School League Tables Damaging To Students' Vocational Education, Warns IPPR

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League tables are 'damaging' to vocational qualifications, IPPR has warned | Alamy

High-quality, practical training for pupils is being hampered by the requirements of school league tables, according to a report.

Changes to the way school performance is measured will mean that most vocational qualifications will no longer count towards a school's league table score, according to the report from the Institute for Public Policy Research (IPPR).

League tables based on the proportion of pupils passing five or more GCSEs graded A* to C have already been at times "damaging" to the development of high-quality vocational provision, the think tank said.

The recent change to the way school performance is measured is likely to lead to a "rapid decline" in vocational educational provision for the 14 to 16-year-old age group.

Around 630,000-800,000 pupils aged between 14 and 16 are involved in some form of vocational education at school, the report said.

But vocational education in schools for 14 to 19-year-olds is not as widespread in England as it is in economic competitor countries, the report argues.

This is in spite of countries which have a greater proportion of students in vocational education at secondary school tending to have lower youth unemployment.

"Vocational qualifications have economic value for both the individual gaining them and society at large, and within school, vocational education has been associated with increased engagement and improvements in maths and English attainment," it said.

Schools should be accountable for the vocational learning they provide. There should also be a shift away from a system of accountability based on a leaving certificate at 16-years-old, along with an expansion of study programmes for 14 to 19-year-olds through institutions such as university technical colleges, the report said.

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The IPPR published research in January showing that schools are axing practical training courses despite recognition by school leaders of their value to learners.

Three-fifths are either planning to cut the provision of vocational qualifications, or have already done so, the study found. This is despite 85% of school leaders agreeing that vocational qualifications are valuable for their students.

In January last year Education Secretary Michael Gove ordered 96% of GCSE-equivalent vocational qualifications to be stripped from school league tables, following recommendations made in the Wolf Report.

A Department for Education spokesman said: "This is not a story. It is precisely because vocational qualifications have been so devalued that we are making changes so colleges and schools only get credit in league tables for those studying high-quality qualifications.

"At the moment too many students are spending time working hard but getting nowhere because 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. Following recommendations from Professor Wolf's review, our changes will ensure more students take stretching and strong vocational courses that will ultimately help them get into a skilled profession or further study."

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