The move towards GNVQ as an alternative to A-level appears to have gained momentum as vocational qualifications appear more relevant to the students needs. The study at New College, Swindon focused on students working for the leisure and tourism GNVQ and asked them for their perceptions and expectations of both GNVQ and A-level.
Views of A-level courses varied widely. Some of the New College sample were studying for an A-level alongside their GNVQ; others knew little about the traditional option. A significant one in five saw A-levels as solely concentrating on examinations, and one in eight regarded A-level courses as requiring less work than their vocational equivalents.
The students were also asked to outline their personal goals including their post-GNVQ expectations. More than half hoped that they would get jobs right away and one in five hoped to go on to further study (at university or college) while one in eight could not decide between the two options.
Six out of 10 students thought their GNVQs would give them the necessary qualifications to fulfil their ambitions.
Employers and higher education admission tutors are eager to find out what GNVQ students can do. This is important in establishing the credibility of the qualification in the long term.
The fact that the GNVQ qualification is principally based on the acquisition of skills with students' proven abilities measured and recorded by a level of competence in a similar style to NVQs sets the GNVQ candidate apart from others.
The skills that the students identified as being essential for successful performance on a GNVQ course were wide-ranging. Planning and organisational skills, not dissimilar to those needed in arts-based A-levels, are seen to be the most important. Time management and research - particularly essential as students are in most cases responsible for their own data collection and analysis - appear third and fourth respectively.
When asked what they enjoyed most about their GNVQ course, more than four out of 10 students (41.3 per cent) mentioned the many visits and visiting speakers. Second, the ownership of work created by the adoption of student-centred learning was suggested by about one in seven (13.8 per cent). It appears that the GNVQ is attractive to the well-motivated student who has a good grounding in the core skills such as literacy, numeracy and information technology.
In terms of what was seen to be least enjoyable, most indicated the pressure of work (37 per cent). In part this was seen to be the fault of a content-driven curriculum and the gradual acquisition of organisational and time management skills.
The log book which students must keep and which dictates the points to be covered came in for some heavy criticism. The main problem appeared to be the use of English, mentioned by more than a third of students (37 per cent). The log book was criticised as being hard to understand in some sections. 32 per cent indicated that it was difficult to understand in most sections and 16 per cent regarded it as simply generally confusing.
One way to alleviate this confusion is for the assessor or teacher to produce an assessment plan indicating what the students have to produce in order to fulfil the requirements of a particular element or unit of work.
The reputation of the qualification and its future success in the short term will depend largely on how it is represented in the media and among the school population. It is not thought likely that prospective students will have read reports in the education press and it is therefore not surprising that half thestudents in this survey were not aware of media coverage of GNVQs. However, their teachers are influenced by the information they receive. The perception of students who are affected by media coverage is often based around local newspapers, television coverage and peer awareness.
A sizeable minority of students (29.3 per cent) considered the image to be negative. This is set against 4.2 per cent who said the image was positive while 16.6 per cent said that they had heard of mixed reports.
Peer awareness is often the most influential factor governing personal opinion. Of those surveyed, almost four out of 10 (36.4 per cent) said that other students were ignorant about the demands of GNVQ. Those who thought it was a good course to study (18.2 per cent) outweighed those who said it was a waste of time (4.5 per cent).
Some confused GNVQ with the Business and Technical Education Council National Diploma and others suggested that it appeared to be an interesting course but an easier option to the more traditional courses on offer (13.6 per cent).
The results of this survey reveal that GNVQ students often have high aspirations and have high hopes for GNVQ to meet their aims in gaining entrance to their chosen vocational area of employment. The success of these students will depend largely on the attitude of schools, universities and employers and the ability of the students themselves to demonstrate their worth in the market place.
Alan Marvell lectures in geography and tourism at New College Swindon. For more information about this survey, write to him at New College, Helston Road, Swindon, Wiltshire SN3 2LA.
Edited by Ian Nash