Students struggle to meet national targets

December 22, 1995

Disturbing projections which cast doubt on the viability of national education and training targets are revealed in a report out this week.

The report raises serious questions concerning the revised national targets which assume 60 per cent of young people achieving a level 3 qualification by the year 2000.

The research, carried out by the Institute of Education and the University of Warwick, contains a "pessimistic prediction" of zero attainment growth as early as 1997. In order to reach the current targets, annual growth of 3 per cent per year must be sustained to the end of the decade. To attain level 3 a student must have either two A levels or more; a BTEC national; City and Guilds level 3; advanced GNVQs.

"We have found that the slowing participation trend, combined with very modest improvements in the pass rate of GCSEs and A level, plus a worsening attainment rate in vocational courses, has produced a sharp downturn in growth for 1994/95," the report says. The growth in level 3 attainment is estimated to have fallen from 3 per cent in 1993 to 1.7 per cent in 1994. In 1995/96 it is estimated to fall below 1 per cent. The research relies on a model of future attainment growth based on participation data and successful completion rates in different types of courses. The counting methods used are different to those adopted by the National Council for Education and Training Targets.

Ken Spours of the Institute of Education said his research indicated that the United Kingdom would be lucky to achieve the old national target of 50 per cent level 3 attainment, let alone the revised projections, by the year 2000. "These findings have major implications for the way we assess both A level and GNVQ," Mr Spours said. "We must improve achievement not by lowering standards but by making them more accessible."

He said more internal assessment of coursework was required in both the vocational and academic tracks. Modularisation and credit accumulation would also raise attainment levels, he added. Teacher contact time would need to expand adding up to a 25 per cent increase in resource levels. "This is crunch time for A levels and GNVQs," said Mr Spours. "We must reform now."

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