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Cath Everett

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Serious problems with vocational business courses in schools

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There is a “serious problem” with the quality of the vocational business courses being offered by the majority of English schools, inspectors have warned.
 

Ofsted said in a report entitled ‘Economics, business and enterprise education’ that it was unhappy with the courses being provided at 30 out of 39 English schools.
 
Even though students often achieved good results, the quality of their work was poor and inspectors found some lessons too focused on simply completing “narrow written assignments”. As a result, learners had little opportunity to debate pertinent issues, broaden their thinking or develop a wider understanding of the subject.
 
Ofsted also questioned whether courses that were examined using internally set and marked assignments should be considered as equivalent in status to GCSEs.
 
“Evidence from lesson observations, scrutiny of written work and discussion with students brings into question the case for claiming that such courses are equivalent to between two and four single-award, traditionally examined GCSEs at Key Stage 4,” the study said.
 
The report looked at enterprise education across the entire school system as well as at formal qualifications for 14- to 18-year olds. Enterprise education is statutory at Key Stage 4, but Ofsted found it to be wanting in the secondary schools that it inspected.
 
“The provision for, and development of, all students’ economic and business understanding and their financial capability were…often weak. As a result, students often had only vague ideas about the economy, interest rates and their impact, recession, inflation, why prices vary and the ownership of companies,” the report said.
 
Chief inspector Christine Gilbert told the BBC that the point of such courses was to equip young people with the skills to be well-informed consumers, employees and potential employers. “More should be done to directly involve students with the business world and local businesses,” she said.
 
Ofsted’s report comes only weeks after Education Secretary Michael Gove announced plans to revamp vocational education. His proposals include giving 14 year-olds more opportunities to study at college rather than school and overhauling league tables to include only ‘high quality’ vocational qualifications.
 
A spokesman for the Department of Health said that the report raised “serious concerns” about the quality of some courses being taught in schools. As a result, he said that the coalition government intended to hold a consultation in the summer “on the characteristics of high-quality vocational qualifications so we can ensure that only those qualifications that meet the criteria are taught in our schools”.
 
The government also planned to encourage more industry experts to teach in schools to provide students with a “better understanding of how the business world works”, he added.

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