A challenge to academic snobbery

Time was when NVQ meant Not Very Qualified. But no longer.

Ucas's decision to give the qualification top points for university entrance is a milestone. In accountancy, at least, the NVQ has kicked contenders into touch with a top award gaining 160 points - 40 more than A-level grade A.

The reaction of the Moaning Minnies of Middle England is predictable.

"Standards are plummeting! Whatever happened to the Gold Standard?" you can hear them cry. "What next? Carpentry at Cambridge?"

Why not? If the tasks are as exacting, why shouldn't other qualifications knock A-levels off their pedestal - or, at least, give them a scare? The Ucas decision also ranks the NVQ alongside the International Baccalaureate.

But then, accountancy is a demanding subject. The brightest of students regularly fail their exams four or five times, whereas A-levels have always been a pushover for the reasonably bright student with an additional crammer course.

The additional points awarded to the NVQ are for its practical work-related skills content that allows students to apply what they have learnt. The question is, why aren't those skills demanded from A-levels? After all, the new 14-19 diploma that starts in five subjects this autumn will demand a similar measure of such skills.

Jane Scott Paul, chief executive of the Association of Accounting Technicians, put her finger on the real problem when she said the Ucas decision "will help dispel some of the inherent snobbery that exists in the UK towards vocational learning".

The term "A-level" is, after all, only a name. When the Tories saw that O-levels had had their day, they scrapped them. New labour has never been as brave with post-16 education.

NVQ, A-level, baccalaureat, diploma. Isn't it time to give them all one name?

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