A survey of how vocational qualifications are assessed by colleges and awarding bodies has revealed patchy progress towards consistent national standards.
The Further Education Funding Council report, covering eight subject areas at 45 colleges, acknowledges that assessment practices are in a state of flux as GNVQs and NVQs are introduced. In some examples, different schemes of assessment were introduced for three successive student intakes.
The report says the National Council for Vocational Qualifications and awarding bodies did not always set out standards for students, and external tests and grading were sometimes poor, but adds that assessment systems are "rapidly being strengthened".
"Few colleges have developed comprehensive, college-wide policies and procedures for assessment to ensure consistency of standards," says the report.
"Although the new assessment arrangements associated with the introduction of NVQ and GNVQ are intended to clarify what students should be able to do, and what they need to know, teachers were often unclear about the depth of subject-based knowledge required." It adds: "Teachers in different colleges were adopting different approaches to grading."
The report says colleges' own internal verifiers have a vital role in monitoring standards of assessment by sampling work and co-ordinating the teachers assessing students. However, "few colleges had developed criteria for the selection of internal verifiers".
The report also calls for greater involvement by employers in assessment and less reliance on simulated work environments.
FEFC chief inspector Terry Melia said: "Weaknesses identified in this report are not confined to NVQs and GNVQs but their introduction and rapid expansion has caused problems. These are being addressed by the NCVQ and the awarding bodies."