The Government's training revolution is failing to provide the much-needed bridge between academic and vocational education, a national survey of schools and colleges has revealed.
Instead, a new way of separating lower and higher ability pupils appears to be emerging, evidence from the most comprehensive survey ever carried out into the new vocational qualifications suggests.
General National Vocational Qualifications are being used to meet expanding staying-on rates, say the authors of a report on the joint survey by the Further Education Unit, London University Institute of Education and the Nuffield Foundation.
They are raising the aspirations of lower achievers and providing them with an alternative to A-level. However, "there is no evidence at present of GNVQs replacing either GCE A-levels or National Vocational Qualifications," says the report.
Ministers, having rejected A-level reforms, invested much political capital in the "three pathways to excellence", in promoting access to higher education and in ensuring progress in specific vocational training. "At present the awards are not fulfilling these multiple objectives," says Alison Wolf, project director at the Institute of Education. "They are developing as purely academic awards, recruiting from a population with lower GCSE grades than those of GCE A-level candidates. They do not provide a bridge to more specific vocational qualifications as originally intended, and will not in their present form, provide adequate replacements for many older-established full-time vocational awards."
While 15 per cent of schools mix GNVQ studies with A-levels, only 5 per cent mix them with NVQs. "The objective of establishing links with NVQs is not being realised."
The survey covered all awarding bodies, schools and colleges offering GNVQs in England, Wales and Northern Ireland. It shows that schools and colleges should hit the Government's target of having one in four post-16 students on GNVQs by 1997.
But this will have profound implications for the higher education system in the coming years as it comes under pressure for places across a much wider ability range.
Teachers and lecturers reported unrealistic expectations among students, particularly among the lowest achievers on the Intermediate GNVQ (GCSE-equivalent).
Two-thirds of advanced students and almost half intermediate students expect eventually to go on to higher education, but they are unlikely to make it, given their low GCSE grades. Eight out of 10 intermediate and one-third of advanced GNVQ students have no more than two GCSEs (grade C or above). Few are resitting the English or maths they need. The report also shows that training in literacy and numeracy is failing to measure up.
Schools and colleges say they are tackling the problems but "none of the current strategies has proven very satisfactory," says the report.
"There is a general consensus that the awards are more demanding than the BTEC first diplomas or City and Guilds of London Institute diplomas in vocational education that they are now replacing, and not suitable for all students recruited to these qualifications last year."
Schools and colleges are choosing GNVQs not out of preference but because the Government is replacing the existing award. "Rapid growth in enrolments reflects a major change in young people's aspirations rather than any characteristics of the awards themselves." But it did suggest a long-term shift in attitude, not merely a response to the recession.
But there are signs of a new selective system emerging. Schools and sixth-form colleges are attracting the most able GNVQ students. Those with the poorest GCSEs are going to FE college. Drop-out rates, at around 20 per cent for both the intermediate and advanced courses are con-sistent with the longer-standing vocational awards.
GNVQs 1993-94: a national survey is available free from the Further Education Unit, Spring Gardens, Citadel Place, Tinworth Street, London SE11 5EH.