New research has revealed the positive impact vocational courses are having on students – in terms of their achievement, their confidence in their ability, their attitudes towards school and towards carrying on with their education.

Research from the National Foundation for Educational Research (NFER) into the Increased flexibility for 14- to 16-year-olds programme (IFP) has shown that students with lower attainment levels benefited most — see the key findings in the box right. IFP was introduced by the DfES in 2002 to provide vocational learning opportunities at Key Stage 4 for young people who would benefit most.

Nine out of 10 students on the IFP programme continued into further education (FE) or training after completing Year 11. More than two-fifths said that the IFP had influenced their choice of post-16 destination.

Two key contributing factors to their increased confidence in learning was finding the subject area interesting and being able to discuss progress on the course with an informed adult. Curriculum managers would do well to ensure opportunities for such discussions are an integral part of course delivery.

Download the report at: research/data/uploadfiles/RR668.pdf

Key findings

The majority of students who took vocational courses achieved the qualification: GCSEs in vocational subjects 91%; GNVQs 80%; NVQs 66%; other vocational qualifications 67%

The IFP students’ GNVQs and NVQs contributed to a higher total point score than would have been expected given their prior attainment and background

The results of pupils taking GCSEs in vocational subjects were in line with their prior attainment, while those who took other vocational qualifications achieved fewer points than expected

Students who studied GCSEs in vocational subjects and GNVQs, but did not participate in IFP, gained higher points than young people who had taken these qualifications through IFP

IFP students with lower than average attainment at KS3 gained more in terms of total points achieved at KS4 than those with higher attainment at KS3

Male students who undertook NVQs through IFP gained more points than female students who took NVQs

This article first appeared in Curriculum Management Update – September 2005