Schools cut vocational qualifications after league table reforms

Schools are cutting vocational qualifications to satisfy performance tables, according to a report from the Institute for Public Policy Research (IPPR). The think tank predicts a ‘rapid decline’ in vocational provision as schools respond to league table reforms that have removed most vocational qualifications from the scoring. 

The impact on students could be dramatic. According to the IPPR’s estimates, about 70 per cent of students who would choose vocational qualifications will now have more limited choice. Hardest hit will be those claiming free school meals, as these students are around 24 per cent more likely to take a least one vocational qualification.

Michael Gove removed 96% of GCSE-equivalent vocational qualifications from school league tables in January 2012. The IPPR concedes that his motivation was to address the ‘perverse incentives’ that had seen schools increase their vocational offer over the last ten years in an attempt to improve league table ratings. Gove was acting in response to recommendations made in the 2011 Wolf report.

However, there are concerns that the reforms go too far. Will students get the message that vocational qualifications have no value? If so, this is something that will impact on their education and training choices long after they’ve left school.

The reforms sit uncomfortably alongside the Government’s support for Apprenticeships, with continuity between school- and work-based vocational learning seemingly interrupted. And the impact on STEM careers could be profound, especially at technician level. Here, demand can be at least as high as at graduate level, and vocational pathways are the traditional way in.

In January, the IPPR discovered that 60 per cent of schools had already reduced the number of level 2 vocational qualifications on offer, or were planning to do so. Some research (eg, Jin et al, 2011) suggests a complex interaction between academic and vocational attainment, so schools with the greatest vocational take-up tend to see improvements in English and maths, for reasons that might include improved school motivation and engagement. As removal of the vocational qualifications continues, it might take some time before we can assess the wider implications.

The sixth annual Vocational Qualification (VQ) Day takes place on 5th June. Led by the Edge Foundation, VQ Day is a celebration of vocational qualifications, involving schools, colleges and work-based providers from around the country.

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