Adviser attacks NVQ report for 'soft-pedalling'

January 12, 1996

A hotly-anticipated Government-sponsored report calling for a radical overhaul of the implementation of national vocational qualifications has been criticised by a leading report adviser. The adviser says the report is based partly on unreliable evidence and pulls too many punches.

Former industrialist and businessman Gordon Beaumont, who conducted the year-long review of the top 100 NVQs published this week, found that there was support for the NVQ concept, but "widespread criticisms of implementation".

Mr Beauman did not carry all his 15-member advisory committee with him. Alan Smithers, director of Manchester University's centre for education and employment research, said the report "soft-pedalled" and relied on the evidence of unrepresentative samples from employers.

Mr Beaumont has called for occupational standards to be written, taking account of the needs of employers. They are, he said, "marred by complex, jargon-ridden language" - 77 per cent of employers agree.

He has demanded that bureaucracy be rooted out and recommended external assessment after finding "a lack of confidence that assessors are objective and independent". He said that quality of assessment is being adversely affected by funding linked to outcomes, and said that this needs to be addressed quickly.

Mr Beaumont added that some of the problems concern "mis-perceptions" on the part of employers. He blamed the NCVQ's Pounds 9 million marketing strategy, which is targeted on awareness-raising rather than on understanding.

NCVQ chief executive John Hillier nevertheless welcomed the Beaumont findings, calling it "a terrific report". He said: "I am immensely encouraged by many of its findings - especially by its stress on the remarkable level of support for NVQs, and its confirmation of the high degree of credibility which they enjoy."

Tony Webb, head of the CBI's education and training directorate and a member of the group, backed the NCVQ view. He said: "It is a very good report and confirms the CBI view that the principle of NVQs is right."

But Professor Smithers said the key finding that 85 per cent of employers think that NVQs give employees competence - which has been emphasised by the NCVQ - was based on unsatisfactory samples. Initially, 747 questionnaires were sent out, and only 15 per cent were returned. Five thousand were eventually distributed, and 985 were returned - a response rate of 19.7 per cent.

Professor Smithers added that, while the report is "hard-hitting" on issues like language, it wrongly defends the concept of NVQs.

"I am sad that he has chosen to pull some punches. What is identified as a language problem is really a concept problem. This will emerge when the standards are re-written in plain English. At the moment, the language mystifies the qualification so that it is hard to see what is missing." Professor Smithers said about one third of the advisory group's 15 members broadly supported his view.

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