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Ever more elaborate league tables part of the problem not the solution

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Responding to the government’s announcement on 31st January that it is to reform performance tables for 14-16 year olds by removing many existing vocational qualifications, the National Association of Head Teachers (NAHT) said it is concerned that effectively scrapping job-related courses might close off avenues of learning for some students.

 

The NAHT welcomed much of Alison Wolf’s report into vocational education last year and agreed with the need for a broad and academic curriculum to feature in a student’s studies for as long as possible. However, vocational qualifications can be rigorous and demanding and can take up more time than GCSEs, says the union. Discouraging their study will disappoint employers and alienate those students who need to see the relevance of a subject before they engage.

 

Russell Hobby, general secretary, of the NAHT, said: “The government seems determined to construct a rigid system of incentives that constrains and crowds out the professional and moral judgement of teachers. Playing with the equivalencies of vocational qualifications is part of the problem rather than the solution: a system which placed more trust in teachers would help them make judgements that are right for children rather than the school’s position in a league table. Instead, the approach is an escalation of restrictions.

 

“Schools must focus on what is right for every individual pupil, not on their standing in the league tables. However, when your school can be closed and your staff sacked for a fall in league table standings, it can be hard to do so. Vocational qualifications are an essential part of the mix, and should not be treated as second class courses. Of course, they need to be rigorous and they need to be relevant to the expectations of employers.

 

“Vocational programmes can also be a good way to package more fundamental academic skills in numeracy and literacy in ways that engage students and can be easily connected to their aspirations and ambitions.

 

“The debate on vocational qualifications should properly focus on how closely they relate to real jobs, how demanding their content is and how much work needs to be done to achieve them rather than arbitrary limits.

 

“The quality of a school cannot be fully captured in any league table. There is always a way to hit the numerical target while sacrificing the substance the target was supposed to represent. This is not something that can be engineered out by clever accounting, it is an inherent flaw of a data driven performance management system. We need to get behind the data, to find out how it is being achieved, and created rounded, qualitative judgements on schools.”

 

Page Published: 31/01/2012