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Thursday, 12 July, 2001, 13:39 GMT 14:39 UK
Doubts dog vocational tests
student writing
Students resented having to prove themselves twice
The review of the changes to the A-level curriculum has raised key questions about the whole future of Key Skills - the new tests of students' abilities in communication, numeracy and information technology.

There are also big concerns about Vocational A-levels, which are likely to lead to further changes.

The interim report from the Qualifications and Curriculum Authority (QCA) on what went wrong with the implementation of the "Curriculum 2000" reforms said Key Skills had been "the most frequent target of criticism".

Security concerns - highlighted by BBC News Online - mean the system whereby the Key Skills tests were sat over two-week periods is to be scrapped.

"It is very difficult to protect the integrity of the tests and thus the credibility of the qualification in such circumstances," the QCA said.

Funding change

So in future the tests are to be sat on single days.

But there are wider concerns about the whole viability of the tests.

In further education colleges, the QCA said, the funding system had left them with little choice but to make all students study for the qualifications. This is to be reviewed.

But the reaction in schools had been mixed: Some had responded "with enthusiasm" to the new qualifications but others - notably selective and independent schools - had ignored them.

Get-out clause

Some teaching staff had shown strong commitment, others had been "indifferent or even hostile".

Among students, Key Skills had been "the least popular element".

One reason for this is that many felt insulted to have to produce separate work and sit further tests, to display their ability in areas already covered by their main study subjects or the GCSE qualifications they had achieved only last year.

The Education Secretary, Estelle Morris, said in her response to the QCA report: "I am keen that all students have the opportunity to improve their Key Skills in the areas of communication, application of numbers and IT."

But in future, students would only be examined on Key Skills in subjects they had not covered in other examinations.

This is the case already to an extent, through what are known as "proxy qualifications".

For example, students with GCSEs in English or Welsh, maths and IT are exempt from the relevant Key Skills tests.


But they still have to do internally-assessed project work. The Department for Education said this might change.

It also wants the QCA to consider extending the range of proxy qualifications.

For example, history as well as English might cover the communication Key Skill, because it also involves constructing a coherent argument using a variety of sources.

The QCA report predicts: "Given the indifference or even hostility shown towards this qualification by some institutions and students, it is likely that registrations will fall, possibly considerably, next year."

Vocational studies

The QCA report also highlighted "particular concerns" about Vocational A-levels - the replacement for Advanced GNVQs.

They were introduced in an effort to give greater credibility to advanced level vocational studies.

But, as BBC News Online reported in March, the results from the first modules taken by students in January revealed serious problems.

The main issue seems to have been that all the units making up the Vocational A-levels were pitched at the standard of a full A-level - whereas the new AS-levels took account of the fact that students were only part way through their courses.

The QCA report says there are "profound questions" about whether the standard required of students had been pitched too high.

There is to be a fuller report on this in December, after the authority has consulted employers' representatives, teachers and students.

Exams slashed
Do the changes go far enough?

The latest on the new post-16 qualifications
Post-16 overload?

See also:

11 Jul 01 | UK Education
11 Jul 01 | UK Education
12 Jun 01 | New exams
25 May 01 | UK Education
30 Mar 01 | UK Education
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