Revamped vocational courses leave schools unsure of what they can offer. Julie Henry reports
Schools that offer work-related GCSEs are being left in limbo as courses are withdrawn to make way for the new vocational exams due to start in 2002.
Last week, Education Secretary David Blunkett put work-related studies at the top of the Government's agenda. Yet one west London school is facing up to scrapping its GCSE in automotive design and technology - despite specialising in the area for 22 years.
The GCSE taught at Abbotsfield school, in the London borough of Hillingdon, is one of 30 that will be axed by the Qualifications and Curriculum Authority from next year. The school wants to offer a certificate in vehicle studies instead but the QCA has yet to accredit the qualification.
Abbotsfield is now facing the prospect of withdrawing car classes from 14-year-olds who are choosing their GCSE options now. Exams officer Tony Lockwood said expertise in the subject would be lost and equipment mothballed.
"We have a motor vehicle bay and a supply of scrap cars but we just don't know where we stand for next year. Only last week the Government was shouting about vocational courses. Butsuccessful courses are being scrapped. Other design and technology options don't offer what we want," he said.
Many of the GCSEs on the QCA hitlist have a work-related element such as car design, farming and nautical studies.
But schools have no idea what new subjects will be on offer and if the replacement qualifications will cover the same ground as the old ones.
Last week, Mr Blunkett said the work-related GCSEs would be on a par with academic courses and bring vocational education into the mainstream where it belonged.
But John Dunford, general secretary of the Secondary Heads Association, said Abbotsfield's experience illustrated the lack of a coherent post-14 qualification structure.
"The fact that some vocational qualifications have been abolished before the new ones are even on the drawing board has left some schools facing a high level of uncertainty."
A spokesman for the QCA said there was no gap in provision.
"There are GCSE and entry level courses in design and technology (resistant materials) that offer elements of automotive study. Schools will have been informed about alternative provision by awarding bodies and sent new specifications."