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Inquiry prompts shake-up call

Ian Nash reports on principals' responses to the Capey report which proposes 19 ways of reforming the assessment of vocational qualifications.

College heads are demanding swift and sweeping reform of vocational qualifications in line with the radical recommendations of an inquiry report published this week.

The report (page 3) suggests 19 ways of simplifying assessment of general national vocational qualifications, making grading schemes more reliable and purging jargon.

Furthest-reaching of all the reforms is the call for GNVQs to be assessed at the unit level, rather than examining every task in each unit. As an advanced level GNVQ requires 12 units, this move would drastically cut time and money spent on assessment.

Dr John Capey, principal of Exeter College and chairman of the committee of inquiry, told The TES he was appalled at the assessment burden. "At the moment we assess every performance criteria in every element of work - if it moves measure it. That cannot go on."

The report was commissioned by the National Council for Vocational Qualifications but the real pressure came from ministers, concerned that the whole assessment exercise was getting out of hand.

Dr Capey said: "It is absolutely crucial that there is a reduction in complexity, not only of the assessment but of the language used." Words such as "learning outcomes" were ambiguous or confusing.

The committee has also called for a more flexible approach to courses and study programmes. Students who do not wish to do the whole GNVQ might want to select units to study with an A-level.

"The pick-and-mix model we have in mind is in line with the views of Sir Ron Dearing and his review of the whole 16-19 qualification scene," said Dr Capey.

Measures to make the grading system more reliable include designing more of the grading schemes externally, assessing them internally and then having them externally moderated. The report attempts to give the teacher or lecturer more control over assessment while increasing the confidence of students, parents and employers in the GNVQs.

The NCVQ's decision to set up working parties to look in more detail at every recommendation must not slow the process of change which is now possible, college principals said in response to the report.

Dr James Gorrie, principal of Chichester College, said: "The recommendations quite fairly match the views that have been expressed about GNVQs in FE. Students have problems handling these tests."

Another principal, alarmed at a drop-out rate which may force his college into financial crisis, said: "It is not the GNVQ that's at fault, it's the nonsensical bureaucratic workload. We know this is causing a very high drop-out rate."

This was reflected in the 400 responses to the inquiry, particularly from the Association for Colleges. Dr Capey said: "The response overall was one hell of a big tick for the GNVQ but also a call to make the language simpler and reduce the complexity."

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