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When is a vocation worth five GCSEs?

Helen Ward reports on proposed changes to the secondary league tables

Qualifications in bakery and childcare should count towards schools'

league-table GCSE scores, ministers say.

They are proposing radical changes to the tables which could mean a wide variety of vocational qualifications being included under the five or more GCSEs A* to C grade figure, the main yardstick of secondary performance.

Under the new system, a City amp; Guilds progression award in bakery will be worth five A* to C grades, while an Edexcel Btec certificate in computer-operated telephone systems is worth two.

The Office for Standards in Education said the proposals threatened to undermine public confidence in league tables when they were first mooted last year.

The GCSE figures already include intermediate General National Vocational Qualifications, which has led to accusations that schools use the GNVQ, which can be worth four higher-grade GCSEs, to boost league-table positions.

But almost three-quarters of those who took part in the Government's consultation exercise thought that the changes were a fairer way of showing what pupils have achieved.

If the proposal is approved this autumn, the wider range of qualifications will be used to calculate schools' five-plus A* to C GCSE scores as well as the value-added and average point scores.

Ministers are also planning to extend the use of value-added calculations which show how much progress pupils make.

David Hart, general secretary of the National Association of Head Teachers, said: "My concern about the secondary performance tables is that the Government keeps adding to the volume of information that is published.

"I think it ought to cut out a lot of clutter and go for value-added performance measures which would include results of all exams.

"It is important to include performance in non-GCSE examinations to create a level playing field, but they need to do it in a way that does not pull the wool over people's eyes and make it clear what the GCSE figure includes."

A pilot scheme looked at the consequences of including vocational qualifications on the value-added and average point scores of 227 schools.

The overall effect on value-added scores was not dramatic, but some schools stood out. Seven, all special schools, rose by more than 50 places in the value-added table with Whitstone Head school, in Holsworthy, Devon, going from 174th to 40th when all qualifications were taken into account.

A government spokeswoman said: "We must move away from the myth that vocational courses are easier than GCSEs. The change will enable schools to have all achievements properly recognised in performance tables."

see www.dfes.gov.ukperformancetables

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