The league table exam 'scam'

by SARAH HARRIS, Daily Mail

Last updated at 10:05 20 August 2005

Schools are increasingly 'playing the system' by putting teenagers in for controversial vocational qualifications worth four GCSEs, it has been revealed.

They are attempting to boost their standing in league tables by encouraging students to take intermediate GNVQs.

Pupils who gain the qualification automatically pick up the equivalent of four GCSEs at grade C or better which help schools to climb the tables.

This is because schools are ranked according to the number of pupils passing five GCSEs at grades A* to C.

Figures released next week by the Joint

Council for Qualifications are predicted to show a large rise in the number of GNVQ entries, particularly in Information and Communications Technology (ICT).

Overall, intermediate GNVQ entries rose by 7.2 per cent from 94,017 in 2003 to 100,777 last year. ICT entries increased dramatically by 19.8 per cent from 45,612 in 2003 to 54,658.

Intermediate GNVQs are available in 14 subjects including

ICT, art and design, business, engineering, health and social care, manufacturing, performing arts, science and retail.

They are worth four GCSEs because of the amount of time students are expected to devote to their studies.

But critics claim that the ICT courses, in particular, are little more than glorified training in using Microsoft systems.

They insist they are far less demanding than GCSE examinations and can be taught in less than half the time of four of them.

Chris Woodhead, former chief inspector of schools, claimed most heads do not believe GNVQs should be worth four high-grade GCSEs.

He said: 'Virtually every headteacher I have talked to says that is a scam and they don't deserve to equate.

' But the Government is delighted because it can say the statistics are always improving and ever greater percentages of children are getting five A* to C grades or equivalent, which is the test measure.' Professor Alan Smithers, of the Centre for Education and Employment Research at Buckingham University, said putting pupils in for GNVQs may serve schools' interests.

But he added: 'After 11 years of comprehensive schooling, what we have to offer young people is good preparation in handling words and numbers properly.

'What we have is a situation where you can show up well in league tables but haven't delivered on that minimum guarantee.'

Intermediate GNVQs will be phased out by 2007, but alternative courses such as Btecs are

now being recognised in league tables. From this year, an Edexcel public services Btec will count towards schools' overall GCSE passes. It is equivalent to four good GCSEs.

Students gain the qualification after learning skills such as scuba diving, flying a plane, firing a rifle and staging an ambush.

It is being taken by 16-year-olds and sixth-formers in 130 private and state schools around the country.

The Government has pledged to close the loophole that allows schools to use vocational qualifications to climb its league tables.

Schools will be ranked by the proportion of youngsters gaining five good GCSEs including English and maths, but the reform will not come into force until after next summer's results.

Overall, the proportion of GCSE papers graded at A or A* is expected to rise by about 0.6

per cent from 17.4 per cent last year to 18 per cent next week.

The proportion of A* to C's - used as the benchmark for academic success in league tables - will also rise by about 0.8 per cent from 59.2 per cent last year to 60 per cent.

Meanwhile, the Qualifications and Curriculum Authority is launching a review of the GCSE grading system amid evidence of discrepancies between England's exam boards, Edexcel, AQA and OCR.

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