New standards have been put in place by the government to ensure vocational qualifications are on a par with GCSEs.
These technical awards are to be "rigorous and demanding", giving pupils the practical skills they need in daily life and in order to begin their careers. They have also been designed to meet new criteria of employer value.
From September 2015, these awards will form part of a new vocational route available to young people between the ages of 14 and 19.
Youngsters will be able to study technical awards between the ages of 14 and 16, while tech levels are to be made available to 16 to 19 year-olds to study alongside or instead of A-levels. Tech levels could form part of the TechBacc, which includes a maths qualification and a research project.
Once young people have completed these qualifications, they will be well prepared for an advanced apprenticeship, university or skilled employment.
The government has already removed low-quality vocational courses from the curriculum, improved assessment methods and given employers a greater role in designing qualifications.
Technical awards take this further, as they have a higher requirement for external assessment. Pupils are able to study three of the vocational courses alongside a minimum of five core GCSEs, ensuring they have a strong grounding in academic subjects such as English and maths.
Skills and enterprise minister Matthew Hancock said: "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 content of the courses has been altered to shift the emphasis away from abstract theory and onto practical experiences. For example, woodwork students may previously have only been required to study the design of a chair but now they will be able to measure, cut, join and finish their own piece of furniture.
Posted by Tim Colman