Higher levels in depth
John Walton's guide, published in association with the Institute of Management, concentrates on the higher level NVQs and their link with high-level academic and professional qualifications. There is a comprehensive overview of NVQs and their component parts, which includes an interesting summary of workplace versus simulation.
This book is already out of date on certain aspects. The discussion of knowledge and understanding and some of the conclusions reached could be addressed by the higher-level key skills now available, which were not there when the author put together his argument. I refer in particular to self-development and working with others.
The point about capability versus competence is well examined and the author highlights the importance of APL (accreditation of prior learning) in vocational qualifications. The questions posed at the end of each section make the reader reflect on how things might be achieved.
The commonly asked question - are higher-level NVQs (levels 4 and 5) higher education qualifications? - is examined in depth. The author investigates the link between vocational and academic qualifications at this level, looks at hybrid programmes and suggests ways of bridging the divide.
He presents a new perspective on Kolb's well-known cycle of learning and suggests, interestingly, that taught higher-education programmes could be followed at a later date by assessment for NVQ accreditation. (Have I heard this somewhere before?) There are useful comments on cost-effective assessment at the higher levels, and a comparison of the roles of external verifier and external examiner. The author puts forward the argument that one person could undertake both roles to the benefit of both candidates and institutions and outlines the pros and cons of such an integrated approach.
He also tackles work-based assessment and concludes, to his credit, that workplace visits are invaluable on higher-level schemes. His reasons are clearly presented.
The book deals with other related issues such as credit transfer, mentoring and the roles of involved parties, portfolio development and gaining approval as an accredited centre. All are dealt with clearly and concisely and will help anyone new to the concept of NVQs or those preparing to work with higher-level NVQs for the first time.
The book ends with suggested answers or courses of action for the questions and scenarios at the end of each chapter and these should only be looked at after deciding on how to handle the situation. Resist the temptation to look before reflecting.
Overall, it is a thought-provoking text of interest to all those involved in the delivery of higher-level NVQs and certain higher education programmes and who wish to pursue the discussion about academic versus vocational - a debate destined to continue for some time.
TES February 28 1997 christopher jones