Uncertain future

March 28, 1997

The future of national vocational qualifications seems to become more uncertain, and contradictory, by the week.

It is uncertain because cases of fraudulently-issued certificates (THES, March 14) draw attention to both the ease with which qualifications reduced to a fragmented set of mechanistic performance indicators can be issued, and the likelihood of abuse in a system of payment by quantity.

It is contradictory in that massive investment by this government in the development of the qualifications makes it difficult for the mess they have become to be recognised, so that while the failings of the system are widely reported, there is speculation that NVQs will become more firmly established through a colonisation of further education.

This is not to say that NVQs are without their uses or value. There is much to be said for a national framework of qualifications which recognises skills in areas conventionally seen as "non-academic", and which take into account prior learning and experience.

But, NVQs have never been related to the provision of learning, and their restriction to workplace training eliminates any possibility of a critical aspect.

Without that space of reflection, NVQs can only replicate past practices, which will not serve industries seeking a future in rapidly evolving markets and technologies. Neither will it support the notion of transferability of skills.

Perhaps, if not in the way this government envisages, a link to further education is one way out of the difficulty.

Through partnerships between colleges and manufacturing, service and cultural industries, it may be that courses leading to nationally recognised and regulated vocational qualifications can contribute to increased creativity and adaptability for people working at all levels, from shop floor to senior management.

This will be so only if the qualifications are gained through courses in which a critical awareness of practice remains an essential element.

This means something like "lifelong learning", not "work-based training".

Malcolm Miles, Former chair, Arts and Entertainment Training Council (1993-95), Hampstead, London

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