Lessons of mutual learning
Assessment of schemes
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Reference GNVQ: advanced level  in England
What works well in this scheme? The simple answer is that many of the staff and learners work well, largely in spite of the structural constraints of GNVQ.  So depending upon how GNVQ is implemented in practice, it still has the potential to provide a vehicle for meaningful learning and personal development and give students a chance to succeed in a different way as compared to academic courses.  The teachers too 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 current limited specification of key skills in GNVQ programmes nevertheless does have certain benefits, including the remediation of basic skills that were often insufficiently developed for many young people in earlier stages of education.  Advanced GNVQ was also relatively successful in offering a progression route into higher education.  Attempts have also been made 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 National Training Organisations (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;
  • 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;
  • developing industry mentors and student sponsorship.  Some employers have become involved in mentoring and curriculum planning.
What are the problems with this scheme? The atomistic assessment regime continues to be problematic, and the progressive commitment to self-directed learning in, for example, how students compile their portfolios, is compromised since the outcomes are so tightly pre-specified. One consequence of GNVQ assessment may be that far from developing the ‘reflective  professional’, able to continue learning throughout life, the GNVQ experience of these students may reward the competent ‘task completer’.  The limitations of UK conceptions of key skills were in evidence: 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.  The problems with assessment, the rushed implementation and the naive model of curriculum development also meant that, in terms of overall policy development and implementation, the introduction and bedding down of GNVQ has been hugely problematic. 
    The development of GNVQ took place in a constrained environment of ‘controlled vocationalism’, within policy discourses which did not address any broader vision of citizenship and learning.  For example, it could be argued 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.  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.
What can be learned from other schemes? Perhaps the key lesson learned from the implementation of GNVQ is about what could be done for learners in schemes with a dual orientation.  That is, a key curricular intention for this group of learners 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.  To my knowledge none of our schemes use skill transfer as such an explicit driver, so it would be of interest to see the results if such an experiment were set up. 
Further reading > Analysis of scheme > topic study (A) > topic study (B) >National conclusions > national discussion
Author Alan Brown (September 1999)

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 First set up 10/12/1999
Latest update: 13/12/1999
 Contact: Sabine Manning