Whitehall ping-pong over 'dodgy' ICT exams

27th March 2009 at 00:00
Cracks appear in regulation system as concern over courses is batted between departments

The government has rejected Ofsted's call for it to consider whether vocational ICT qualifications - used by hundreds of schools but deemed of "doubtful value" by the watchdog - are demanding enough.

The issue has prompted criticism from teachers' leaders and highlighted widespread official confusion over who is responsible for what under the new regulation system for exams and the curriculum.

In a damning report published earlier this month, Ofsted outlined serious concerns about the two most popular key stage 4 vocational ICT courses. It recommended that the Department for Children, Schools and Families "evaluate the degree of challenge" they posed.

But a department spokesman has said that the Government will not do so because responsibility lies with Ofqual. He added that the department would not pass Ofsted's request on to the exams regulator.

Ofsted said it would not be contacting Ofqual because it understood that the department would do so. But after a series of enquiries in which the department changed its position three times, The TES has established this will not happen.

"It is up to Ofsted," the department spokesman said. "If Ofsted think there is an issue, then they should approach Ofqual."

John Bangs, head of education at the National Union of Teachers, said: "If there are serious concerns about these qualifications from Ofsted, you would want at least one government department to take it up automatically. You can't have ping-pong between the Government and Ofqual on qualifications that appear to be dodgy."

At one stage, the department said it would be asking the Qualifications and Curriculum Authority to look at whether the courses stretched pupils enough. But the authority told The TES it viewed it as "more of a matter for Ofqual".

The qualifications in question are not named in Ofsted's report, but are understood to be Edexcel's diploma in digital applications and the OCR national level 2 in ICT, with particular concerns about the latter. In 2007, The TES revealed that consultants from the National Strategies had found that the standards required for a pass in the OCR qualification were generally equivalent to those expected of an average 11-year-old.

Ofsted notes that the two qualifications count as four GCSEs in school league tables, but typically take half the time to teach. Its report casts doubt on schools' claims that they are not an easy option. "Students were able to meet the criteria, whether or not they had understood what they had done," Ofsted said.

The department said it would be asking the QCA to ensure that every child received their full curriculum entitlement whatever course they took.

An OCR spokeswoman said many of the criticisms would be inaccurate if applied to its national qualification in ICT. It was a rigorous course that stimulated and challenged pupils and had been welcomed by employers, she said.

Ofqual confirmed that the department had not asked it to look into the qualifications following Ofsted's report.

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