Back to Access
GNVQ: advanced level 
Discussion (>conclusions)
National dissemination events: England

Alan Brown, IER, University of Warwick

September 1999

Results of the discussions

Reference to national case study on England: GNVQ.

The national conclusions of the DUOQUAL study were fed into two major events.  The first was an evaluation workshop, organised by the Qualifications and Curriculum Authority (QCA) and the University of East Anglia, held in Cambridge on 6th July 1999.  The event was attended by policy-makers and researchers.  The second was an international conference, the third JVET (Journal of Vocational Education and Training) conference, held in Manchester, on 14th-16th July 1999.  The event was attended by researchers and practitioners.

Results of the discussions 

Discussions of the DUOQUAL national conclusions at these two events endorsed the DUOQUAL analysis of the problems with GNVQ due to the atomistic assessment regime, the rushed implementation programme and the naïve model of curriculum development.  It was also acknowledged that the policy context led to too narrow a focus (upon ‘controlled vocationalism’) and that GNVQ had not fully engaged with broader ideas of learning and development.  The discussion then engaged with some of these broader ideas, and, in particular, focused upon:

  • the limitations of UK conceptions of key skills: the core skills paradigm was seen as very restricted and represented an impoverished form of general education, with the likelihood that this would contribute little to the development of broadly skilled, polyvalent workers;
  • facilitating lifelong learning: GNVQ programmes give encouragement to self-directed learning in the collection of evidence of achievement and in building portfolios, but these are within a framework of tightly prescribed outcomes that does little to move students to becoming independent learners;
  • transferring skills, knowledge and understanding between contexts: from the above, it was clear that the current specification of key skills in GNVQ programmes does have certain benefits, including the remediation of basic skills that were often insufficiently developed for many young people in earlier stages of education.  However, these specifications and other aspects of GNVQ programme design do not specifically engage with the issue of supporting individuals so they are able to transfer what they have learned to new contexts.


One conclusion then is that when designing a ‘middle pathway’ it is perhaps better to draw attention to the key curricular intentions rather than attempting to delineate curricular and assessment specifications in great detail.  That GNVQ followed the latter course has meant that GNVQ students tend to be competent ‘task completers’ rather than independent, adaptable learners.

A second conclusion is that a key curricular intention should be to seek to develop in learners’ adaptability or transferability, the ability to transform existing skills and knowledge in order to perform effectively unfamiliar tasks or in unfamiliar contexts.  This could be developed by a continuous review of application of skills in varying contexts, rather than through a drive to attain tightly prescribed units.  Learners need to be encouraged to analyse the way they are acquiring key skills, and in analysing the links between activities they have undertaken in the past and the demands of new activities.  This could be accompanied by setting targets, and drawing up action plans, against frameworks of transferable skills, which could give examples of how they might be used (in combination) in different settings or contexts.  This would then align with a commitment to ‘deep’ rather than ‘surface’ learning.

This approach would then align with other developments aimed at promoting more holistic (rather than atomistic) approaches to curriculum and assessment, such as: 

  • problem-based learning;
  • reflection upon learning (where learners are explicitly encouraged to think about and reflect upon their own thinking processes);
  • bridging (where learners are encouraged to adopt a conscious approach to transfer, in that they are encouraged to apply existing strategies to new tasks or situations);
  • a careful sequencing of theory and practice;
  • a focus upon learning styles, with a deliberate use of a wide range of learning styles.
The whole emphasis of this approach is upon fostering autonomous redeployment of skills and knowledge, where [changes in] context is managed carefully as a key aspect of the learning programme.  The pedagogy and programme management is then driven by a coherent model of skill transfer, not the simple implementation of a list of key skills.

Top of the page
 First set up 02/10/1999
Latest update: 08/12/1999
 Contact: Sabine Manning