GNVQs trip up at the red tape

December 1, 1995

The potential imposition of a national curriculum for higher education (THES, November 17) through GNVQs at level 4 is being promoted with a worrying lack of debate.

On a technical basis alone, GNVQs' complex assessment regime is criticised by a number of Government-commissioned "reviews". The sheer volume and detail of assessment has produced mountains of "guidance" from the National Council for Vocational Qualifications and awarding bodies. Assessment has been streamlined slightly but it remains incredibly bureaucratic.

The bureaucracy associated with the design and implementation of GNVQs raises a host of concerns. Arriving at the detailed specifications is costly and time consuming. Once in place, there is no room for manouevre. Nor can there be any critique and debate by students and teachers about the political or social stances revealed in the specifications. Everything must be covered and the time taken just to meet the requirements will militate against deeper forms of discussion. In GNVQs at level 3, grading and assessment rewards the processes of doing an assignment, for example, but does not pay much attention to the content of students' work or debate about issues. There are also strong political preferences in the specifications.

Multiple-choice tests and performance criteria reveal a commitment on the part of the GNVQ designers to answers that say that market forces are good or that complex social issues like discrimination are mostly caused by how individuals treat each other. There are always political and social preferences in education but is it not part of higher education to debate and scrutinise these?

It is easy to criticise higher education for getting the balance between content and process wrong but by tidying them up into neat and rational bundles of specifications and criteria the danger is that a democratic and educational commitment to critical analysis is lost.

Kathryn Ecclestone

Senior lecturer for post-compulsory education

School of education

University of Sunderland

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