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A-levels learn vocational lessons

The intellectual divide between A-levels and general national vocational qualifications appears to be narrower than is generally assumed. In terms of teaching methods and learning outcomes the two types of syllabus now have a great deal in common, researchers at Queen's University, Belfast, have concluded.

They base their findings on close scrutiny of diaries kept by 99 teachers and 275 students involved in either A-level or GNVQ courses. The diary-keepers logged the types of activity that they were involved in over a four-week period.

They also noted the cognitive demands that lessons required - these included "producing new ideas" and "understanding concepts and arguments". The students provided information which enabled the researchers to gauge their ability to direct their own learning.

"Our findings suggest that arguments by proponents of A-levels as the academic 'gold standard' for 16 to 19-year-olds . . . appear to be somewhat undermined.

"A-levels, if anything, have moved more towards the GNVQ pattern than the converse."

"Teaching and cognitive outcomes in A-levels and Advanced GNVQs: action research with teachers and learners", by Alex McEwen, Carol McGuinness and Damian Knipe, Queen's University, Belfast.

* Education researchers who wish to disseminate their findings in the TES should send summaries (750 words max) to David Budge, research editor, The TES, Admiral House, 66-68 East Smithfield, London E1 9XY. Tel 0171 782 3276. E-mail: david.budge@newsint.co.uk

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