Vocational quals in a league of their own

For the first time FE league tables have been released separately, listing institutions’ performance in academic and vocational qualifications.

The tables, published by the Department for Education on Thursday (January 23), have met with a mixed response from the sector.

While some have welcomed the distinction between the two qualification types at level three, others have expressed concerns that it could “create a hierarchy of qualifications”.

Of the colleges listed, Hills Road Sixth Form College, in Cambridge, and Middlesbrough’s Cleveland College of Art and Design were among the top performers for A-levels, with the highest average points score per entry each getting an average of a B and B- respectively).

Doncaster College was bottom of the list for A-levels, with an average points score equivalent to an E.

In vocational qualifications, Runshaw College, Cardinal Newman College, Esher College, Stockton Sixth Form College, Barton Peveril Sixth Form College, Reigate College and Havant College were top of the list, all boasting an average point score per entry of a distinction*-.

The lowest scoring college for vocational qualifications was South Thames College, although it still averaged a merit -.

Association of Colleges policy director Joy Mercer said: “This data is new and needs careful analysis.

“There is a strong performance among small selective sixth forms but we’re also delighted to see a number of larger colleges achieving high average grades despite a larger number of students.”

Dr Mary Bousted, general secretary of the Association of Teachers and Lecturers (ATL), said she was not in favour of publishing the performance table as separate lists.

She said: “It sends the wrong message to pupils, parents and schools about what is important.

“Academic and vocational qualifications are of equal value, should be held in equally high esteem and treated as equal in a unified reporting system.

“All 16 to 19-year-olds need vocational skills irrespective of what subjects they are studying, and they all need the option of studying both academic and vocational subjects.

“We are also unhappy about some vocational qualifications being labelled ‘applied general’ and some ‘tech level’ as we fear this will create a hierarchy of qualifications.

“There should be a single set of characteristics and expectations that define high quality vocational education, whether the qualification is designed to provide work skills or enable students to study further.”

However, Malcolm Trobe, deputy general secretary of the Association of School and College Leaders, said the separate tables would create “parity of esteem” and that vocational qualifications “need to be recognised” as “different”.

“Separate tables are helpful because trying to create equivalences between vocational and academic qualifications does not work,” he said.

“What is important is that vocational qualifications are accepted as equally important and the most appropriate route for many young people.”

However, he was critical of the lack of explanatory information provided with the data.

“Raw data does not tell the full story, it can only help to identify the questions that might be asked,” he said.

Mrs Mercer agreed, saying: “It is disappointing the DfE has once again published the tables without any commentary to put them in context.

“Their complexity makes them difficult for parents and students to understand and doesn’t allow them to use the tables to answer the simple questions, such as ‘which local school or college should I go to if I want to do a particular job.”