From education to employment

IAV Chairman Says Assessors and Verifiers Need More Support From Politicians

Dr John Capey – Chairman of the Institute of Assessors and Internal Verifiers (IAV) – has told FE News that his members need more support and recognition from politicians and business leaders.

Assessors and internal verifiers play a key role in the delivery of National Vocational Qualifications (NVQs), an essential component in the drive to make the UK economy better skilled and more competitive. Here we take a closer look Britain’s vocational and work-based training system and the work of those responsible for guaranteeing its integrity.

Modern Apprenticeships

Our approach to training in Britain has come a long way since the bad old days of the 18th century. Mercifully, employers like Elizabeth Brownrigg – who was executed at Tyburn in 1767 for torturing several apprentices to death – are a thing of the past. These days young people can”t be used as cheap labour by unscrupulous employers; they can”t be forced to work long hours for low pay; and they certainly can”t be physically abused or maltreated.

While the labour movement and unions were ultimately responsible for the transformation of working conditions in Britain, forward thinking business leaders also played a significant role. Employers like Rowntrees, Cadburys, and Rolls Royce were some of the first to see the value in developing the skills of a workforce for the mutual benefit of employer and employee.

Skills Shortage

While these pioneers did a lot to alter attitudes, the overall picture has taken much longer to change. As recently as the late 1970s millions of young Britons worked in jobs that offered little in the way of training, development, or professional recognition. Many also left school with no formal qualifications and were not equipped with the kind of skills that businesses needed.

This lack of commitment to training and development created a skills shortage that significantly reduced Britain’s capacity to compete in the global market. UK businesses and the national economy suffered as a result, and by the 1980s it became clear that something needed to be done.

The solution was to create a rigid, consistent, and reliable system of vocational training, and to standardise the range of qualifications on offer. After a series of government investigations and consultations in the early 1980s, the National Council for Vocational Qualifications (now the Qualifications and Curriculum Authority) was set up. The first NVQ (at level 2) was awarded in 1988.

A New Form of Assessment

Apprentices work towards NVQs while on the job and are awarded the qualification in recognition of their competence and adherence to performance standards. These kinds of criteria can”t really be evaluated using traditional forms of assessment like exams, so a different and unique system of assessment has had to be devised.

This new system involves assessors (usually employees of the company offering the apprenticeship) continually evaluating the evidence of a candidate’s competence and reporting back to the approved centre that awards the qualification. Because of the close relationship between assessor, candidate and employer, an internal verifier is also appointed by the approved centre to ensure that this job is carried out honestly, fairly, and consistently.

Between them, the assessor and verifier bear all the responsibility for ensuring candidates are assessed correctly. According to Dr Capey, because of this: “the validity, standing and appropriateness of the qualifications is totally reliant on the integrity and the ability of those who perform the assessment task.”

Guaranteeing Professional Standards

The IAV was set up as a professional body to represent assessors and verifiers in 2000. It aims to help with their professional development and ensure that a high standard of professionalism is maintained. “What we”re trying to do is raise the level of the reliability and integrity of every individual practitioner who applies for membership,” says Dr Capey.

To become members, assessors and verifiers have to satisfy a number of rigorous conditions. “This proves to us that they”re well trained, well experienced, competent people who keep themselves up to date,” says Dr Capey. “Therefore we can feel sure that when they”re out there as practitioners they”re worthy of the job they”re doing.”

The IAV aims to promote NVQs, SVQs (Scottish Vocational Qualifications) and other vocational awards at the same time as raising the status of assessment professionals. Dr Capey claims that while most employers have embraced vocational qualifications, there is still resistance from some sectors of the economy. Typically, he says, this resistance comes from areas “where people can get a job without any qualifications and can be lowly paid because of that.”

Supporting Progress

According to Dr Capey, the people who assess NVQs in some sectors of the economy are also frequently at the lower end of the pay scale. Because of this, they are sometimes reluctant to join the institute despite the comparatively low fees. “We”re finding that people who are earning a relatively small amount of money find it difficult to pay any more to become professionally recognised,” he says.

He believes the solution to this problem is for the government, the Confederation of British Industry (CBI) , and awarding bodies to take assessment professionals more seriously. He has been trying to persuade ministers that membership of the IAV needs to be made mandatory: “We actually do need somebody to say, “What you”re doing is right. What you”re doing is worthwhile. What you”re doing is good for the nation, and we will get behind it to help it happen.” And until that happens, it will go very slowly; we will make progress but slow progress.”

The Integrity of NVQs

Dr Capey says that the government have met with him and taken on board some of his ideas, but have so far taken no concrete steps towards supporting the IAV. He anticipates that at some stage the IAV and QCA will come together, but doesn”t know when or how this will happen.

The Tomlinson report recommended that the process of examination and assessment should be made more rigorous across the board. In response to this, the QCA have set up the National Institute of Assessors ““ but this is for school examiners, not NVQ assessors and verifiers. To many people working in further education this will be an all too familiar example of academic qualifications taking priority over vocational ones.

“Training matters; training standards matter, particularly for what I call “the engine house” of the UK economy,” says Dr Capey. “The people who actually do the jobs – rather than the managers and the planners and those sorts of people – unless we get those people properly recognised the engine house of the UK will always be lagging behind.”

There is no doubt in his mind that raising the professional status of his members is a key part of this process. After all, he points out, “The integrity of NVQs is only as good as the integrity of those who assess them.”

Joe Paget

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