Anti-voc quals favouritism fear

Official judgement on 2012/13 provision for 16 to 19-year-olds could be weighted against those offering mainly vocational qualifications, the Association of Colleges (AoC) has warned.

The Education Funding Agency said on Friday (June 20) that it would use the minimum standards of 2011/12 for the following academic year.

Its key stage five minimum standards, which take into account 16 to 18-year-olds’ performance in A-levels and other level three academic and vocational qualifications, branded school sixth forms or colleges as underperforming if their results showed less than than 40 per cent of students achieving an average point score per entry in vocational qualifications of at least 194.

And for academic qualifications it was fewer than 40 per cent of students achieving an average point score per entry of at least 172 points.

Failing to meet the minimum standards in either academic or vocational courses would lead to colleges being given written or verbal notice to improve, and would prompt a visit from the EFA commissioner.

However, the AoC warned colleges offering more vocational qualifications could be more likely to fall foul of the rules.

Joy Mercer, AoC director of education policy, told FE Week: “Although these interim standards remain the same as last year, our original concerns persist.

“For academic qualifications the standards are fixed at an average grade D achievement, which is recognised as low achievement, whereas for many vocational qualifications the average is fixed at merit and in some qualifications a mixture of merit and distinction — this is considered by all to be a good achievement.

“This anomaly could lead to a college which delivers mainly vocational qualifications finding it more of a challenge to be above minimum standards than a school where the main programmes are A-levels.”

The agency calculates minimum standards by taking the highest average scores for both academic and vocational qualifications in the bottom 5 per cent of post-16 schools and colleges — the fifth percentile — giving the 194 figure for vocational qualifications and 172 for academic qualifications.

The agency spokesperson said: “By establishing separate measures for performance in academic and vocational qualifications, comparing like with like, we are able to build a clear picture of how institutions are performing in different areas of their level three provision.”

Standards for the 2013/14 academic year are due to be agreed in August.

Mrs Mercer added: “AoC agrees there have to be standards that support student success and progression but don’t want to see disincentives to offer vocational qualifications and challenging mixed programmes… further work needs to be done before the Department for Education makes its decision on precise measures in the autumn.

“As qualifications for 16 to 18-year-olds change in 2016 we hope minimum standards will reflect the challenges of the new qualifications.”