Wednesday, 1 February 2012

Worthless qualifications, or worthless measures?

Yesterday’s announcement on the exclusion of the majority of vocational qualifications from performance tables made a big splash in the press. Examples of ‘easy-to-achieve’ qualifications leapt upon by university-educated journalists included a BTEC in fish husbandry and a Diploma in horse care. No mention of the fact that employers may value these qualifications or, that if you are a kid growing up in Newmarket or Lambourn, our two principal horse racing centres, then actually that Diploma in horse care might be a pretty fantastic qualification to have.
It’s easy to write off ‘non-academic qualifications’ as easier to achieve. This instantly devalues all the effort students put in to achieve these qualifications in the first place. And of course, I do share concerns about not preparing the individual for the future. That kid from Newmarket may work in horse racing for a while, but circumstances may mean a change of job or career, so basic education does need to provide for essential numeracy and literacy.
But who is Alison Wolf or Michael Gove to say that the Diploma in Horse Care does not provide essential numeracy and literacy. They are making an assumption about all of these qualifications, that they do not develop these basic skills. But it’s not the case. And there are plenty of students who follow the GCSE route and still leave school without these basic skills.  The Government still hold up GCSEs as a gold standard, when employers frequently criticise the skills of those with 9 or 10 of these.
What we have moved to now is a model where schools are not measured on the achievement or the progress of their students. They are measured on their GCSE results, and preferably GCSE results in five subjects. All this model will achieve is that many more schools will get an unjustifiably bad reputation, or ‘fail’, when actually they may be developing well-rounded and confident individuals for the world beyond school, individuals who are able to apply the skills they have used in whatever job they are able to find.   
It’s not the qualifications that are the problem, it’s the performance tables. Measures are important, but the only subjects that should be measured are maths and English - literacy and numeracy - and the rest should be down to the school and its strategy to deliver an education to its pupils. Education is about learning, not about meeting a target set by Government. Let schools educate, don’t force them to jump through artificially created hoops.