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Don’t know what you’ve got ‘til it's gone? Skills-led qualifications, secondary school attainment and policy choices

Harrison, Neil; James, David; Last, Kathryn


Neil Harrison

David James


© 2015 Taylor & Francis. In the name of curriculum breadth and raising standards, recent government policy in England has removed a large number of non-academic qualifications from the list of those that secondary schools can count in league tables, discouraging their use. Most of these were vocational qualifications, but they also include skills-led qualifications. This paper reports mixed methods research investigating the relationship between mainstream secondary school qualifications in England and a specific, widely used skills-led qualification: the Certificate of Personal Effectiveness (CoPE). Neither academic nor vocational, CoPE requires learners to assemble a portfolio of evidence in response to ‘challenges’ negotiated with the teacher. It is designed to promote a reflective learning orientation and to develop (and assess) skills that underpin learning and future employability. We use a combination of regression analysis, pseudo-experiment and qualitative case study. Our research shows that CoPE is associated with improved outcomes in the ‘mainstream’ academic qualifications often regarded as the benchmark for the quality of schools and much of what goes on in them. Thus, we argue that certain reforms designed to raise standards are likely to depress attainment in the very qualifications deemed as core indicators of educational standards.


Harrison, N., James, D., & Last, K. (2015). Don’t know what you’ve got ‘til it's gone? Skills-led qualifications, secondary school attainment and policy choices. Research Papers in Education, 30(5), 585-608.

Journal Article Type Article
Publication Date Jan 23, 2015
Journal Research Papers in Education
Print ISSN 0267-1522
Publisher Taylor & Francis (Routledge)
Peer Reviewed Peer Reviewed
Volume 30
Issue 5
Pages 585-608
Keywords GCSEs, ASDAN, attainment, learning orientations, inequality, standards
Public URL
Publisher URL
Additional Information Additional Information : This is an Accepted Manuscript of an article published by Taylor & Francis in Research Papers in Education on 23 Janusry 2015, available online:


CoPE study - under review.docx (254 Kb)

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