Reforms to post-16 qualificationsbring a much more vocational slant and employers are about to feel theirimpact. Elaine Essery swots up on their benefitsThis summer’s examresults will reveal the first outcomes of Curriculum 2000, the Government’sreforms to post-16 qualifications. The changes, effective fromSeptember 2000, sprang from Lord Dearing’s Qualifying for Success report, whichcalled for greater breadth in the post-GCSE curriculum. There are three key elements to thereforms:– A new Advanced Subsidiaryqualification, representing the first half of a full A-level, taken in thefirst year of post-16 study – Upgraded and more flexible Advanced GNVQs, known as vocational A-levels, toencourage students to combine vocational and academic study – A new Key Skills qualification, embracing the skills of communication,application of numbers and ITNew vocational qualifications areknown as Vocational Certificates of Education. Courses are available asthree-unit programmes at AS-level, six-unit programmes at A-level and 12-unitprogrammes leading to two A levels. GCE A-levels consist of six units. Break from traditionInstead of the traditional patternof studying three A-level subjects over two years, perhaps with General Studiesthrown in, it is envisaged that students will study up to five subjects, alongwith Key Skills. A survey of 1,300 schools andcolleges carried out by the Universities and Colleges Admissions Service (Ucas)found that 70 per cent of sixth form students will be sitting four AS examsthis year and nine out of 10 will go on to take three A-levels (sometimesreferred to as A2s) in their second year. More than half the schools wereencouraging science students to take at least one arts subject and artsstudents to take at least one science. A higher-than-expected proportion (55per cent) will be taking the Key Skills qualification. A similar survey conducted by theSecondary Heads’ Association (SHA) found that Key Skills would be assessed in86 per cent of responding schools, although it does not follow that such a highnumber would take the qualification. Scope for a greater mix of subjects,with DfEE assurances of no loss of rigour, and the added bonus of competence inKey Skills could be good news for employers. Margaret Murray, head of thelearning and skills group at the Institute of Directors, thinks so. “We welcomethe breadth – we’ve been calling for it for more than 10 years. A greater mixof subjects is of greater benefit to employers generally. Science and maths areterribly important and we want to see more young people achieving qualityresults in both those areas,” she says.Key qualificationBut employers do not recruitqualifications, they recruit people, she adds, and Key Skills breadth is asimportant as subject breadth. “We want to be confident that with this breadthyoung people are also developing the full range of soft skills that they needto flourish in a job. “If it just means that they’re doingeffectively four A-levels instead of three, it doesn’t necessarily mean they’regoing to be able to communicate better and work well with others. The new KeySkills qualification is an important element.”Sue Bryant, group HR director atconstruction company Taylor Woodrow, believes that the reforms can only helpease current skills shortages and recruitment difficulties in the industry. “Anything that gives peopleflexibility and a greater opportunity for employment has got to be good, aslong as you’re not diluting the quality of the education they’re getting,” shesays.“One thing I do like is the KeySkills qualification. Often we find that people coming out of university arenot as well prepared as we’d hope in those areas. “The other good thing about that isthat we sponsor students through university and it’s quite difficult to pickthe winners at 17 years of age, but a Key Skills qualification might be anotherguide to their potential.” While employers generally welcomeemphasis on Key Skills, for them the relevance of Key Skills is in their applicationin a work-based environment. The SHA survey showed that where KeySkills are offered they are being taught in separate lessons in 55 per cent ofschools. It is something that concerns Jim Dobson, secretary of the JointCouncil for General Qualifications – the umbrella organisation for the relevantawarding bodies. “Teaching Key Skills as a separateset of lessons gets away from the point, which to me is quite important, thatthey’re not something separate but something which permeates all aspects ofwhat you do,” says Dobson. ScepticalSue Peacock of Emta, the NTO forengineering manufacture, and member of the Young People’s Learning Committee,which advises the Learning and Skills Council, shares Dobson’s view and issceptical about the new qualification. “Most of the Key Skills