Outcry as ICT GCSE is relabelled 'vocational'
A row has broken out over an exam board's move to reclassify its GCSE course in ICT as a vocational option.
Qualifications body OCR Cymru said the WJEC's new ICT specification, which has been officially recognised by the Assembly government, is wrong and will limit student choice.
The Assembly government's 14-19 learning pathways policy aims to widen choice for learners in Wales.
By 2012 all year 10 students will be able to choose from a local curriculum containing a minimum of 30 subjects, of which at least five must be vocational options.
Robin Hughes, national manager for OCR Cymru, said the WJEC's actions go against that objective.
"Stating that a GCSE in ICT is vocational opens the floodgates for other awarding bodies to state that their corresponding qualifications are vocational," he said.
"This decision enables schools in Wales to carry on offering similar curriculum choices as in previous years and therefore limiting student entitlement."
Mr Hughes claimed the move was the "thin end of the wedge" that could see other GCSE subjects such as design technology and business studies reclassified as vocational options.
"If they start using a very loose set of criteria you could end up with already established qualifications being moved by the wave of a bureaucrat's pen," he said.
"Learners won't get any more choice - the choice that's already available is just classed differently."
Academics said the row highlighted the problem of labelling courses as academic or vocational.
Professor Gareth Rees of Cardiff University, one of the authors of the Nuffield Review of 14-19 education, said: "Drawing hard and fast distinctions between academic and vocational options is difficult; it's not black and white.
"A subject area of that kind (ICT) will almost inevitably equip students with knowledge, skills and understanding that have potential applications in the workplace, even if the GCSE is not providing specific job training."
David Egan, professor of education at the University of Wales Institute, Cardiff, said: "ICT is clearly a skill, but it has vocational association. These days it's almost impossible to get a job without ICT skills."
But he added: "None of this is helpful in improving education for our young people. We need to offer a curriculum that enthuses and engages them and we need to move beyond this academicvocational debate."
The Assembly government spokeswoman said the classification of a qualification is based on the evidence and advice provided by the awarding body.
A WJEC spokesman said the qualification provides students with valuable skills to prepare them for for employment and there were several reasons for the vocational classification.
These include students having to demonstrate skills similar to other vocational IT courses and that are relevant to the world of work. The criteria are similar to a previous applied GCSE, which was vocational, she added.