The number of pupils entering a fast-tracked ICT qualification – worth a GCSE and taught in just three days – has rocketed more than 2,000 per cent in a year.
Schools Week revealed last month that education leaders were being urged to enter “vulnerable” pupils into the European Computer Driving Licence (ECDL) qualification to ensure they achieved five A* to C GCSE grades.
The qualification can count towards the five passes metric in school performance tables.
New figures published by Ofqual have now revealed the number of pupils taking the qualification has soared in recent months.
A total of 9,650 certificates were issued between January and March this year – compared with 450 in the same period last year.
Liam Collins (pictured), headteacher at Uplands Community College, East Sussex, and a member of the Headteachers’ Roundtable group, said: “I can see why courses outside the normal curriculum are being looked at by schools.
“As we know, if you have a below-average ability intake you are more likely to receive a requires improvement or inadequate Ofsted inspection… and the likelihood of filling all the baskets of the Progress 8 [performance indicator] also diminishes.
“Therefore, with gun-to-the-head policy announcements and high stakes inspections, the fear of losing your job will be the driver to some people’s curriculum decisions.”
Last month, the PiXL Club, an organisation that aims to raise attainment in schools, encouraged its 1,300 members to consider enrolling pupils for the ECDL qualification.
Members were told that some schools were planning to run a three-day intensive course to prepare pupils for the online exams, once their other GCSEs were completed.
PiXL suggested enrolling “vulnerable” pupils who could take the exam as an “insurance policy” for five GCSEs.
A school leader who received the email said it went against the spirit of messages from the government over “dumbing down and gaming”.
A spokesperson for BCS, the chartered institute for IT, which provides the qualification, said the increase mirrored schools wanting to teach the new computing curriculum.
“To meet this requirement many schools want to teach a broad and balanced curriculum as recommended by Ofsted.
“Schools want to make sure they teach digital literacy as much as they teach computer science; this includes providing qualifications in each of those areas.”
She added the schools-specific qualification was introduced in September 2013. “We’ve seen a transition from our other qualifications to the schools-specific version. This has been consistent with our expectations and is also consistent with the increase of similar qualifications from other providers.”