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EDUCATION MATTERS: Ofsted attack on vocational A-levels.

Byline: Shahid Naqvi

Job-related A-levels introduced by the Government in its first term in office are so badly designed they do not provide students with the necessary skills, a report from education watchdog Ofsted said today.

Vocational A-levels replaced advanced GNVQs under the Government's troubled Curriculum 2000 reforms, which also gave rise to the 2002 grades crisis.

In a report on the first two years of vocational A-levels, Ofsted said students spent too much time being tested and not enough actually learning anything.

Teachers therefore spent too much time assessing their students and not enough time actually teaching them, says the report.

The same teachers often lacked recent experience in the industries they were supposed to be explaining to their classes, Ofsted found.

'The AVCE (Advanced Vocational Certificate of Education) is not well designed.

'It is neither seriously vocational nor consistently advanced,' inspectors said after visits to 45 further education and sixth form colleges and nine secondary schools in England.

The report was based on their observations of eight vocational A-level subjects - science, construction, engineering, business, information and communications technology, travel and tourism, health and social care and art and design.

English education has struggled for decades, with little success, to provide vocational qualifications that have the same currency and respect that academic A-levels have long enjoyed worldwide.

Ofsted's report showed the latest attempt, the vocational A-level, had failed to alter that legacy.

Proponents of the need for skills-heavy education to have equal status with academic qualifications will now pin their hopes on the diploma proposed by the Government's review of 14-19 education, led by former Ofsted chief inspector Mike Tomlinson.

He wants a series of 'fit for purpose' units that can be academic, vocational or a combination of the two, grouped under a single diploma award, in an English version of the Baccalaureate.

The vocational a-level was, like the rest of Curriculum 2000, supposed to get students mixing and matching academic and vocational courses and was intended to appeal to the brightest sixth formers as well as the less able.

Instead, reported Ofsted, pass rates were lower for vocational A-levels - and while this showed standards had been made maintained, it also demonstrated the 'generally lower' GCSE grades of people taking these courses.

The vocational A-level was 'not a popular qualification with learners and take up is low', said Ofsted.

'Repeated administrative changes and errors have done nothing to create confidence in the qualification or in those responsible for designing or implementing it,' the watchdog added.

Among the courses' other faults were the fact that students did not get enough work experience and there were 'unacceptably large differences' between the worst-run and best.

And while most teaching was at least satisfactory, the 13 per cent proportion of unsatisfactory lessons was higher than the sixth form average, says the report.

Ofsted chief inspector David Bell branded the findings 'worrying'.

He said: 'Action should now be taken to increase the vocational skills component of most AVCE courses and make work experience a mandatory course requirement.

'The Qualifications and Curriculum Authority should review the specifications of AVCE courses to reduce the emphasis on compliance procedures and allow teachers to set more imaginative assignments.'
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Publication:The Birmingham Post (England)
Date:Mar 29, 2004
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