A recent article in TES, which was picked up by other media outlets, highlighted some of the concerns in education about “gaming” the system.
Since the article relates to vocational IT, we thought it was worth TLM writing a brief response to outline our position.
First, by way of some background (apologies if you know this off by heart), the government commissioned Prof. Alison Wolf in 2011 to report to them on the state of vocational education in the UK. This was prompted by a general notion in government to tighten up qualifications and make them more rigorous. The Wolf Report concluded that most vocational qualifications were pretty much worthless bits of paper and as a result 96% of them were removed as available qualifications. This also triggered a much more aggressive regulation process from Ofqual and DfE. For our part at TLM, we followed these guidelines and adjusted our IT qualifications to meet the standards. In fact, we even went beyond the standards as our ITQ for the 2017 tables was based on the 2018 specifications. As such, Ofqual regularly monitor TLM and its procedures and various team members regularly attend meetings with the Vocational Qualification group at DfE and are deemed to meet their requirements comfortably. If the regulations are changed radically for the 2019 submissions, I have little doubt that we will be able to adjust to meet them.
Now to the recent article. Again with some background. The government have been advised that computer science is now essential for our learners in order to complete with the world market. Therefore, they introduced a new computer science subject into the curriculum in 2014. The new POS did not say NO IT, but began to emphasise the need for more computational aspects. Given that they were happy with the rigour of the reformed vocational IT (now with only 5 suitable awards, including TLMs), the government decided that a GCSE IT took away the desire for people to follow computing so they decided to scrap it. As with some things in government, this led to some confusion that IT itself was being scraped. The GCSE IT was being removed as they were comfortable that the vocational alternatives were fit for purpose. One subject currently on the approved list was the BCS ECDL qualification. This qualification rose dramatically as a result of news that GCSE IT was going. The rise of the qualification was aided by the fact that it also has performance points.
Over the last several months there have been murmurings on forums, including BCS’s own forum CAS, that the ECDL was good for “gaming” the system. Teachers were saying that the qualification could be achieved in as little as a few days of teaching and by non subject specialists. Not surprisingly, school leaderships jumped at the opportunity to get a large number of performance points for their schools and the qualification mushroomed. The recent TES and Guardian articles seem to indicate that DfE and Ofsted are going to investigate the situation.
In all of this, there are, and have been, 5 high quality vocational IT qualifications available which do offer real rigour and challenge. TLM’s ITQ is one of these. The students carry out 120 hours of real coursework which prepares them for an examination. The coursework gives them 30 marks and the exam is out of 70. They have to work hard to get an A*, but it is equivalent to GCSE, as it should be. The coursework is heavily moderated on demand and if they pass this, they should have a very good chance of getting a C grade on the examination. This seems much fairer and allows students to reach their true potential. If they fail at Level 2 (C-A*), they can still get Level 1 (D-G). It is a great way to improve digital literacy and can be used across the curriculum.
To date, our pass rates at A*-C are very close to the percentages for English and maths which suggests we are offering a very comparable GCSE qualification.