NVQs and the innovators

May 19, 1995

May I clarify the concept of "innovation" as it affects NVQs, which was commented on in the letters by Swindlehurst and Larcombe (THES, May 12) and by Carter (May 5).

Innovation is not the same as creativity. Having a new idea is being creative; innovation is the disciplined business of converting the idea into a useful object.

One can implement the idea in what seems like a good way, and evaluate the outcome as Carter suggests. If one is lucky one can succeed with trial and error; but it wastes time, energy and money and the error part can damage people for life.

One can extrapolate from experience, which is still a bit chancey, but can be satisfactory within current practice, and is as far as NVQs can take one.

One can implement the idea by understanding the problem and the capabilities of different forms of implementation and by thinking out a solution. This is the only reliable form of innovation beyond current practice, and has to be used to design new artefacts like new integrated circuits and space stations or systems like Internet. NVQs specifically exclude such understanding.

Competence and Assessment, the NCVQs' own publication, which Richard Larcombe himself gave me to read, states on page 38 that questions to assess knowledge and understanding "should not require the candidate to use their knowledge and understanding in ways which are more complex than those necessary for the achievement of the standards (of competence)".

Understanding beyond that which underpins competence is not to be assessed. A candidate could satisfy all the criteria listed in Larcombe's letter and still be ill-equipped to design something new. I am afraid it is he, not I, who is "ill-informed", and it is Swindlehurst, not I, who is "misrepresenting" NVQs.

NVQs are fine at the lower levels, where innovation is not to be expected, but because their designers have not understood the deeper educational issues, have largely ignored past experience and are therefore having to innovate by trial-and-error, there are problems at the higher levels.

J. SPARKES

Hemel Hempstead

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