The Government has told the new independent careers services to overturn the reputation of vocational qualifications as second-class, and give them parity of esteem with academic qualifications.
Gillian Shephard, Education and Employment Secretary, told careers executives this week that the 48 careers services are ideally placed to influence the thinking of students and parents, as well as teachers, lecturers and employers, dealing directly with three million young people each year - nearly all those aged 13 to 18 - and interviewing virtually all 15 to 19-year-olds.
Mrs Shephard complained that too many students drop out and "too many struggle through only to fail". She suggested that improved guidance would ensure that students chose the right courses.
She added: "Parents are the greatest influences on their children's career choices. But many are behind the times: most do not understand the new qualifications. They need to be brought up to date."
Many teachers and employers are also ignorant of the new qualifications, she said. "Teachers need to know more about NVQs and Modern Apprenticeships, while employers need to know more about GNVQs."