By Gary Eason
BBC News Online education editor
The number of students taking one particular vocational qualification in UK schools has continued to soar.
Computer-related studies are often popular with boys
There was a rise of more than 25% in the numbers who passed an Intermediate GNVQ in information and communication technology (ICT).
For the 40,556 students concerned, and their schools, it was worth the equivalent of four higher-grade GCSEs.
Altogether there was a rise of 10.7% in the numbers passing this sort of qualification in all subjects.
But ICT was taken by more than half - and by almost two thirds of the boys.
The booming success rate is revealed in an analysis of exam results published by the Joint Council for Qualifications.
The figures are for the whole of the UK but, like GCSEs, the exams are taken mainly in England, Wales and Northern Ireland, with England accounting for the lion's share each year.
The rising popularity of the Intermediate GNVQ has taken it from just a few thousand entries in 1997 to more than 100,000 in 2004.
The number of 16 year olds in the population rose by 3.5% this year, while the number of full GCSE entries grew by just 2.5% - in other words, GCSEs fell in popularity.
England's regulator, the Qualifications and Curriculum Authority (QCA), is committed to phasing out the GNVQ by 2007.
But it has given a warning that the Intermediate GNVQ makes "an important contribution" towards government targets for school achievement.
In 2003, 5.4% of the students in England who obtained the benchmark five or more grades A* to C in their GCSE-level exams did so through having an Intermediate GNVQ - twice the level of the year before.
Their successes sustained what little progress there was towards government targets.
Likely alternative qualifications are BTec First Diplomas and the new Applied GCSEs.
The results of the first Applied GCSEs, worth two conventional GCSEs, came out this year.
More than 41,400 students took one in Applied Information and Communication Technology.
Just over a third got a grade C or above compared with the 74.2% getting the equivalent Intermediate GNVQ.
Exam board Edexcel, which runs BTecs, is piloting a Diploma in Digital Applications (DiDA), also worth four GCSEs.
It describes this as a "revolutionary paperless qualification designed to equip students with practical and transferable IT skills".
The board says this is generating considerable interest in schools, where currently more than 100,000 students take their GNVQ in ICT with Edexcel.