Patterns in the delivery and assessment of NVQs in industry and colleges have clearly emerged in this study. Firstly the emphasis in industry appears to be firmly in line with the ethos of competence based assessment. The candidates are assessed on their performance in the working environment. The process is generally quicker than in colleges due to the exposure of candidates to tasks on an ongoing and daily basis. However there are problems in covering the range in certain establishments and appropriate solutions are not always readily available. Training is often limited to the task at hand and the ability of candidates to go on off job training is restricted by pressures of work.
Tuxworth 1989 provides a set of criteria for describing and assessing competency-based programmes:
This study indicates that the criteria 1,and 4 are met in industry but that delivery of 2, 3, 5 and 6 seem to be mainly led by assessment requirements and the action planning and reviews of visiting assessors. Instruction is usually not formalised and in many establishments it is not structured. colleges on the other hand seem to fulfill these criteria but reports from HMI and other findings of the study indicate that current industrial practices are not always sufficiently integrated into the delivery and assessment. For example simulations and practical assessments outside the Realistic Work Environment (RWE) are used more frequently.
The writer has found that the interpretation of competence in the industrial setting has focused on competence to an "establishment standard" which consequently vary considerably. The emphasis on assessment to the standards of the establishment is also an issue that appears to affect standards overall and has been a recurring concern in this dissertation. Both colleges and workplace seem to interpret standards within the guidelines of the NVQ units and qualifications on an individual basis.
"The basis is, measurable standards of performance which are outcomes based and reflect the actual expectations of performance in the work role." (Fletcher 1992)
But the standards of a five star hotel differ considerably to those of a school canteen although the same NVQ qualifications could be awarded in each setting. This can be seen as both a strength and a weakness of NVQ. Candidates and students may believe that the standards set in their situation are appropriate to the industry as a whole. These standards are however loose and may not be appropriate in all settings. Colleges devise standards based on the curriculum which they develop and the nature of their RWE. These are sometimes based on the old City & Guilds standards, which could be seen as outdated and not reflecting current industrial practice.
"Competence is hard to define and is open to interpretation. What, for example, degree of infallibility is required before we accept that someone is really competent? Does the ability to type a letter with acceptable accuracy today mean that the operator concerned will be capable of doing so again tomorrow or next year? "(Needham 1988)
In Industrial settings these problems of reliability can be set against the ongoing and repeated competent performance of tasks to the organisations standards. The reliability of the assessments in colleges, where the practical repetition is less, may on the other hand not always stand up in a workplace. Most of the colleges and trainers view the standards as to some degree a problem although at the same time many compliment the NVQ standards as "excellent" or very good.
The educational value of NVQs and their role in development of the individual, as opposed to merely developing an appropriate workforce, has also emerged as a key issue. The results of the study indicate that employers and colleges are still mainly involved with training to meet industry requirements. An emphasis on an educational process is clearly a major concern in colleges whereas it is seen to have little relevance form the industrial point of view. Responsibility for learning is clearly placed on the candidate in industry. Support is sometimes provided by internal staff responsible for training and by external training providers whose main role is to facilitate and carry out assessments.
The role of lecturers and trainers is usually seen as being to support, to encourage, to guide learning and to observe and assess.
"The role of the teachers and trainers is to facilitate learning, they cannot control the process. Learning is primarily the responsibility of the learner." (Jessup 1992)
The belief that staff need to be more than subject specialists providing flexible learning routes is apparent in some colleges where structures are in place to offer varied delivery strategies. In observations and discussions with educators it is apparent that not all students are prepared or able to control and assume responsibility for their own learning. A key influence upon lecturers' practice appeared to Elliot (1996) to be their orientation towards their students and their commitment to a student-centered style of teaching. This seems to partly reflect the current practices observed by the writer. Elliot's study showed that staff in colleges believed that lecturers and students should work together as co-participants in the educational process. Skills required to take such a responsibility and the concepts of portfolio building, evidence gathering, research and maintaining a diary would seem important for this approach to be effective.
" defenders of liberal education are rude about vocational trainers; and vocational trainers blame the irrelevance of education for our economic and social problems. Young people, unable to succeed within the framework of liberal education, are branded failures and ineducable. Those who succeed in vocational pursuits are denied the status accorded to academic success." (Pring 1995)
Many lecturers and HMI believe in the relevance of learning to the students need, as well as to vocational contexts. Inclusion in the curriculum of opportunities for the development of a questioning, critical and active intelligence in students is seen by them as central to the educational process, incorporating these into vocational qualifications may be a way to improve their academic status.
Although most European educational systems now seem to promote active learning, practical learning, enquiry-based learning, open learning and self supported study, the employment of these approaches is widely constrained in Wales by poor access to computer equipment and restrictions on the time available for individual support. There appears to be a lack of financial resources to purchase equipment and appropriate material especially software packages. Most colleges for example provide access to computers of no more than one hour a week and in most industry placements IT is not currently offered as a key skill.
"Support materials and flexible learning packages should be developed for wider use in the industry - particularly where they can be tailored to individual need. New technology makes this increasingly easy to achieve." (HCTC 1995)
Whilst there is some movement on this, for example trainers are being provided with laptops to enable IT to be carried out in the workplace and some colleges are prioritising the development of IT facilities in this area, it would seem an urgent issue on several levels. Firstly this may be the method to solve problems of paperwork in assessment clearly identified in the survey. Secondly it could lead to improvements in the flexibility in learning and improved standards of training both in industry and at colleges.
The offering of Key Skills is clearly shown to have become widespread with NVQ delivery. This appears appropriate, as they are competence-based assessments. This however means that like the main qualifications themselves the instruction provided can often be an after thought to the assessment design. The views of Pring, Elliot and others that vocational education:
" has missed the point entirely, substituting a narrow form of training for a generous concept of education, transforming learning into the acquisition of measurable behaviours, reducing understanding and knowledge to a list of competences, turning educators into technicians." (Pring 1995)
are not really solved by Key Skills. The writer accepts that there is some validity to this argument but argues that the processes leading to competence assessments can and should involve the acquisition of understanding, evaluative skills and knowledge.
"Educational activities lead to learning outcomes which are regarded as being valuable - qualities of thinking and feeling associated with being an 'educated person' to learn those things which are valued and which constitute a valued form of life." (Pring 1995)
This process is currently subject to the interpretation of the teacher or training provider. One solution may be for nationally recognised teaching/learning packages or activities to be devised which enable the development of other attributes, qualities and knowledge in the students and candidates whilst leading to the Key Skill qualifications. Another might be to develop standards of instructional content or curriculum that must be covered in the process of delivering Key Skills. In the course of this study the announcement in February by the QCA that new Key skills will be in place by September 2000 removing performance criteria and range statements and replacing them will more straightforward generic statements. These developments are designed to assist in the implementation of the Government's "life long learning" campaign and it appears that additional support materials will be available to make key skills more effective.