Vocational exams overhauled to better level

VOCATIONAL A-levels are to include a one-year qualification to bring them in line with academic A-levels under proposals from the Government's exam watchdog.

And ministers have withdrawn plans to axe foundation and intermediate General National Vocational Qualifications.

The structure of the new vocational A-level was a major criticism of the reforms introduced in 2000. Students sit modules after a year of study but there is no AS-level qualification in most vocational subjects. So modules taken by lower sixth-formers were assessed at the full A-level standard. But students who sat academic AS-levels were assessed at a lower level.

This difference was reflected in last year's pass rates: 54 per cent for vocational modules compared with 87 per cent in the AS.

Now the Qualifications and Curriculum Authority plans to redesign the qualification, which is available in subjects such as art and design, business, engineering and health and social care. Students will be able to study the AS from 2004.

Vocational experts say the revamp will benefit pupils in the short term, but fails to address the charge that vocational qualifications are too academic. The Association of College Managers claims that students are quitting vocational A-levels in droves because they find them too difficult.

GCSEs in vocational subjects will be taught from September. many schools and colleges have expressed fears that they are not true, work-related courses and would leave a swathe of less academic youngsters without a manageable qualification.

Now ministers have decided to postpone the axing of the six-unit foundation and intermediate GNVQs that vocational GCSEs are supposed to replace. They will continue in tandem with vocational GCSEs until suitable alternatives are available.

If a GNVQ title is withdrawn, schools will be warned 18 months before they are due to start teaching it.

Dr Ken Spours, from London University's Institute of Education, said: "This is a dramatic admission that the new qualifications simply broaden the academic track.

"It is a welcome sign that ministers have listened and are buying time."

The withdrawal of Part One GNVQs remains in place. The final opportunity to begin one-year courses is September this year.

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