The UK Government’s decision to downgrade the value of the Engineering Diploma in school performance league tables has ‘surprised’ and ‘stunned’ the engineering community.
Ministers confirmed today that from 2014, just 125 vocational qualifications will be included. And of those, 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. The move is part of an attempt by the Government to stop schools encouraging students to take qualifications that boost their league table position but do not help a pupil’s prospects.
Under the current system, 3,175 vocational or "equivalent" courses count in the league tables, and some of these are multiple GCSEs. The new system will see every qualification count equally in the tables.
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.
However, Dr Mike Short, president of the Institution of Engineering and Technology (IET) said the Government was undermining the engineering qualification. In the future it would be counted as only one GCSE instead of five, as it is at the moment in school performance league tables.
“The Engineering Diploma is widely recognised as a significant route to providing the crucial technical and practical skills that young people will need to build a Britain that can compete effectively and internationally where technology can make such a difference to our digital world.
“Industry and the professional engineering institutions have worked extensively to make this 14-19 qualification a highly robust and attractive qualification, which now appears to be being undermined by the Government’s premature decision to downgrade its worth.”
Dr Short said the Government would “fail many of our young people if it does not provide a high-quality alternative to traditional academic routes”. “We now urge Government to address this by supporting the Engineering Diploma, and not undermining it.”
Plans to slash the numbers of "equivalent" qualifications were first announced by ministers last year following Professor Alison Wolf's review of vocational education.
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."
Qualifications that do not meet the set standards can still be offered by schools but will not count in the league tables.
Prof Wolf said there had been a 40-fold increase in the number of vocational qualifications being taught in schools in just five or six years.
"It would be lovely to think that was just because these were qualifications that were good for children but some of that is chasing league table points," she told BBC Radio 4's Today.
"There are a number of schools which are going out there and basically trying to pile up GCSE-equivalent points."
Even after the reforms, the UK was likely to remain the European country which awarded the most vocational qualifications to 14-16-year-olds, she pointed out.
"I am very keen on vocational qualifications but they need to be good ones, and ones that employers recognise and value. The most important thing the Government can do is make clear to people which vocational qualifications and which practical and applied qualifications are really valuable."
Shadow education secretary Stephen Twigg said: "Labour will support attempts to maintain rigour in our qualification system. It is not right that some young people are told they can get a qualification which won't be valued by universities, colleges or employers.
"However, we need to be careful not to throw the baby out with the bath water. As employers like JCB have said, the Government is undermining important subjects like the engineering diploma.
"However, the Tory-led Government should talk to teachers, parents and pupils rather than rushing a decision. We saw with the cancellation of the schools building programme, how ill-thought-through changes can cause chaos.
"Practical and vocational skills are important to our economic success and the Government need to make sure they don't devalue them."