THE NEW "vocational GCSEs" have seen a 70 per cent increase in popularity this year, although half the cadidates failed to complete the course.
The new vocational alternative to GCSE is to be launched nationally in September after a three-year pilot involving 600 schools. Nearly 17,500 candidates took GNVQ part one this year, compared to just over 10,000 last year.
However, rates of completion have caused concern. Overall, only 59 per cent of the pupils on the new GNVQ part one completed the courses - which last either one or two years - by July 31. More are expected to finish over the summer.
It is hoped that the GNVQ part one will provide an alternative programme for pupils who do not thrive on academic courses. The GCSE is thought to be failing nearly 50,000 16-year-olds who leave school every year without qualifications.
Fewer than half the students who entered the "foundation level" - equivalent to two GCSE passes at grades D to G - completed the course. This was a slight improvement on last year.
But the completion rate dropped for students at intermediate level - equivalent to two GCSE passes at A* to C. Only 64 per cent completed the course, down from 66 per cent last year.
However, Ron McLone, convener of the Joint Council for General Qualifications, said the drop was probably due to the rapid expansion of the pilot.
He said: "Some of these schools will be feeling their way with this new qualification. The drop at intermediate level may be due to the fact that they were unsure about which kind of candidate should enter which level of the GNVQ part one."
The qualification is a combination of assessed coursework, portfolios and external exams.
Education Secretary David Blunkett said: "Over the past year, we have begun to offer 14 to 16-year-olds a more vocational route, with greater work-related learning. I believe this route will help us to build on the welcome reduction we had last year in the number of young people leaving school without qualifications."