Problematic perhaps, but part of the cure

3rd February 1995 at 00:00
As a General National Vocational Qualifications co-ordinator in a large sixth form, I have become used to knocking copy of GNVQs in all manner of places. I had hoped for a more balanced treatment in the TES but the most recent example was completely outrageous.

The report headlined "University tutors slate GNVQs" (January 13) was wholly unjustified by the evidence that followed. The report stated that this view was supported by "a sizable minority of tutors"; a headline more in keeping with the article would have been "Majority of university tutors support GNVQs". My own experience shows that admissions tutors, from several different universities, who have given serious thought to the subject of GNVQ Science, are enthusiastic about the prospect of involving more young people in science and the possible provision of a new pool of students for their largely under-subscribed courses.

The substance of your article represented the views of Richard Collins from Leicester University. I am surprised that Mr Collins feels that the skills of independent study, analysis and evaluation which are emphasised on GNVQ courses are "lost or forgotten" within a year and are ill-suited to academic study.

This statement begs the question, what sort of skills are required in academic study? It would be interesting to hear Mr Collins's views on this. His views on the lack of necessary content in GNVQs compared with A-levels indicate the most basic misunderstanding of the nature of the two systems. It may well be that an A-level syllabus contains considerably more content than a GNVQ but a GNVQ candidate needs to know all the content in order to pass.

How many of Mr Collins's former A-level students are competent in even half of the syllabus content of those A-levels? My own experience of A-level students and of the grades with which they manage to find places on university science courses would hardly justify the confidence expressed by Mr Collins in their subject knowledge and ability. In any event, are we really supposed to believe that there is an irreducible canon of knowledge that is represented by A-level subject syllabuses?

Articles such as this do enormous harm to the effort of the many schools and colleges trying to promote science as an exciting and interesting option for a wide range of people, and not just for a cerebral elite who wish to while away their years in dusty university science departments. There are problems with GNVQ science but there are bigger problems with the state and status of science. It seems to many of us who have given the matter serious thought that A-levels are part of the problem, and GNVQs, with all their problems, are part of the cure.

Adrian Percival 96 Old Bath Road Charvil Reading, Berks

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