Vocational qualifications should attract the same high-standard students as those taking A-levels, Further and Higher Education Minister Tim Boswell told an international conference on education and training in Brighton this week, writes Diane Spencer. "To put it bluntly, we don't want GNVQs just for dumbos." Speaking of the General Certificate of Vocational Education and A-levels, he said the word "advanced" used in each exam helped to give them parity of esteem in the eyes of students.
But to the dismay of some of his audience at the conference organised by Mid Kent College, he added: "It may be unrealistic to assume there can be complete parity of esteem between qualifications."
Ruth Gee, chief executive of the Association for Colleges, said her association considered GNVQs a real alternative to A-levels, with equal status. The AFC, with sixth-form college principals, secondary heads from the state, independent and grant-maintained sectors had recently issued a statement on the need for reform of post-16 qualifications. "I noted the minister's words. We still have a long way to go if senior politicians keep referring to the 'gold standard' of A-level," she said.
Mr Boswell was also rebuked for his emphasis on competition in his address, claiming that "competition drives up standards" and "competitiveness enhances quality". The theme of the Government's White Paper on competitiveness was crucially important, he said, as competition was a reality. "The world our students have to survive in is competitive."
But John Hillier, chief executive of the National Council for Vocational Qualifications, asked his audience if they believed in competition in education and training. "I'll put in a plea for collaboration as it is much more productive than competition. The snag with competition is that people lose. We want everyone to win."
Ms Gee pointed out that competition between institutions could mean wasteful duplication.