Report condemns UK's 'dead-end' vocational courses

LONDON, March 3 (Reuters Life!) - Many of Britain’s vocational courses for teenagers improve school league table performance but do not help the young people taking them to get into university or find a job, a report published on Thursday said.

The independent review commissioned by Britain’s Education Secretary found schools were entering hundreds of thousands of teenagers for “effectively dead-end” vocational programmes to try to boost their position in performance tables.

“The staple offer for between a quarter and a third of the post-16 cohort is a diet of low-level vocational qualifications, most of which have little to no labour market value,” said Alison Wolf, author of the Wolf Report and professor of Public Sector Management at London’s King’s College.

Her findings suggest that at least 350,000 young people between the ages of 16 and 19 derive “little to no benefit” from the post-16 education system.

Youth unemployment is a growing concern in Britain where latest figures show the jobless rate is almost 20 percent for those aged 24 or under.

“The funding and accountability systems established by the government create perverse incentives to steer 16+ students into inferior alternative qualifications,” Wolf wrote.

Her report suggests excluding vocational qualifications from league tables.

Wolf also recommends providing subsidies to employers who offer apprenticeships with a general education element and calls for more work placement opportunities for 16 to 19 year-olds so they can “develop the general skills which the labour market demonstrably values.”

Wolf also found that while pupils normally needed to gain at least grade C in GCSE English and Maths to find employment or continue their education, less than 50 percent of pupils had gained both by the age of 18.

The report says young people who do not achieve good grades in their GSCE Maths and English exams should have to continue studying these subjects in their post-16 education.

Education Secretary Michael Gove commissioned the review last September because he felt the British education system placed too much emphasis on academic achievements, whilst not valuing practical education highly enough, failing employers.

He said redressing this imbalance was essential to support Britain’s economic recovery.

Reporting by Michelle Martin; editing by Keith Weir