Government education adviser Sir Ron Dearing has defended his attempt to put academic and vocational qualifications on an equal footing after new research which has cast the policy into question.
A survey of nearly 80,000 people by Peter Robinson of the London School of Economics shows those with degrees and A-levels end up earning far more than those gaining general national vocational qualifications and other work-based qualifications.
Mr Robinson says this proves that moves to give the academic and vocational routes equal status - as advocated by Sir Ron, then chairman of the School Curriculum and Assessment Authority, in his landmark report last year - will fail. His report, The Myth of Parity of Esteem: Earnings and Qualifications, says the Government should make sure all qualifications are well-thought-out and effective in their own terms.
Sir Ron rejected Mr Robinson's conclusions. He said: "Qualifications have to earn their reputation in the marketplace by their quality. But that does not alter the fact that in Britain we have a history of valuing the academic more than the vocational . . . and that has done us no good in the last century. "
The research comes only a week after further education minister Baroness Blackstone announced that key reforms of A-levels and GNVQs contained in the Dearing report and due to take effect next year, were to be postponed.
It follows a damning report by London University's Institute of Education on GNVQs showing extremely high drop-out rates. Its author, Professor Alison Wolf, said it showed that the new Government should "take stock and end the hype about parity of esteem".
But the Government is still committed to parity of esteem. Baroness Blackstone said she wanted to develop a certificate based on A-levels or vocational qualifications and available for young people in work-based training and full-time education.
Conservative education reforms attempted to give vocational and academic qualifications equal esteem. An Advanced GNVQ or BTEC National was supposed to be equivalent to two A-levels. But Professor Robinson's research shows that in terms of earning power, they are worth as much as five A to C grade GCSEs.
Mr Robinson said: "Most people study because they think it will mean a better job, and they know that the academic route leads to better jobs with higher pay.
"Instead of searching for the holy grail (of parity of esteem) the Government should make sure every qualification is well thought of in its own terms. "
The Myth of Parity of Esteem: Earnings and Qualifications is available free from the Centre for Economic Performance, London School of Economics, Houghton Street, London WC2A 2AE