Tech exams in education shake-up

Tough new practical courses in subjects such as electronics and textiles are to be introduced next year as part of a major shake-up of vocational education, the Government has announced.

Matthew Hancock says new Technical Award qualifications are on a par with GCSEs
Matthew Hancock says new Technical Award qualifications are on a par with GCSEs

Ministers said that from September 2015, teenagers will be able to study new "Technical Awards" alongside their GCSEs.

The new qualifications are on a par with new GCSEs and will prepare young people for the world of work, skills minister Matthew Hancock said.

Under previous reforms many practical qualifications were stripped out of school and college league tables. The move came amid concerns that schools were encouraging teenagers to take low-quality qualifications that would boost the school's league table position, but did not give pupils the right skills or help their future prospects.

The new Technical Awards will give young people real-life practical and technical skills that can be the starting point for their future careers, the Department for Education (DfE) said.

Teenagers will be able to study up to three of the awards alongside a minimum of five core GCSEs, including English and maths.

The DfE also said that in the past, practical qualifications focused too heavily on "abstract theory".

In woodwork, teenagers could now measure, cut, joint and finish their own furniture, whereas previously they might have just studied the design of a piece of furniture.

In textiles, youngsters could design and make an outfit using a range of techniques, and in electronics they could use motion-detectors, batteries and other equipment to wire movement-controlled lighting, rather than analysing a light to see how it works, the DfE said.

Mr Hancock said: "Previously, young people were encouraged to study meaningless qualifications completely unrelated to their lives or the rapidly changing world of work.

"Technical Awards will give students the opportunity to learn practical skills which are valued by employers from the age of 14 and are recognised in the school performance tables. They can be studied alongside core GCSEs and offer a crucial first step towards securing a high quality vocational education."

The Government is already introducing new Tech Levels, which are the same size as an A-level and studied by sixth-formers.

The Tech Levels count towards the new Technical Baccalaureate, a league table measure which recognises 16 to 19-year-olds in England who complete a programme of three separate courses, including a Tech Level, a maths course, and the ''extended project'' - an existing qualification designed to test skills such as writing, communication and research.