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The General National Vocational Qualification (GNVQ) in England
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Issue The current English framework of post-compulsory and pre-higher education qualifications comprises three major pathways.  The traditional academic A level route was established in 1951.  The expressly vocational pathway, leading to National Vocational Qualifications (NVQs), was introduced in 1987.  The third pathway, involving programmes based on General National Vocational Qualifications (GNVQs), was introduced in 1992 and is intended to straddle academic and vocational traditions.
    GNVQ was specifically intended to provide the skills, knowledge and understanding of a vocational area so as to give opportunities for progression into employment (and NVQs) or further learning.  It is available at three levels (foundation, intermediate and advanced).  The Advanced GNVQ is designed for entrance into higher education or employment (and NVQs), and so is a qualification with a vocational emphasis but a dual prospective orientation.  The particular 'problem' GNVQ was designed to meet was the low participation rate in education through to age 18, compared to all major economic competitors.
    The overall aim of reforms in this area was to create a coherent national qualifications framework with three differentiated pathways.  The specific objectives for GNVQs (the 'middle track') were set out in the 1991 White Paper "Education and training for the twenty-first century": they should offer a broad preparation for employment; be an accepted route to higher education; be of equal standing with academic qualifications at the same level; be clearly related to NVQs; and be suitable for full-time students in colleges and schools. (S.M. ed. 14/09/99 - based on Brown 1999)
Both the English General National Qualifications and  the experimental reform of upper secondary education in Finland have  promoted qualifications with a dual orientation towards employment and HE, GNVQs through their Advanced level and the Finnish scheme through students´ extensive use of inter-school choice. These reforms were established around the same time in the beginning of the 1990s and they give examples of two approaches to  increasing participation in post-compulsory education forming  a part of a more general trend in European countries - to provide dually oriented qualifications. While the Finnish experiment initiated cooperation between  vocational and general upper secondary schools  allowing both schools´ students choosing  from the existing provision, the GNVQs presented a new type of qualification. (M.V. 07/03/00)
Measure The Advanced GNVQ is a unitised programme, which usually lasts two years.  They are available in fifteen vocational areas. Each Advanced GNVQ comprises eight mandatory vocational units; four optional units and three mandatory core skills units at level 3.  Up to six additional units (or additional qualifications) can be taken if desired, because the basic GNVQ provision is expected to be two thirds of a 3 A level programme.  The mandatory core skills cover communication, application of number and information technology.  GNVQ units are described in terms of outcomes, and students are assessed against criteria specified by the National Council for Vocational Qualifications (NCVQ). 
    Performance against the criteria is judged by means of teacher assessment of a portfolio of evidence produced by the student.  Besides the performance criteria and range statement, teachers are also expected to refer to evidence indicators, published by NCVQ, showing the quantity and type of evidence required.  In addition to teacher assessment, students have to pass multiple-choice knowledge tests for most of the mandatory units.  These tests are externally set and marked.
    A variety of learning styles are used on GNVQ programmes, with students often undertaking assignments, which require research and information-handling skills.  Indeed the emphasis upon active learning was seen as one of GNVQ's  most positive features.
    The most problematic aspect of GNVQ in practice was related to assessment, and these problems in turn could be linked to major deficiencies in the GNVQ model of teaching, learning and assessment.  The unit tests were too narrow in focus, and used impoverished models of cognitive development and knowledge acquisition.  The assessment processes under-emphasised the importance of integration and the development of a substantive knowledge base.  There were fundamental flaws in the whole orientation of assessment based upon highly detailed criteria of performance.
(S.M. ed. 14/09/99 - based on Brown 1999)
Even though the Advanced GNVQs are often provided at same institutions preparing students also to A' levels, the general education component in them is not related to A' levels. This may have enhanced opportunities to adopt variety of learning styles and to integrate vocational and academic content.
  The separation of the GNVQs from other educational pathways is however related to complicated and separated assessment and certification system which seems to contrast with the ideas of promoting credit transfer and individual flexibility between educational lines aimed at in some other countries´ educational systems. The level of differentiation between educational lines may to some extent, relate to the size of population. In France the general education part of  the baccalaureat professionel shares the same curriculum basis as other baccalaureats, though. 
   While the GNVQs are relatively short (two years), their relation to skilled work is rather low compared to other European dual qualifications. The GNVQs seem to be more   oriented towards higher education than employment. (M.V. 07/03/00)
Impact After several attempts at ad hoc reform, and a major independent review, NCVQ announced in autumn 1996 that they intended to develop a new GNVQ model, new GNVQ unit structures, a new approach to outlining the components of GNVQ units, revised (clearer) assessment criteria, a new style of external testing, a revised recording system and guidance on effective teaching and delivery strategies that teachers could use.
    Overall then, the desire in 1991 to create a new 'middle pathway' was well-founded.  The particular embodiment of that desire, the GNVQ, however, was seriously compromised in two respects.  Its assessment model was fundamentally flawed: atomistic assessment regimes have been shown to fail once again.  Secondly, the timescale for implementation was unrealistic: a situation which meant that it was impossible to 'bed down' the new qualification based on mature reflection upon experience and practice.  Rather everyone was continually scrambling to get things in place and reacting to events.  This in turn has led to almost continual changes, as attempts have been made to improve GNVQ in many respects. (S.M. ed. 14/09/99 - based on Brown 1999)
The participation rate of the Advanced GNVQs relates them to the middle group of European dual qualifications where also France and Finland have been categorised. For instance Netherlands, Norway, Sweden and Czech Republic have a stronger participation rate in their vocational schemes of the kind. The participation rates are probably related to the schemes´ esteem in the national system.  Even though both Finnish and English schemes have an intermediating role between vocational and academic upper secondary education, their differing  basis on traditions and somewhat differing aims at the national context make them quite distinct examples of dually oriented education. (M.V. 07/03/00)
Reference The national case study on the GNVQ, prepared by Brown 1996a for the DUOQUAL project, was summarised in Brown & Manning 1998a (pp 5-7). The summary was updated in the authors' contribution for the DUOQUAL Survey 1999. The context of upper secondary reform of qualifications in England, including the GNVQ, was investigated by Spours & Young in Lasonen 1996a (pp 63-92). A detailed analysis of the progression from GNVQ to further studies, in comparison with the Dutch scheme of double qualification (MBO), can be found in the topic study on "facilitating progression to higher education" by Brown et al. published in Brown & Manning 1998a (pp 77-98). An article by Brown et al. 1999a is a further outcome of the topic study.   (S.M. 14/09/99) See the references in the column left side, and the comparison of European dual qualifications by Manning available in the DUOQUAL Survey. (M.V. 07/03/00)
Author Alan Brown/ Sabine Manning (ed) Maarit Virolainen

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