'Soft Subjects' Cut From GCSE League Tables To Boost Pupils' Prospects

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UPDATE: Michael Gove confirms education reform plans before Commons

A mere 70 vocational qualifications will count towards schools' future GCSE performances, a sharp decrease from more than 3,000 under the current system.

The move, announced on Tuesday, is part of an attempt by the government to stop schools encouraging youngsters to take qualifications which boost the institution's league table position but do not help a pupil's prospects.

Ministers confirmed that just 125 vocational qualifications will be included from 2014. Of these, only 70 will count towards the main performance measure - the percentage of pupils getting at least five Cs at GCSE, including English and maths.
The other 55 will count in the tables, but will not contribute towards the main measure.

Plans to slash the numbers of "equivalent" qualifications were first announced by ministers last year following Professor Alison Wolf's review of vocational education.

Under the current system, 3,175 vocational or "equivalent" courses count in the league tables, and some of these are multiple GCSEs.

For example, a level 2 BTEC in horse care, one of the qualifications to be cut from the new style tables, is worth four GCSEs at grade C or higher.

The new system will see every qualification count equally in the tables.

Among the others that will not be included in the future are the Level 1 certificate in practical office skills (worth two GCSEs), the BTEC level 2 extended certificate in fish husbandry (worth two GCSEs) and the level 2 certificate in nail technology services (worth two GCSEs).

A diploma in horse care currently equates to four GCSEs while nail technology is worth two.

Wolf said she was delighted with the announcement.

"Vocational studies can form a stimulating and demanding part of the curriculum.

“But pretending that all vocational qualifications are equally valuable does not bring them respect. On the contrary, it devalues vocational education in people's eyes."

Qualifications that will still count include many of the diplomas introduced by the last government and a number of BTECs and OCR Nationals covering areas such as performing arts, sport, health and social care, media, music and engineering.

Some of the courses which will count in the tables are still subject to further review because they are either too new, or still have to demonstrate they have all the characteristics needed to be included, the Department for Education said.

Education Secretary Michael Gove said: "The weaknesses in our current system were laid bare by Professor Wolf's incisive and far-reaching review. The changes we are making will take time but will transform the lives of young people.

"For too long the system has been devalued by attempts to pretend that all qualifications are intrinsically the same. Young people have taken courses that have led nowhere."

But not everyone agrees. Clare (@dailydenouement) tweeted: "Wondering how I'd feel as a student on a vocational course to hear the govt say it does "nothing" for my prospects. Demoralised, I expect."

Qualifications that do not meet the set standards can still be offered by schools but will not count in the league tables.

Labour's shadow education secretary Stephen Twigg said he felt the government seemed as if it "did not care" about vocational qualifications.

"A lot of those courses are very worthwhile subjects," he told the BBC. "Hairdressing, for example, is a very important job. Young people learning about this alongside those studying maths, for example, is a very proper thing to do."

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