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GNVQs need immediate improvement

Two inspection reports on General National Vocational Qualifications come to a similar conclusion. Vocational qualifications need to be improved rapidly to avoid their credibility being undermined.

This is the main message from two inspection reports on the General National Vocational Qualification, one from the Office for Standards in Education, the other from the Further Education Funding Council.

According to Chris Woodhead, HM chief inspector of schools, the reports are "not singing to a different tune", as they call for the awarding bodies, colleges, schools and teachers to take urgent action and highlight similar concerns.

Terry Melia, chief inspector of the FEFC, said a number of "teething problems" were evident which should be addressed immediately.

Both reports point to the rapid expansion of take-up of the GNVQ with some 90,000 students enrolled on courses, more than half of them in colleges, which has meant little time for establishing national standards. The speed with which GNVQs have been introduced has stretched the resources of the National Council, the awarding bodies, schools and colleges.

The rate of improvement since OFSTED first reported 12 months ago was "far too slow", said Mr Woodhead.

The FEFC and OFSTED found the standards achieved by advanced GNVQ students were broadly equivalent to those on Business and Technology Education Council national diploma courses or GCE A-level programmes in two subjects. On intermediate courses standards were more variable, although more than 70 per cent of students produced some elements of work equivalent to GCSE grade C or above.

The reports highlight worries over assessment, grading and verification. OFSTED says methods of assessment and grading have been inadequately developed and explained in the documents and training. Standards expected were unclear because of the lack of exemplar materials or sufficient guidance in course specifications.

Grading requirements had failed adequately to take into account the quality of students' work. External verifiers needed to give better specialist advice on standards of achievement.

The FEFC said internal verifications were not yet working well with variations in assessment practices between and within colleges. In half the colleges inspected the quality control system was underdeveloped and the volume of documentation associated with recording procedures was excessive.

School teachers in general found courses difficult to design as unit specifications were unclear and knowledge requirements difficult to identify. Standards were more consistent in art and design, business and science than in health and social care, leisure and tourism and manufacturing which were less familiar to schools.

OFSTED's report was based on 200 visits to more than 170 11 to 18 schools in England during 1993-4 including the 39 schools which piloted GNVQs in 1992.

The FEFC covered GNVQ provision in 114 colleges representing a quarter of the FE sector throughout the year. A further 25 were visited at the end of last term to inspect completed portfolios to judge standards achieved by students.

General Vocational Qualifications in the Further Education Sector in England, FEFC, Cheylesmore House, Quinton Road, Coventry CV1 2WT; GNVQs in schools,1993-4, OFSTED, HMSO Pounds 3.95.

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