One in three exams is vocational


The range of so-called “equivalent” qualifications now account for almost one in every three public exams being taken by GCSE-age pupils in Northern Ireland.

Vocational courses are growing in popularity, with teens opting to take thousands of them instead of studying traditional GCSE subjects.

A major review of GCSEs and A levels is examining whether they remain the best system for the North’s school children. As part of this review, the North’s exams board – the CCEA – has published a draft issues paper.

This reveals that huge numbers are taking essential skills, occupational studies and NVQs alongside, or instead of, more academic subjects. The paper says it is important to consider qualifications other than GCSEs and A levels and the benefits they provide for learners.

At the end of key stage 4, pupils are normally entered for a range of external examinations. Most frequently these will be GCSE, although a range of other qualifications is experiencing a spike in entries.

CCEA reveals that 31 per cent of qualifications – 76,904 – being taken by key stage 4 pupils in the North are other than GCSEs.

Essential skills, which are aimed at those who have problems with reading, writing, maths or using a computer, is equivalent to a grade C in GCSE maths or English. NVQs, in subjects such as leisure and tourism, can be worth four GCSE passes at grade C or above.

Ministers in England have cut the value of more than 3,100 vocational qualifications, ending their recognition in school league tables. They are still recognised in the North by the Department of Education and in various unofficial performance lists.

Gerry Murphy, northern secretary of the INTO teaching union, says GCSEs do not suit every learner. He added: “Schools have one eye on Department of Education targets and one eye on ensuring they are meeting the needs of the young people.”


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