Vocational awards must be valued at all levels

10th May 1996 at 01:00
David Hart's article (TES, April 26) rightly identifies that the distinctive feature of the Dearing report is that it proposes little, tinkering with the system rather than fundamentally changing it. Its one supposedly original idea (the advanced diploma) is a reworking of an idea that flopped when it was first suggested a few years ago. I would disagree with David Hart, of the National Association of Head Teachers, that renaming advanced GNVQs will somehow help to achieve the "parity of esteem" (or his "equivalence").

Why? Because vocational awards have been redesigned three times in the past 20 years, plus numerous reworkings in between. In the late 1970s the old ONC and OND awards gave way to BEC and TEC national certificate and diploma awards, reworked in the mid-Eighties to become BTEC certificates and diplomas, making integration the keyword for vocational effectiveness.

In 1986 the review of vocational awards threw all that aside with NVQs, which inched out national and first awards, until their unsuitability for many students was recognised and the compromise GNVQs were launched (still only two-thirds of the way through their introduction). Integration was largely dismissed, and accreditation of prior learning, individualised programmes and unit accreditation became the watchwords. NVQs are now being reworked and parallel "knowledge and understanding" assessment, once an anathema, is on the cards. Meanwhile changes to GNVQ assessment and the introduction of core skills assessment to NVQs gathers pace.

The lack of esteem lies here, at policy level - vocational awards can be changed radically every few years, without concern, but change the slightest feature of A-levels, and the foundations of our civilisation are under threat.

If universities and employers are to value vocational awards, the people who determine their existence must also value them, not just the millions whose life chances are shaped by them. They can do this by establishing agreed, workable principles and keeping to them.

The much lauded German system is actually two separate systems, with less inter-operability than we have. Their "equivalence" arises because they are valued at all levels, and changes are gradual, discussed and agreed at all levels before being introduced -just as changes to A-levels would be.

DAVID PARDEY West Horrington, Wells, Somerset

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