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Wednesday, 22 August, 2001, 19:59 GMT 20:59 UK
Four GCSEs from single exam
Exam rooms
League tables use a benchmark of five good GCSEs
Vocational qualifications are becoming more popular with pupils - but there are suggestions they might be becoming popular for the wrong reasons.

Intermediate level GNVQs, the results of which were published alongside GCSEs, are counted as being worth four conventional GCSEs at grades A* to C.

And it has been suggested that such a weighting might make the qualification particularly appealing to schools seeking to improve their league table position.

A key benchmark for secondary school performance tables is how many pupils achieve five or more GCSEs grade A* to C.

And because league tables are compiled without drawing a distinction between GCSEs and GNVQs, if a pupil has a single intermediate GNVQ it will appear as four good grades at GCSE - only one short of the benchmark.

GNVQs, which are aimed at less academic pupils and are in subjects such as information technology, can be completed in one or two years.

The government has rejected the suggestion that such courses are "soft options" and has defended the widening of vocational courses available to young people.

And it hopes that teenagers will be more likely to stay in education and training if there is a greater variety in the types of courses on offer in schools.

This means that the conventional "full" GCSE is now accompanied by a range of other related qualifications - including "short course" GCSE, entry level certificates, foundation and intermediate GNVQs.

'Equivalent, but different'

"The full GNVQ at intermediate level is a very complete course with six units and a full classroom timetable," said a spokesperson.

"The work students have to complete for this qualification has broadly the same amount of study and the same level of difficulty as four GCSEs at grades A* to C.

"It's right that schools get credit for supporting students to perform well in this important qualification," said a spokesperson.

Paul Sokoloff, convenor of the Joint Council for General Qualifications, said that the GNVQs were "equivalent, but different" to GCSEs, saying the two qualifications required "different skillsets".

Head teachers' leaders have warned that heads anxious to improve league table positions might feel under pressure to use such qualifications for the wrong reasons.

But Arthur de Caux of the National Association of Head Teachers said that heads would act in the interest of each individual pupil and would not succumb to such pressure.

Sir Kevin Satchwell, head teacher of Thomas Telford School in Shropshire, dismissed claims that schools were using the GNVQ as a way of inflating league table scores.

"Teachers tell me the youngsters work their cotton socks off to get GNVQs. They find them extremely robust and challenging and the teachers say they are learning an enormous amount and you won't find any that will tell you this is a soft option."

Thomas Telford markets its own intermediate GNVQ course in information technology and he predicts that 100,000 pupils will be taking the course by 2003.

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See also:

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