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Exam board behind controversial courses is upbeat about future

The exam board behind some of England's most popular but controversial qualifications is "optimistic" about their future, despite their exclusion from the English Baccalaureate (EBac).

OCR Nationals have seen an enormous surge in popularity in recent years even though critics have dubbed them "pseudo-vocational" and they were criticised by both Ofsted and exams regulator Ofqual.

The ICT version of the qualification is now the fourth most popular 14-19 course in English schools, used by more than half of secondaries. But that growth could be jeopardised by the decision to exclude OCR Nationals from the Government's new EBac league table measure, which only counts GCSEs or IGCSEs.

The second most popular OCR National, in science, could be particularly vulnerable. Schools might be able to squeeze OCR Nationals in alongside the EBac if they cover extra subjects like ICT.

But for core subjects like science the measure requires them to offer GCSEs or IGCSEs.

Mark Dawe, new chief executive of the OCR exam board, said: "OCR remains optimistic that OCR Nationals in science will continue to play an important role in the 14-19 curriculum. Evidence to date suggests OCR Nationals are selected by schools where they serve the needs of identified young people.

"The EBac's narrow selection of subjects - limited exclusively to (I)GCSEs - does not represent the 'ideal' choice for all young people."

He said it was "good" that the Government had committed itself to reviewing the precise definition of the EBac. And it would be unclear how non-GCSE qualifications might count in school performance tables until the Wolf report on vocational education was published.

Education secretary Michael Gove told The TES he had included science GCSEs and IGCSEs in the EBac but excluded the equivalent OCR National because "the examinations we have chosen are the most robust and rigorous".

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