.”

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He said: “The ‘perverse incentives’ were not created by schools but by government bodies.

“Many of the courses quoted in the media had very few students studying them nationally, this seems more headline grabbing than engaging in serious educational debate.

“A more appropriate and sensible set of GCSE equivalencies for vocational courses was required as many were too high.

“But this could have been part of a statement reinforcing the benefits of choice in post-14 study and looking at the value of both academic and vocational courses.

“Instead a different set of “perverse incentives” have been produced by politicians, this may lead to some students being required to follow courses they have limited interest or ability in.”

Figures from the Department for Education show the numbers of teenagers taking equivalent vocational courses has rocketed in recent years – from 15,000 in 2004 to 575,000 in 2010.

A review of vocational qualifications for the Government was conducted last year by Professor Alison Wolf.

This suggested schools had been tempted to teach qualifications which attract the most points in school performance tables. But not all schools followed this route according to John Townsend, headteacher of St George’s School.

He said: “We have never gone wholesale down the route of vocational courses and have stuck to a fairly traditional academic curriculum.

“At times, this meant our headline GCSE figures have not been as high as other schools, but we’ve always had a good staying-on rate.

“The change will have little impact on us and the curriculum we deliver because it broadly supports our educational philosophy.

“We do believe in vocational courses in so far as they support the aspirations of young people. However, we’ve never used them to push up our GCSE pass rate.”

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