From education to employment

Exclusive Interview with Lawrence Miles, Chief Officer of the IVA, by Vijay Pattni

A case of life imitating government rhetoric?

Not really, for this institute actually practices without too much preaching. FE News has teamed up with the Independent Organisation for Licensed Verifiers and Assessors (IVA) and will be featuring regular articles from its members to demonstrate the dynamic approach of the organisation. An approach that has already established much of what the Quality Improvement Agency (QIA) has set about doing. We got together with Lawrence Miles, Chief Officer, to find out more about his company.

Looking for a Voice

“There was a general feeling, about ten years ago, that our members didn”t really have a voice,” explains Mr Miles. “The Times Educational Supplement didn”t really devote a huge amount of space to NVQ’s, and there were only limited opportunities to get together. Of course, there was staff development in colleges, but there was never really the opportunity to rub shoulders with like-minded people.”

So, the coming together of individuals singularly focused on improving the standards across NVQ’s and sharing good practice, and the IVA was set up, incorporating countless members who strive to secure a platform where vitality is rewarded. Mr Miles continued: “The IVA provides a point of information and support for members irrespective of the qualification they assess or verify. We promote and disseminate good practice through regional, national and international seminars and workshops. Our members wanted the establishment of a practitioner-led independent body which would keep each other in touch about developing practice.”

How big exactly does the IVA estimate its membership to be? “It’s difficult to calculate. A lot of our membership is corporate, where colleges have enlisted their entire personnel. Of course, we also have individual subscriptions, but it really is quite large to estimate,” answered Mr. Miles.

The Challenges

Phew. The personnel have their unique issues specific to NVQ teaching, some of which do have important repercussions in the administration of the provision. “Because NVQ’s differ from mainstream provision in colleges, there do exist some administrative difficulties. Typically, NVQ folk will keep going through the summer when colleges are closed because they have quite an individual feel to them,” he explained. Addressing the core values of teaching and learning the NVQ, he said: “NVQ’s are really about showing competence in the workplace, so the holidays can be quite a problem.”

But there is more to this tale, for the path of virtuous learning is beset with difficulty. “There is still some difficulty in mapping the technical components, as many of the apprentices will be looking at picking up technical certificates as well as NVQ’s. Also, industry has moved on, and those responsible for staff development in colleges have got to put some kind of resource in releasing staff to do that updating in the workplace.”

The benefits of colleges are clear, as he pointed out: “The great thing about colleges is that they are such a huge resource in the community. If you go to the average town, there will probably be somebody involved with the college. Everyone will have had the FE experience. With NVQ’s, there could be a higher proportion of people who passed up on schools. Therefore, NVQ’s provide them with an opportunity to participate in education, and we get good feedback from candidates who enjoy the study.”

IVA’s Portal

While the QIA trumpet their intention to “improve quality” and set up the “excellent gateway”, the IVA has been quietly and progressively providing such a portal for information since inception. Ten years ago. But even after this, Mr. Miles still sees room for improvement. “One of the difficulties over recent years is that external verifiers have perhaps been taking the audit and inspection side of verification too much, as part of their role is advice and support. This could be a brilliant stimulation of ideas and an injection of enthusiasm,” he said. “Unfortunately, nobody wants to step outside the conservative practice. There isn”t much creative energy, and we do need more revolution because a lot of NVQ practice is very much last century.”

However, the key benefit of the IVA is the most historic principle ever laid down in front of mankind. A principle that have been enshrined in the US constitution, and that is unwritten in ours yet unilateral across the globe: freedom. “I suppose the one thing we wanted to avoid is to be aligned to the regulatory bodies or awarding bodies,” he mused. “But that independence does come at a price because we don”t get any support. However, we get a certain amount of freedom to criticise and make observations that others might be more guarded in making.”

And that is one freedom FE could rightly benefit from.

Many thanks to Lawrence Miles for his time.

Vijay Pattni

Stay here for the monkey’s last word in From the FE Trenches!

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