GENERAL national vocational qualifications are struggling to live up to their billing as the practical equivalents to GCSEs and A-levels, says a new report.
Seven years after they were introduced, the public perception of GNVQs continues to lag behind that of more academic options, despite the best efforts of teachers and lecturers.
According to a joint report by the Office for Standards in Education and the Further Education Funding Council on schools and colleges piloting revised versions of the qualifications, "a number of problems have been evident since GNVQs were introduced".
It says: "There is still work to do to build parity of esteem for GNVQ as an alternative to GCE A-level. Despite some hard work by colleges, many parents and students do not accept the claims of the equivalence of GNVQs and GCSEGCE qualifications."
The report - which also notes a trend among some colleges to replace GNVQ programmes with national diplomas - says the tests at intermediate and advanced level did not correspond with the demands made on GCSE and A- level students. It recommends that awarding bodies should, as a matter of urgency, "improve the quality of test questions ... to ensure that standards are equivalent to GCSE and GCE A-level".
OFSTED and FEFC inspectors surveyed 1,850 students in 21 colleges and 40 schools where revised GNVQs are being piloted. They found that standards of teaching are generally satisfactory and sometimes outstanding.
But levels of achievement varied from a health and social care course where only 13 per cent of students passed their application of number test at the first attempt to an art and design course where the most able produced work "of a depth unprecedented at sixth- form level".
The revised qualification, due to be launched nationally in September next year, will be graded on an A-E scale like GCSEs and A-levels. It will remove the "excessively burdensome" assessment of key skills by including literacy, numeracy and IT in a separate qualification available to all 16 to 19 students, and makes the delivery and moderation of the qualification more straightforward.
The education and employment minister, Baroness Blackstone, said: "We are determined to upgrade vocational qualifications, including GNVQs, in order to ensure that they are as rigorous and well-regarded as GCSEs and A-levels. I am convinced that the revised GNVQ will be a vocational qualification in which teachers, employers and students can have full confidence."