A TESLancaster University survey probed the public's views on the sector's performance. Ian Nash reports its findings
Most people view the range of vocational qualifications that have mushroomed in colleges over recent years with extreme cynicism, according to the focus group findings.
Despite Government reassurances that NVQs were now common currency in industry, this view was not shared by the majority of participants in the eight groups.
Fifteen years ago, the Government promised to clear the "qualifications jungle" for once and for all. Today, with more than 16,000 qualifications on offer in FE, participants in The TES\Lancaster University research admitted to being more confused than ever.
They concluded that most were not worth the paper they were written on and that the drive to certificate everything in order to attract cash for courses from the Further Education Funding Council was a major part of the problem.
But the push to "NVQ" everything has only served to debase qualifications, according to those surveyed. The NVQ and similar qualifications were seen as "part of the old government keeping people off the unemployment lists."
Qualifications for nannies and childcare assistants ranged from "highly questionable" to "worthless". And the grading systems of many qualifications including GCSEs failed to impress. One engineer from the home counties said of the GCSE grade G: "It's not even a pass because if you turn up and breathe on the paper you 'pass'."
Employers admitted they were confused. One employee said: "I've never been asked for a certificate, I could have made everything up."
A 26-year-old woman working with a major airline said: "I did a really hideous one - Certificate of Prevocational Education, CPVE. We were told it was going to be the next big thing,"But no one else in her focus group had ever heard of it.
Despite all the efforts to make vocational routes more respectable, it still held in relatively low esteem. As a 23-year-old unemployed man observed: "An A-level still has more status."