A common conclusion drawn in international comparisons of vocational education and training (VET) programmes is that the British system falls some way short of the models operating in Germany, France, Scandinavia and elsewhere in Europe (Skilbeck et al., 1994; Avis et al., 1996). Central to such unfavourable comparisons is the particular route of VET reform taken in this country following the establishment of the National Council for Vocational Qualifications (NCVQ) in 1986 (Marks, 1996; Gokulsing et al., 1996).
As long ago as 1989, Jarvis and Prais's comparison of training and qualifications in France and Britain accused the NCVQ approach of being far too 'narrowly job-specific' and warned that the 'exclusion of externally marked written tests of technical knowledge and of general educational subjects' would lead to a 'section of the workforce inhibited in job flexibility, and inhibited in the possibilities of progression' (Jarvis & Prais, 1989, p. 70). Smithers (1993) and Green (1995) have outlined similar critiques based on international comparisons and, more recently, Prais (1995) has pointed to the inadequacy of reforms in the National Vocational Qualification (NVQ) system arguing thatExternal testing of the individual candidate to ensure reliability and marketability of the qualification, breadth of vocational field to promote flexibility, written components of examinations to encourage mastery of general principles--are all now less adequate in Britain following NCVQ reforms than they used to be, and are far from accepted Continental procedures.
Although the NCVQ is now defunct--having been subsumed under the new overarching Qualifications and Curriculum Authority (QCA) in October 1997 (Department for Education and Employment, 1997)--its agenda established through the promotion of NVQs is still very much alive and continues to influence policy and practice. Indeed, at a time when our VET and qualifications system is undergoing radical structural reform following a number of critical...