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GNVQ: advanced level 
Conclusions (> discussion)
National conclusions update: England

Alan Brown, IER, University of Warwick

September 1999

Attempts to support implementation
Continuing problems with assessment
Modest success as a ‘middle pathway’

Reference to national case study on England: GNVQ.

Attempts to support implementation

Through their National Training Organisations (NTOs), over 20 industries have pursued projects with schools and colleges to enhance the value of GNVQ as a stepping stone to employment.  As part of a national development programme, four partnership models have emerged that provide a framework for replicable good practice.  These are:

  • developing the role of NTOs as sources of information about the industry and occupations within it.  This includes creating resource and assignments and the development of relevant CD ROMs, websites and ‘virtual’ resource areas;
  • designating FE colleges as centres of industry excellence.  For example, the Steel Industry NTO has concentrated resources and support at strategically placed FE colleges within the industry’s main locations;
  • developing progression routes into employment.  This involves industries developing the concept of ‘pathways’, whereby young people can clearly see ways they can enter and progress within each industry.  This may also involve links to formalised training provision such as Modern Apprenticeship and National Traineeship; 
  • developing industry mentors and student sponsorship.  Some employers have become involved in mentoring and curriculum planning, as an alternative to involvement through provision of work placements, which are often difficult to manage well, especially in small companies.
Continuing problems with assessment 

The post-hoc attempts to reform an assessment model that was fundamentally flawed led to some amelioration, but the atomistic assessment regime continues to be problematic.  Bates et al (1998) point to the way that a progressive commitment to self-directed learning in, for example, how students compile their portfolios, is compromised since the outcomes are so tightly pre-specified.  Smith (1998), in a study of 40 current and 20 former GNVQ students, suggests that one consequence of GNVQ assessment is the “possibility that far from developing the ‘reflective professional’, able to continue learning throughout life, the GNVQ experience of these students may have rewarded the competent ‘task completer’” (p. 547).

Modest success as a ‘middle pathway’

The problems with assessment, the rushed implementation and the naive model of curriculum development means that, in terms of overall policy development and implementation, the introduction and bedding down of GNVQ has been hugely problematic.  On the other hand, depending upon how GNVQ is implemented in practice, it still “has the potential to provide a vehicle for meaningful learning and personal development” (Helsby et al, 1998, p. 63) and give “students a chance to succeed in a different way as compared to academic courses” (Higham et al, 1997, p. 11).  Harkin and Davis (1998) too show how teachers on GNVQ may adopt warmer, more supportive communication styles in relating to students.  This may show that, in the final analysis, it is the quality of the teaching and learners that matters and that where teachers and learners are committed, GNVQ can act as a ‘middle pathway’ to personal development, distinct from either academic or vocational pathways.

The success, however, has been achieved within an overall structure that has often constrained rather than supported such development.  These constraints could be traced back to the debate about the development of GNVQ, which took place in what Bates et al (1998) identified as a “largely hostile environment of ‘controlled vocationalism’” (p. 109).  Gleeson and Hodkinson (1995) similarly point to the way developments such as GNVQ took place within policy discourses which did not address any broader vision of citizenship and learning.  Hodkinson (1994) suggests that the education for all young people should include three overlapping dimensions: personal effectiveness, critical autonomy and community.  This broader perspective was notably absent, as was any sense that future workers should be equipped with the skills to shape the application of technology and the social form of work for themselves, rather than just adapting to work as it is (compare Heidegger, 1997).  One  axis of the dual orientation of GNVQ is clearly preparing individuals for the world of work, not preparing them for active engagement in their world.


Bates, I., Bloomer, M., Hodkinson, P. and Yeomans, D. (1998), Progressivism and the GNVQ: context, ideology and practice, Journal of Education and Work, 11, 2, 109-125.

Gleeson, D. and Hodkinson, P. (1995), Ideology and curriculum policy: GNVQ and mass post-compulsory education in England and Wales, British Journal of Education and Work, 8, 3, 5-19.

Harkin, J. and Davis, P. (1996), The impact of GNVQs on communication styles of teachers, Research in Post-Compulsory Education, 1, 1, 97-107.

Heidegger, G. (1997), Key considerations in the education of vocational education and training professionals.  In A. Brown (Ed.) Promoting vocational education and training: European perspectives, Tampere: University of Tampere.

Helsby, G., Knight, P. and Saunders, M. (1998), Preparing students for the new work order: the case of Advanced General National Vocational Qualifications, British Educational Research Journal, 24, 1, 63-78.

Higham, J., Sharp, P. and Yeomans, D. (1997), Constructing a new curriculum: the rise of General National Vocational Qualifications, Leeds: School of Education, University of Leeds.

Hodkinson, P. (1994), Empowerment as an entitlement in the post-16 curriculum, Journal of Curriculum Studies, 26, 5, 491-508.

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 First set up 02/10/1999
Latest update: 02/10/1999
 Contact: Sabine Manning