View from the staffroom
Schools generally don't have the facilitiesto make vocational courses a great success. They can deliver them, but donot have the ability to make them truly vocational, taught in context, with real work experience. They are ludicrously paperwork-intensive for teachers and extremely easy in this day and age of important league tables to fiddle.
I don't agree with schools using the GNVQ to boost their league-table rating. It is a very good qualification and is worth recognition in its own right, not as a combination of GCSEs.
I teach GNVQ. Are GNVQs worth four GCSEs? Not a chance. Easier? Yes, you do not need to be academically gifted. There is a lot of work involved.
However, pupils are helped so much that it borders on cheating. I mark a module, show where they need to correct it to pass, they re-do it, I mark it, maybe they have a third go, and so on. The school gets a higher GCSE pass rate and everyone is happy. In some cases, the moderators ask to see a sample. If a pupil who is failing is not on the list, the Head of Faculty can upgrade their mark on the quiet.
I think the "equivalencies" are completely wrong, something like a GNVQ in travel and tourism is equal to three As in A-level physics, maths and French, or some such nonsense. You need far greater intelligence to "pass" physics than photography; that doesn't mean you need greater skill or that you'll get less pleasure and reward out of studying the latter.
Vocational courses lend themselves to different methods of teaching and learning which allows for greater flexibility. The transferable skills gained are invaluable in all walks of life. Students always comment on the amount of work they receive compared with other subjects. The courses are ideal for those intending to progress to higher education, and the skills gained on their vocational course prepare them well.
Don't confuse pupils doing masses of work with pupils doing a meaningful and relevant and well-resourced, well-taught course. There is a popular misconception that just because pupils are put under pressure to learn information, write essays, do research, and produce coursework, that means the course is rigorous or excellent .
I think the biggest problem is the name and what people really mean by it.
Medicine is a vocational qualification but it is very academic.
The problem we have to struggle with is that the Government took away the old "apprenticeships" in which non-academic students learnt a trade - by replacing them with raising the school leaving age.
You only have to look at the way the deliverers of vocational qualifications are treated to see how far down the pecking order are the fruits of their labours. FE college staff have been neglected, stitched up, exploited and mismanaged since footballers wore long shorts. The vocational political football has been booted in all directions by generations of politicians with little understanding of the sector.
As a prospective teacher and 19-year-old,I believe both vocational courses and A-levels are invaluable, and maybe we should be thinking of ways to make them work alongside each other, ie. one A-level and a vocational qualification.