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Exam applies for boost in status

The form of learning associated with the general national vocational qualification is proving highly motivating. Though it was designed for students after the age of 16, there is a growing take-up among 14 to 16-year-olds. In 1994-95 an estimated 130,000 16 to 18-year-olds were pursuing GNVQ advanced or intermediate courses in schools and colleges. It is expected to continue to increase rapidly.

The rapid growth of the GNVQ has entailed some substantial problems. In particular, there is concern about the sheer burden of assessment and about its rigour. The committee chaired by Dr John Capey made recommendations to address these problems, and I welcome its conclusions.

It is fundamental to this review that the GNVQ should retain its distinctive characteristics, and continue to increase its take-up. But there are issues relating to its structure and name that need attention.

The GNVQ was designed as a grouped award, being broadly equivalent in weight at the foundation and intermediate levels to four GCSEs, and at the advanced level to two A-levels. The size of the full award creates some problems.

It increases the risk of non-completion. Only half those who began a GNVQ programme in 1993 had achieved a full award after two years. The advanced GNVQ is too big to be taken by students who choose A-level as their main route, but who would benefit from some work in a GNVQ.

There is also the issue of the name. The Government proposed to rename the GNVQ "vocational A-levels". In the consultations leading to this report, "applied A-levels" was considered a better title. The title "applied A-level" should replace GNVQ (advanced level).

Because of the size of the full GNVQ and the desirability of building up a common structure with A-level, the advanced GNVQ should be structured and named as follows: * Full GNVQ of 12 units, plus the three NCVQ units in communication, the application of number and information technology equals applied A-level (double award) * Six units plus the three NCVQ units in communication, the application of number and information technology equals applied A-level Detailed consideration should be given to the creation of a three-unit award at advanced level to be known as the applied AS, to match the AS in the A-level family, so that the GNVQ family would be completed by: * Three prescribed mandatory units equals applied AS Further consultation should establish whether the GNVQs at intermediate and foundation levels, and part one GNVQs, should be renamed. Proposals for consultation could include the names "applied intermediate levels" and "applied foundation levels".

Additional units should be developed to extend the choice of units available to GNVQ students so that they and others can direct their studies more closely to particular NVQs and build up the required knowledge and understanding underpinning them. There should be monitoring of university students who gained places through GNVQs.

The regulatory and awarding bodies should develop units and qualifications which provide opportunities for applied learning at the proposed entry level.

The national vocational qualification relies for its rationale and success on its integration into industry and commerce. Therefore no proposals are made in this report to bring the structure of the NVQ into line with other qualifications. In turn, employers need to act decisively to tackle the complexity of the NVQ, its jargon, and the large number of awarding bodies, following the lead given by Beaumont.

The number of bodies accredited to award NVQs is causing problems. NVQs are identical whoever administers them, although there are concerns that the quality and standards of assessment vary to an unacceptable extent, and it is often argued that fewer bodies should be involved.

As proposed in the Beaumont Report, partnerships between awarding bodies and cross-recognition procedures should be strengthened. The NCVQ and the DFEE should work with awarding bodies to secure rational provision.

Those designing NVQs should consider carefully what level of competence in the three key skills is appropriate and build these requirements into each NVQ.

Assessment has caused concern. The issue is addressed in the Beaumont and Capey reports. I welcome their recommendations. In particular, I welcome for the GNVQ: * Overall assessment of performance in the units of which the qualification is built up, rather than performance in all the individual elements which make up each unit. n Proposals for grades based on "process" and "quality of outcome.

* Greater use of external assessment.

* Externally set assignments to contribute towards grading.

* An examination of externally set and moderated standard assignments in a vocational context for the three key skills.

* A review of the role of external tests. This should, in particular: reconsider whether candidates should be required to answer questions covering the entire range of knowledge specified in a mandatory unit; consider whether the tests should be graded and, if so, the basis of grading; take account of what has been learned from the use of extension tests and controlled assignments in the part one GNVQs.

I recommend external tests common to the three awarding bodies should be considered urgently.

Outside the GNVQ and the NVQ, colleges provide a wide range of vocational qualifications for which there is proven demand. The intention has been that these should be absorbed into the GNVQ and the NVQ. With the recommendations from Beaumont for a "pre-NVQ" based on knowledge and skills rather than full competence in an occupation, the time is ripe for drawing these other qualifications into a more coherent framework.

I recommend that the NCVQ, in conjunction with the vocational awarding bodies, should map existing qualifications for which there is substantial demand on to GNVQs and NVQs to identify areas of overlap or close relationship. They should increase the pool of optional and additional units in GNVQs to allow for greater specialisation.


GNVQs to be renamed applied A-level

New applied AS-level

External tests to be considered for GNVQs

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