The number of pupils passing a controversial fast-track IT qualification has soared by nearly 350 per cent in just 12 months, prompting concerns that it is pushing “more rigorous” subjects out of the curriculum.

Ofqual data released last week revealed 117,200 level 2 European computer driving licence (ECDL) IT application skills certificates were issued from June 2015 to June 2016, up from 26,250 in the same period for the previous year.

It confirms a rapid rise in the number of schools teaching the qualification, which is the equivalent of a GCSE, and comes after claims that some schools entered pupils en-masse to boost league table scores.

Peter Atherton (pictured), a college data manager and blogger, said the qualification’s rise came at the expense of other GCSEs.

ECDL falls into bucket 3 of the new Attainment and Progress 8 accountability measures, meaning it has the same weight as GCSEs in subjects such as art and drama.

“The ‘loser’ qualifications come in the form of GCSEs that also are available for the open bucket, they cannot compete with the power of ECDL,” Atherton said.


“The dilemmas schools face are thus: spend two years completing an approved GCSE in a non-Ebacc subject or spend three days blitzing ECDL and achieving higher tariff results to boot.”

The new Ofqual data shows ECDL was the vocational qualification last year with the most certificates and largest increase in pupil numbers. The document states this could be down to assurances the “qualification has recently been listed in performance tables for 2018”.

Research by Education DataLab has previously revealed pupils taking the qualification score on average the equivalent of an A grade, despite achieving below a C on average across their other GCSEs.

In some cases, schools are double-entering pupils for the ECDL and GCSE ICT – both of which count towards their results.

Schools Week has seen evidence that one school entered 196 of its 228 cohort into both GCSE ICT and the ECDL last year. Each of the pupils that took the ECDL passed, while just 40 per cent passed in ICT.

The school only entered 110 pupils for the ECDL in 2015, and before that did not teach the qualification.

Ofqual data shows ECDL was the vocational qualification last year with the most certificates and largest increase in pupil numbers

A spokesperson for the school, which Schools Week is not naming, said the academy had an “innovative and inclusive” curriculum. The ECDL was part of a “wide suite of qualifications, offered alongside statistics, computing, business studies and ICT”.

But the ECDL’s growing popularity could soon take a hit. Ofqual wrote to exam boards earlier this year to demand they justify the time – “guided learning hours” – needed to complete their qualifications. If the time was too short, the qualification would be cut from performance league tables.

Education watchdog Ofsted also told inspectors in June to look out for schools entering pupils into qualifications to boost league-table standings, rather than in the pupils’ best interest. A given example was “large numbers” of pupils entered for qualifications with overlapping subject content.

A Department for Education spokesperson said it would be “extremely disappointed to hear of any organisation encouraging schools to enter young people for courses just to ‘game’ the system.

“We have reformed the accountability system so only high-quality courses are counted. Our new Progress 8 measure must include core academic subjects such as English, maths, science and a foreign language.”