should beembedded in subjects like maths and English rather than being separate. Havinga Key Skills qualification doesn’t seem to make sense. Why put the three thingstogether? They’re quite separate,” she says. “If young people come out of schoolswith better Key Skills, employers will be delighted. There’s a serious issueabout the low level, particularly of numeracy, and we need to get that right,but I don’t think this is the right way of tackling it. It’s more about gettingthe current subject syllabuses right so that young people come out with theright skills in numeracy, communication and IT.” Despite their potential to impact onrecruitment practices, the changes to post-16 qualifications have not been wellcommunicated to employers, it seems. According to Bryant, “As a parent of twoteenage children – one doing A-levels and one approaching them – I’m probablymore aware of the changes than some people. “I think it hasn’t been communicatedas well as it might have been and it’s important for employers to know what’shappening in the education system.” Forte Hotels development manager,Kevin O’Connor, says he hasn’t had any information about Curriculum 2000, butadds that it may be due to the decentralisation of Forte’s training function.O’Connor would very much welcomeapplicants offering a VCE in hospitality and catering. Different slant “If there were a significant numberof people with vocational A-levels it would affect our recruitment patterns, aswe’d take a different slant. “We would bring people in at thatlevel and it would become a targeted market that we would probably go for on anannual basis.” Such people would be ideal to train forsupervisory and management roles where both practical skills and knowledge areneeded. “A-levels are very academic and leadpeople to spend several years in the world of academia. By the time they are intheir mid-20s, they’re coming into the business way behind others who’ve takena more practical route,” O’Connor says. “I think it’s great to have theacademic qualifications, but you have to have an equal balance.” Vocational qualifications are alsoseen as a way of stimulating students’ interest in specific occupational areas,particularly those that do not have widespread appeal.Bryant says, “The key for us is instimulating interest at an earlier stage. We’re not seen as a very sexyindustry, but people might be missing out on something. We want them, but theyhave to see what’s in it for them so the earlier they can be made aware of thepossibilities the better it will be for everybody.” Peacock agrees and stresses theimportance of vocational GCSEs, which are currently being developed. “Some of our employers seevocational qualifications as a means of getting young people interested at anearly stage and creating a generally more positive attitude to engineering. Thefeeling is that there will be some positive effect throughout,” she says. “The main disadvantage is if itdoesn’t become something of a norm for people to do vocational qualificationsas well as traditional academic qualifications and the vocational route is seenonly as something for the disaffected and those of low ability. “If there’s going to be any parityof esteem between vocational and academic qualifications it should become muchmore of a norm for most young people to do some vocational work at Key Stage4,” Peacock adds.Low take-upThere is, however, little evidencethat students are mixing vocational and academic qualifications. The reality isthat the take-up of VCEs is quite low at present and there does appear to be a“class” division. Ucas’ survey shows that, overall,only 10 per cent of school sixth formers are undertaking them, although thisrises to 25 per cent in comprehensive schools. And the Secondary Heads’ Associationsurvey indicates that only 5 per cent of independent schools are offering them.In the great majority of schoolsonly three or fewer of the 14 possible VCE subjects are being offered, thethree largest take-up areas being business, IT and health and social care. Curriculum 2000 may be a good thingin principle, but for employers its impact is unlikely to be profound. It willtake time to for vocational qualifications to lose their “second class” tag. “When kids are signing up forpost-16 qualifications, their parents are a big influence and if parentsperceive things as a second-rate option they’re not going to encourage theirchildren to go ahead,” says Bryant. “Vocational AS- and A-levels aren’ta bad thing, but I think GNVQs weren’t seen as a tough enough option and onceyou’ve had something like that it’s difficult to beef it up and change people’sperceptions.” Previous Article Next Article Lessons for lifeOn 1 May 2001 in Personnel Today Comments are closed. Related posts:No related photos.
"Lessons for life"