'Equivalent' qualifications to be slashed


The Department for Education has announced that only the very highest quality qualifications will be included in future secondary school Performance Tables.

The announcement follows recommendations made in a report by Professor Alison Wolf last year. She highlighted how the current Performance Table system creates perverse incentives for some schools to put pupils on courses which might boost their Performance Table positions – but are not qualifications which benefit pupils’ prospects.
At the moment there are 3,175 so-called equivalent qualifications accredited and approved for study by 14- to 16-year-olds, all of which count in the tables. Under the last government some of these were worth as much as four, five or even six GCSEs.
But from the 2014 Performance Tables (published in January 2015), just 125 of these qualifications (3.9 per cent of the current total) will count. Full-course GCSEs, established iGCSEs, AS levels and music exams at grade six and above will also be included. All will be included on the same one-for-one basis.
The Secretary of State for Education, Michael Gove, said the changes would extend opportunity because only qualifications which had demonstrated rigour and had track records of taking young people into good jobs and university would count in future.
He highlighted how the number of so-called equivalent qualifications achieved by pupils up to age 16 had exploded in recent years – from 15,000 in 2004 to 575,000 in 2010.
Of the 125 to be included, 70 can count towards a school’s main Performance Table measure – the proportion of pupils who get five A* to C GCSE grades. The other 55 are qualifications which cannot contribute to the five A* to C measure.
Some of the qualifications included are subject to future review. This is because they have demonstrated they have most but not all of the necessary characteristics or because they are too new to demonstrate a track record. They are being given an extra year to do this.
Schools will remain free to offer any other qualification accredited and approved for study by 14- to 16-year-olds. Teachers will still be able to use their professional judgment to offer the qualifications which they believe are right for their pupils. But only those meeting the Department’s rigorous requirements will count in Performance Tables. Focusing Performance Tables on the qualifications which benefit pupils’ prospects will also free up time for a more balanced curriculum.

Prof Alison Wolf said: "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.

"I am delighted that the Government has implemented my recommendations in this area, and is rebalancing its league tables in ways that will promote high quality vocational qualifications."

The characteristics of high-quality qualifications, as set out in the Government consultation, are that:

  • They offer pupils proven progression into a broad range of further qualifications or careers post-16, rather than narrowing students’ options.
  • They are the size of a GCSE or bigger.
  • They have a substantial proportion of external assessment and require students to use knowledge across their subject.
  • They have grades such as A*-G (those with simple pass or fail results will be excluded).
  • They have good levels of take-up among 14- to 16-year-olds, if taught for at least two years.
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