Government ministers have launched the first full-scale investigation for 10 years into the state of Britain's job-related qualifications, writes Ian Nash.
The move is seen partly as an effort to fend-off recent attacks from critics in education and industry who say that training through National Vocational Qualifications is too narrow and leading to a deskilling of the workforce.
An evaluation of the top 100 NVQs (and SVQs in Scotland) will be carried out as part of the review by Gordon Beaumont, former chairman of training for the Confederation of British Industry. He has promised an action plan which he expects to be acted on.
He will be looking primarily at the breadth of competence-training in NVQs but also at the range of assessments carried out and whether the underpinning knowledge and understanding expected of trainees is adequate.
Mr Beaumont said: "Everything is up for grabs. We report to ministers in December and I understand that they will act on our recommendations. I would not have taken the chair of this group if I thought it was going to be a paper exercise."
The full inquiry stems from last year's White Paper on competitiveness. But by the time of that paper, ministers were already alarmed by the extent of criticisms from people such as Professor Alan Smithers, from Manchester University.
Professor Smithers argued that not only was training too narrow but also that the NVQs were having a damaging influence on the development of school and college-based GNVQs, devaluing them as an alternative to A-levels.
Employment minister James Paice said: "I am very conscious that NVQs have their critics and those criticisms must not be dismissed. They must be used as a spur to ensure we get it right."
The review will cover all five levels of NVQs, from GCSE to degree level, and will involve in-depth interviews and trawls for evidence from industry and education, trainees and the awarding bodies.