Thursday, November 5, 1998 Published at 08:52 GMT
Vocational courses fail to expand
GNVQs offer a vocational equivalent to A-levels
The increase in students entering vocational courses appears to have stalled.
This year's General National Vocational Qualifications results - intended as vocational equivalents of GCSE and A-levels - show that the total number of students entering the qualifications has fallen.
This year's total of almost 186,000 students is a reduction of 6% on last year. But the figure of more than 92,000 students successfully completing GNVQ courses is a slight increase.
Unpublished data up to September will push the percentage higher - but it still means that about half the people who start courses do not finish them.
The Education Minister Baroness Blackstone highlighted the success of students using GNVQs as a route into higher education.
"They are proving a very successful passport to higher education and employment, with 95% of the 24,000 advanced GNVQ students who applied to higher education this year receiving offers of places.
"The government is determined to build on this impressive record by seeking at every opportunity to strengthen vocational-based qualifications," she said.
But Professor Alan Smithers, who heads the Centre for Education and Employment Research at Liverpool University, said there was still an identity problem.
"It is not clear what an advanced level GNVQ is for.
"Is it the flagship qualification for applied education, or is it what you do if you don't think you'll be able to get an A-level?
"That would reinforce the old attitude that applied education is second best."
The GNVQ system, launched six years ago, was intended as a flexible, vocational alternative to traditional academic exam courses.
Since 1992, 340,000 students have passed GNVQs, 130,000 of which were at advanced level.
The courses are usually in work-related subjects, such as business, catering, media, information technology and leisure and tourism.
Students are assessed during the course rather than at the end, with both coursework and external tests needing to be passed.
The qualification has three levels, graded as pass, merit or distinction at all levels: