Are school pupils being lied to?

Some schools appear to be pushing students into ‘easy’ subjects for the sake of league tables, but will new government reforms improve the situation?


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The headlines over the past couple of weeks have had a reasonable amount of focus on the Education Secretary Michael Gove’s plans for reform. Discussions are well under way concerning the issue of transforming a further selection of state high schools into independent academies, but now the spotlight is on vocational courses.

Vocational courses are offered to teenagers studying for their GCSEs as opposed to, or, alongside an academic course. They are rewarded the same standard of appraisal as a GCSE and are sometimes worth several of them. They involve practical and manual work and are usually related to a specific trade whereas academic courses are based on written work.

However, questions have arisen over the quality of these courses. Are they easier than GCSEs? And are state school teenagers being lied to for the sake of league tables?

The reforms involve reducing the current 3,000 vocational courses offered to 14-19 year olds to 125 and only 70 of those will be valued as a single GCSE. They were proposed after Alison Wolf, a government adviser, suggested that 167,000 teenagers are on courses that do not lead to jobs.

Edexcel have confirmed that students studying their vocational courses have risen from 60,000 in 2003 to more than 700,000. In total, between a ¼ and a 1/3 of teenagers are quoted to be “wasting their time”.

The surge in numbers cannot be solely down to the increase of young people wanting to go into a ‘practical’ career. Schools encourage students who are deemed to under achieve academically to take up such courses in order to boost their position in league tables with equivalent qualifications (which are not seen as quality qualifications by employers).  This then suggests that schools believe these courses are easier to gain successful results in than a traditional subject.

The Engineering diploma, previously worth 5 GCSEs is being reduced to just one. The course often means that students have to take a day out of school each week to take part as many schools do not have the facilities to cater for it. Inevitably, this drags down the grades in other subjects as students miss out on lessons and class participation. It would seem that some of these courses offer a lose, lose situation.

However, downgrading many of the courses available to teenagers does highlight the significance of a GCSE, making the qualification a much more respected one. These plans will favour the academically able students and it arguably makes sense to reward a qualification in English more highly than a BTEC in hairdressing if it’s genuinely harder.

Nor should state school teenagers be encouraged to take up a subject that will be viewed by potential employees and higher education with a pessimistic attitude. Teenagers with the belief that they will achieve 15 GCSES are being cheated. In fact many ‘equivalents’ and NVQs do not carry the requirements to gain access into further education.

If state school teenagers are to compete against those who have been publicly educated it is absolutely key to provide them with the highest education available. It is wrong to provide an impressionable teenager with the wrong information and false hopes. They are being lied to.

But if the government’s plans do go ahead, at what point is enough, enough? Vocational courses should be downgraded if they are not worthwhile, but those who wish to go into a certain career which may require pursuing one of these courses shouldn’t be put off doing so. It should just be seen with a realistic outlook.

Similarly, should certain A-levels and degrees be re-evaluated? If someone were interviewed for a journalist job at a broadsheet newspaper would they have better prospects with a degree in English Literature or a degree in Media Studies? Or does society just need to come terms with a movement away from traditional subjects?


Hannah Riley dubs herself as an artistic extrovert with a passion for politics. With a diverse range of interests from fine art to modern history, and a love for New York City and the work of Vivienne Westwood, her final goal is to become Prime Minister and achieve global dominance.