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Vocational role beckons for those who ask

There are widespread opportunities for sociology and psychology tutors in GNVQs, explains Patrick McNeil

he advent of GNVQ provides sociology and psychology tutors with an opportunity to become centrally involved in vocational education and it must be grasped. GNVQ has taken off in a very big way and, despite the weight of criticism levelled against it, it is going to play a major role in education for post-16s and, in its part one version, for 14-16s.

GNVQs have been introduced in business, health and social care, art and design, leisure and tourism, manufacturing, science, construction and the built environment, hospitality and catering, engineering, information technology, distribution, management, media and communication, land-based industries, and performing arts.

These subjects are available at three levels post 16: foundation is equivalent to four GCSEs below grade C, intermediate to five GCSEs at grades A to C, and advanced to two A-levels. At each level students have to take a number of mandatoray and optional units but can improve their chances by taking additional units. There are also two types of units which have to be passed: vocational units related to the subject and core skills units, for instance in communication, application of number, and information technology, regardless of subject.

For pupils pre-16 the new GNVQ part ones are being piloted for two years, starting this September, at foundation and intermediate levels in business, health and social care, and manufacturing. These are designed to fill 20 per cent of curriculum time and will comprise three vocational units and three core skills units. These units will be the same as those in the full qualification.

Assessment of GNVQ is based almost entirely on coursework, though there are end-of-unit tests for most mandatory units. The student assembles a portfolio of work which is assessed as evidence that the student has met precisely-defined performance criteria across a specified range. Evidence can take many forms, including tape-recordings, observed role-plays, videos and models, as well as written reports on research and enquiries carried out by the student. The qualification may be achieved at the level of pass, merit or distinction.

So where are the opportunities for sociologists and psychologists? The answer can be found in general and in specific instances.

Throughout the GNVQ system, students have to investigate the real world of work and of business. Market research and the analysis of data from market research is also included in most GNVQs at intermediate and at advanced levels. Virtually all these investigations involve asking questions, watching social activities, conducting experiments, and analysing documentary evidence. These may not always be called surveys, participant observation, or the use of secondary data, but that is what they are.

Market research does not require deep discussion of its epistemological foundations, but problems of research design, the familiar concepts of representativeness, reliability and validity, and ethical issues are as important here as they are in A-level and GCSE. Social scientists are particularly well-qualified to supervise this kind of research.

Most of the subject areas are still in the early stages of development, and the revisions to the phase one areas are yet to be published, so it is not possible to specify all the opportunities for social scientists in GNVQ, but the most important areas are in health and social care and media and communications, with some scope for psychologists in art and design.

Health and social care, at all three levels and in part one, involves a mix of sociology, psychology, social care and health care. In the proposed revisions for September 1995, psychologists are needed to deliver advanced unit 2 (interpersonal interaction in health and social care); psychology and sociology are central to unit 4 (health and social well-being: psycho-social aspects).

Unit 7 (educating for health and social well-being) and unit 8 (research perspectives in health and social care) are inter-disciplinary. Sociologists may have expertise in units 1 (equal opportunities and individuals rights) and 5 and 6 (which cover aspects of health and social care services). At intermediate level, unit 1 (communication and interpersonal relationships) is largely psychology. Unit 2 (which will also be in part one) involves exploring three elements: o the development of the individual and how they manage social change; o the nature of interpersonal relationships and their influence on health and personal well-being; o the structure of society and how it may influence health and social well-being.

More opportunities exist in the optional and additional units. For example the current advanced additional units available from BTec include: 17: sociological and psychological aspects of health care, 18: sociological and psychological aspects of social care, 24: human growth and development. RSA's optional unit 11, provision for children, is essentially psychology.

The message for sociology and psychology tutors at key stage 4, GCSE and A-level is this: if GNVQ is being developed in your institution, get hold of the current specifications, identify the sociology and the psychology and go along to the course co-ordinator to offer your services. Don't wait to be asked. If the division between the academic and the vocational is as wide as it is in many institutions, you won't be.

Patrick McNeil is publishing manager, further education, at Collins Educational

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