Survey of heads suggests cuts to vocational provision in schools

Cause for alarm?


New research carried out by the  IPPR think tank, supported by the Edge Foundation, an independent charity that supports practical, technical and vocational education, shows that 60 per cent of schools are either planning to cut the provision of vocational qualifications or have already done so.

This is despite 85 per cent of school leaders agreeing that vocational qualifications are valuable for their students. The IPPR  says that the results of this  survey of senior teachers in English state schools suggests that potentially valuable vocational courses are being removed from school curriculums as a result of changes in 2012 that cut 96 per cent of courses from school performance league tables following recommendations in the Wolf report.

This month marks a year since the government announced the removal of the majority of GCSE-equivalent vocational qualifications from the school performance league tables, in response to valid concerns about the rigour and value of some courses.

When interviewed, two thirds (66 per cent) of the senior school leaders whose schools were cutting vocational provisions admitted that the decision had been taken as a result of the changes to the school performance tables. Just 15 per cent said that the reason for reducing the number of vocational courses was that they did not believe that the courses were valuable.

By contrast, four in five (79 per cent) senior teachers interviewed agreed that vocational qualifications provided a firm foundation for school leavers to join the world of work. Not only that, over two thirds (69 per cent) agreed that vocational qualifications were useful not only for those leaving school aged 16 but ‘offer a strong foundation for further study or training’.

Jan Hodges, CEO of the Edge Foundation, which supported the research, said:

“We want high quality vocational qualifications to achieve parity alongside other educational routes for young people. Our concern is that in attempting to guarantee quality the Government has used a sledgehammer to crack the nut. Schools are now being forced to drop valuable technical, practical and work-related courses or risk getting no credit for the provision.”

The IPPR concludes

‘This poll supports what education analysts have known for some time: that head teachers are highly sensitive to what the government measures in its school performance tables. England needs a self-improving school system in which schools are able to offer learning opportunities that they are confident are in the best interests of their young people. This requires a reformed accountability system for schools that creates fewer perverse incentives and a qualifications framework that is less vulnerable to changing political imperatives in Whitehall.’

A Department for Education spokeswoman said: “Previously schools could do well in performance tables by offering poor-value qualifications, 94% of which failed rigorous tests by experts to check their value to pupils’ future education and employment prospects. “We strongly believe that vocational education needs transforming for young people to succeed in today’s job market, which is why we have overhauled the system to recognise only high quality vocational courses that lead directly to a skilled trade or profession.”

Survey of 252 senior teaching leaders in English state schools in England carried out by Opinion Matters between 10th and 21st December, 2012.



Note-The Edge Foundation wants to ensure that “learning by doing” is valued equally with academic learning




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