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Vocational Qualifications Revisited

The Impact of the UK Government’s New Performance Table Criteria on Music Education

I’m sure that many of you will have heard the news that the UK government has decided to reform the school league tables for schools in England.  While the BBC and other media outlets decided to focus on the more flippant side of things by highlighting that Horse Care, Fish Husbandry and Nail Technology would no longer count towards school league tables, many of us that have a genuine concern for our pupils’ longterm prospects were a little worried that courses we knew were working may be removed from our timetables by school leaders desperate to maintain their place in the league tables.  I wrote the November 2012 guest editorial for the Teaching Music website on the topic of vocational qualifications and it has proved to be a real talking point ever since.  It seemed fitting, therefore, that I should have a look at what this month’s announcement would mean for the music education community. 

There’s no doubt in my mind that many of you are reading this just to find out whether or not the courses you teach are still on offer, so let me get that out of the way.  You can click here to access the full list of courses (music or otherwise) that are now included) or the following list will tell you the summary news of what I would call the most significant music based courses to still be in the league tables:

  • BTEC L2 Music and BTEC L2 Music Technology are still in.  Only the Extended Certificate and Diploma though. 
  • RockSchool (RSL) L2 Music Practitioner is still there.  Both Certificate and Extended Certificate are included. 
  • NCFE L2 Extended Certificate in Music Technology. 
  • iGCSEs are still there too.  I know they aren’t vocational but I bet a few of you are interested. 
  • Graded music exams are still in too.  Anything from Grade 6 and up.  

All in all, this is pretty good news.  Most of the courses that are currently running as vocational courses will still count in the league tables, with the exception of the 5 GCSEs at A*-C with English and Maths (you have to be doing GCSEs for that one).  That said, a word of caution should be applied as the BTEC, RSL and NCFE qualifications will only count in their current form up until 2014.  After that, they need to be rewritten to include an externally assessed component before they will be included in the tables from 2015 onwards. 

One thing worth keeping in mind is that any qualification that will be considered as valid for inclusion in the league tables must be equal to a GCSE in both level (i.e. Level 1 for D-G and Level 2 for A*-C) and minimum guided learning hours (the GLH for a GCSE stands a 120 hours).  This has an impact on the size of a qualification that can count towards the performance tables.  In the past, a qualification could be worth more than one GCSE in the league tables but now everything counts for one.  This is regardless of the GLH of the course.  In particular, it’s worth looking at the GLH for different versions of the remaining qualifications and considering what is still worth offering for your school.  I’ve summarised this information below but you can always look it up for yourself from the Ofqual website.  The bullet points below outline (a) the title of the course, (b) the minimum GLH according to Ofqual (c) how many GCSEs that number of GLH works out as (d) what the course counts for under the new performance table rules. 

RSL L2 Music Practitioner 

  • Award – 90GLH – 0.75 of a GCSE – doesn’t count
  • Certificate – 150GLH – 1.25 GCSEs – counts as one
  • Extended Certificate – 240GLH – 2 GCSEs – counts as one
  • Subsidiary Diploma – 480GLH – 4 GCSEs – counts as one (but, interestingly, isn’t on the DfE’s list so it may not count at all)
  • Certificate – 90GLH – 0.75 of a GCSE – doesn’t count
  • Extended Certificate – 180GLH – 1.5 GCSEs – counts as one
  • Diploma – 360GLH – 3 GCSEs – counts as one
  • Extended Certificate – 160GLH – 1.3 of a GCSE – counts as one

It’s important to remember here that, from the pupils’ perspective, these courses still count as the size they used to be considered as.  It’s just from the school’s perspective with the league tables that these new rules come into play.  In that sense, the pupils are protected.  Where they may be let down is if schools are unwilling to offer vocational courses that require additional time if they are only going to be worth one GCSE in the performance tables.  Will students lose out on opportunities that would have been there just because schools need to focus on their reputations? 

How has the latest announcement impacted on your school’s offering for next year’s Key Stage 4?  Have you been asked to withdraw a course because of these changes?  Has there been a rise in parent/pupil concern about the validity of the vocational courses that you offer?  Have you lost confidence in a vocational course that you used to run?  Has the fact that your course is included in the new league table measures been seen by leadership/parents/pupils as a positive boost for your course?  I’d love to hear your thoughts on this topic in the comments for this post.