The broad and varied range of establishments and colleges lead to wide differences in the standards which each expect. These differences appear to have an adverse effect on the perception of NVQs as a qualification. The solution to this problem could well lie in a system of grading of the qualifications. Currently the attitude of many involved in NVQ is that it is a "can do" assessment, either you can cook an omelette to the standard of your establishment or you can't. However, the skills of presentation, greater knowledge, ability to cope with pressure, speed of work and degrees of quality are not adequately accounted for in this approach to competence assessment. Methods of grading could be considered and in the writers view merit further research. Two possible solutions are suggested by the writer. Firstly recognition of students or candidates with better knowledge and creative skill at the craft level or better organisational, analytic and problem solving skills at the supervisory and management levels. Secondly a grading of the NVQ according to quality standards of the establishment. These approach could well encourage the pursuit of excellence, which appears to be lacking from the current assessment and awarding methods.
It can be seen from the results gathered in this study that the general satisfaction with NVQs amongst employers and colleges is high but that this pattern is at odds with retention and completion rates indicated in the research. For example cumulative registrations to 1998 for the most popular NVQ namely Food Preparation and Cooking were 174,551 with only 73,960 having cumulatively achieved the award. Even allowing for those still on the programme this represents a considerable drop out rate. Reasons for this seem to be linked to various factors. HTF research indicates these are mainly industry and job image, long hours of work, poor pay in the industry, excessive paperwork. The calibre of candidates entering the industry is consequently not as high as it might be, many entering further education and training with no qualifications at all. In other European countries entry requirements for vocational qualifications are considerably higher and hospitality and catering is seen much more as a profession than in the U.K.
colleges deliver NVQs in hospitality and catering through combinations of structured theory lessons, workshops, training sessions, work experience and RWE. In Industry the NVQs are generally delivered with little off job training. Skills are acquired through repeated practice often with little formal training structure other than guidance from external assessors. The study has shown that school leavers choose which route to follow based on the need to work and earn a living, the dislike of school, and the desire to get good training. In view of this the two routes can be seen as complimentary, meeting different needs. The perceived strengths and weaknesses identified in the statement of results would seem to suggest that a combination of both approaches in the training and education of vocational candidates would be the most effective approach. How this could be carried out in the UK would require some additional research perhaps investigating the conditions and systems used on the continent which do just that.
This study reflects the view of HMI, HTF and some employers that there is a shortage of partnerships between employers and education providers in certain areas. There is a consequent belief that some colleges are out of touch with the requirements of and are too slow to react to changes in industry. These partnerships could also provide easier access to structured training and IT to candidates in industry. They might also broaden the nature of the delivery in terms of curriculum. A problem in creating these partnerships may lie in competitive relationship that exists between training providers and FE colleges both vying for the same school leavers and tempting them to follow their route. Investigation of how closer co-operation and a clarification of roles between providers and colleges would seem essential if this situation is to be resolved.
Preparation for the NVQ methods of assessment and delivery do not appear to be adequately dealt with in school. There is little evidence that schools teach pupils how to build up portfolios, to action plan or how to participate in "student centred" learning so that in the first year on a NVQ programme many are put off by and unable to cope with this approach. At present schooling does not naturally lead into post 16 education and training especially in the vocational route. Weston and Stradling 1993 suggest that effective change in the process of learning is the key to modernisation and bringing Britain in line with European initiatives. This study suggests that more research would be useful in this area, as would a unified approach by government and educational organisations to the development of skills needed in vocational education and training from an earlier age.