The man who talked too much

November 18, 1994

Next Friday Danny Gaskell, a lecturer at Lambeth College, will appear before a disciplinary hearing to answer charges that he committed gross misconduct by bringing his employer into disrepute.

Following an interview he gave to Channel 4's Class Action programme, Mr Gaskell is accused of making potentially damaging allegations about the national vocational qualifications verification process; making potentially damaging allegations about the management of resources; and by implication, bringing into question the professional integrity of colleagues.

Mr Gaskell fears his will become a test case. He has become steadily more disillusioned with the vocational education system and what he described as its "subtle pressures". He agreed to give a television interview to air his grievances on the basis that his employer was not identified. Channel 4 complied with his request.

What Mr Gaskell wanted to get across was the impossibility of bringing craft students up to the standard required by the industry, in his case construction, when those students are unemployed.

In the old days of block or day-release schemes college training was simply a component of a work-based apprenticeship -- the icing on the cake.

Now, unemployed students are given 16 hours of practicals in college each week without any work-based training.

In two years they are expected to reach industrial standards and in Mr Gaskell's view, the students have no chance.

Two years ago just 8 per cent of his students passed their NVQ and some of those were borderline. The rest were referred.

The difficulty, according to Mr Gaskell, is that the skills demanded of bricklayers require repetitive on-the-job training. Most students fail to get jobs at the end of the course, he says, because employers are not interested in paper qualifications.

The construction industry no longer participates in training, Mr Gaskell claims, because subcontracting has taken over from a more tight-knit building industry.

Mr Gaskell maintains that his intention was to have a go at the system not the college. Adrian Perry, principal of Lambeth College, says he is confident that his staff deliver and assess NVQ programmes with integrity.

Mr Gaskell's case is, he stresses, an issue of apparent unprofessional conduct rather than free speech. For Mr Gaskell did say he knew lecturers were certificating students who were "not really up to the mark".

Indeed, he said he himself had signed students off who "weren't really up to industrial standards". If he had not, he would have simply had a class full of the same students year after year.

Mr Gaskell also said it was easy to pull the wool over external verifiers' eyes. You know when they are coming, he said, and you know what they are looking for.

Mr Perry says: "Many staff applaud the advent of NVQ and become more enthusiastic the more they get involved. Some staff remain unhappy with the new approach; there are crusty conservatives among them but I am sure that a number are genuinely concerned to maintain standards."

Issues around core skills and underpinning knowledge will be better addressed as the system develops, he says. But the notion that results are falsified because of output-related funding is illusory.

"Achievement funding could, at the most, constitute perhaps 6 per cent of the college budget and of this a good half would be assured by students who unambiguously pass and maybe a quarter lost by unambiguous failures and non completers."

The additional income from falsifying NVQ results of those who are below standard but can be squeezed through would come to less than 1 per cent of the college's budget.

To risk such a small dividend for such certain discovery would be mad, says Mr Perry.

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