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Stop pretending everything is rosy

Anne Smith (FE Focus, TES, March 29) takes me to task for suggesting that general national vocational qualifications, as currently constituted, are taken mainly by those who can't do A-levels, and are second-rate. Both statements, however, follow from the evidence.

Professor Alison Wolf, among others, has shown that, on average, the GCSE grades of students doing A-levels are very much better than the GCSE grades of students doing GNVQs. It seems a reasonable inference, therefore, that most of those with a chance of going forward to A-levels do so, and for those without that chance GNVQs remain an option.

A number of official reports have revealed fundamental weaknesses in the present state of GNVQs. Dr John Capey's review, conducted through the National Council for Vocational Qualifications, reports "unequivocal evidence" of the need to reform assessment. The NCVQ's own evidence to the House of Commons Select Committee revealed that over half the students signing up failed to complete. Sir Ron Dearing's review of qualifications 16-19 seeks to remedy a number of basic flaws in the structure and content.

I share Anne Smith's desire for GNVQs to succeed. They are potentially a very important development. They will only become so, however, if we move on from where we are now and do not try to pretend that everything in the garden is lovely.

Professor Alan Smithers Centre for Education and Employment Research Brunel University 300 St Margaret's Road Twickenham, Middlesex.

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