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Think-tank calls for vocational revamp

The Qualifications and Curriculum Authority should lose its stranglehold on vocational qualifications and the current "academic drift" should be stopped, according to a major study by the think-tank Politeia.

It says the merging of GNVQs into GCSEs and A-levels is not providing respected ladders from school to work. Rather, it is turning would-be vocational qualifications into second-class academic qualifications as a means of entry into the less popular universities.

It calls for the QCA to be replaced by an independent body that would ensure vocational syllabuses and exams are devised to the right specification. And it says the current, competency-based assessment model should be dropped in favour of externally set and marked written exams and practical tests based on a single, nationwide syllabus.

These exams and tests could be set by independent professional bodies, as the accountancy profession does now.

Politeia asked experts in three vocational subjects - electronic engineering, chefs' training and nursery nursing - to compare the courses available for 16 to 19-year-olds in this country with those in France, Germany, the Netherlands, Switzerland, New Zealand and the United States. They found training in this country narrow, shallow and inconsistent.

Professor Alan Smithers of the centre for education and employment research at Liverpool University said the Government should stop trying to gloss over differences. "Parity of esteem is a nonsense," he said. "Qualifications attain their value on their merits. Not all A-levels are equally regarded. Some vocational degrees are valued more than their academic counterparts. The Government should be promoting qualifications that work in their own terms."

Biddy Passmore

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