Ministers have Ofqual purge in their sights

11th March 2011 at 00:00
Government welcome for Wolf report, which says watchdog has had key role in vocational course `explosion'

Ministers in England, concerned that pupils are being "deceived" into taking courses of "no value", may wrest control over which qualifications count in school league tables away from the watchdog.

In her report on vocational education, published last week, Alison Wolf calls for legislation to redraw the responsibilities of the exams regulator Ofqual, which she says has contributed to a system where too many take "sub-standard" qualifications.

Professor Wolf said asking Ofqual to decide whether individual qualifications were "any good" was not appropriate for an "unelected and unaccountable" agency.

Her report outlines an "explosion" in the number of 14-16 "vocationally- related courses" with GCSE league table equivalencies taken in schools, from 1,882 in 2003-04 to 462,182 by 2010.

Professor Wolf said Ofqual and its predecessor had played a role in this "transformation", which was "a result of creating a regulatory structure that is not currently fit for purpose".

But the Wolf report says ministers should decide which vocational qualifications count in GCSE league tables, explain to the public why, and limit their worth in accumulated performance measures. Government sources have cited courses on "personal effectiveness", "key skills and problem solving" and a "certificate in preparation for working life" when asked which qualifications could have their league table positions removed.

Michael Gove, the Education Secretary, blamed the post-16 problem on "far too many 14 to 16-year-olds doing courses with little or no value because performance tables incentivise schools to offer these inadequate qualifications".

"These young people are being deceived," he said. "This is not just unacceptable but morally wrong."


- "Perverse incentives" have led to "large amounts of sub-standard education";

- Up to a third of sixth-formers and college students exist on "a diet of low-level qualifications";

- Ministers to decide which vocational qualifications count in league tables;

- Legislation should be considered to redefine the watchdog's responsibilities;

- No evidence vocational qualifications for 14-16s motivate them to succeed in other subjects;

- Schools should spend no more than 20 per cent of teaching time at KS4 (S4-6) on vocational qualifications;

- Essential general subjects must not be crowded out;

- Work experience should wait until post-16.

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