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Skills legacy of the NVQ is here to stay

NVQs rapidly became a household name among vocational qualifications after being introduced in the Thatcher years.

Long before the current debate about "parity of esteem" between vocational and academic qualifications, an NVQ was an established concept as well- known to the man or woman on the Clapham Omnibus as a City amp; Guilds, although, of course, it never enjoyed the status of the A-level.

The A-level-degree route remains the safest path to a high-paid profession because employers, while crowing about the importance of vocational training, continue to operate a closed shop on behalf of graduates in many areas which were previously open to non-graduate trainees.

So it is no surprise that those who have benefited from academic higher education - code for the middle classes - would sneer at NVQ as standing for not very qualified.

You can understand where they're coming from. After all, what could be a bigger threat to the status quo of the British workplace than millions of people holding a national vocational qualification - and thus proving they actually have the skills for the job. Assessing people by their ability to do things must surely herald the end of civilisation as we know it.

But while the NVQ is destined to take a back seat, some of the benefits it has brought are irreversible. As the backbone of the apprenticeship scheme, it has led record numbers of people into more skilled and ultimately better-paid careers.

Apprenticeships will be modified for a post-NVQ age but the same trainees, lecturers and employers will make them succeed. There will be uncertainty for colleges coping with the bureaucracy around the new qualifications. But that's the kind of turbulence FE takes in its stride.

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