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Baffling performance criteria? Send for the jargonbusters

As a newly qualified tutor in national vocational qualification administration, I read with interest the article by Lucy Ward (TES, January 12) regarding problems with the NVQ system.

Once you start teaching NVQ the flaws become more and more apparent as students reach different stages in their courses. One of the biggest problems faced by students and tutors alike is the understanding of the performance criteria, which are imprecise and open to ambiguous interpretation.

As a tutor I have to explain these points regularly over and over again to my students who need a "jargon-busted" version of the original. In fact, some astute tutors have already devised their own "translation" to overcome this problem.

The administration involved in teaching an NVQ course is horrendous and many experienced tutors who have been teaching traditionally for years are simply not trained enough to cope with the new ethos of portfolio building, assessment and verification and tend to stick to students completing tasks with little emphasis on the end result. This leads to students having no overview from the outset of what is expected of them which leads to demotivation and a high drop-out rate.

The conflicting problems of allowing students to take the courses whether they are employed or unemployed cause endless difficulties for students and tutors. If a student has no employment, it is impossible to assess these people in their workplace or for them to bring in live, current evidence.

As there is always conflicting advice as to whether simulations and role play are acceptable as "substitutes" for this, tutors find themselves in a difficult situation having capable students who cannot achieve because of their lack of employment.

It was therefore a great relief to discover that the National Council for Vocational Qualifications are now considering issuing preparatory qualifications to those who have completed the underpinning knowledge but as yet have no job to enable them to bring in "live evidence" from the workplace. I feel that, with colleges desperate to fulfil their funding obligations, it is necessary to meet this problem halfway.

One definite demotivation to students and a cause of frustration to tutors is the "pass or fail" ethos. Inevitably in every walk of life there will be people who are higher achievers than others and this should be recognised in the grading of students who have achieved. There is such a wide gap between what is just acceptable and what is exceptional that students producing excellent work are given no recognition and they therefore feel that the minimum effort needs to be given to achieve. Equally those whose work is not so exceptional have nothing to work towards to produce work that is top quality for them.

An area of great concern to many tutors is the lack of knowledge that employers have of NVQs. Many have little or no idea of what they are out to achieve; many do not recognise the qualification at all and those that do sponsor their staff to take such courses have very little input or communication via the tutors. Some colleges are striving to overcome this situation by writing regular reports about the students and maybe talking over the telephone from time to time, but considering that the ethos of NVQ is linked to job performance there is an astonishing divide between colleges and employers. Nationally, there needs to be a major marketing campaign to make NVQs credible and widely acceptable.

I feel that the key recommendations laid out in Lucy Ward's article are critical and the sooner they are addressed, the better for all concerned.

LUCILLE BROOKS 79 Charles Street Berkhamsted Hertfordshire.

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