From education to employment

Exclusive with Lawrence Miles

We”re in our tenth year of operation. [The IVA] was essentially something that we set up because we felt that assessors and verifiers, both internal and external, didn”t really have a voice; we certainly did not have an independent voice. The assessors and verifiers have to make the NVQ system work, and every time there are changes in the political agenda, it is the assessors and verifiers who are at the sharp end.

One of the problems I perceive is with the Train to Gain programme. One of the questions I have raised is to ask: “Who will be the first person to make a million out of Train to Gain?”

That is not going to be of interest to the assessors at the sharp end, who are suddenly going to be faced with large numbers of candidates who left school many years before; who have never achieved any qualification of significance and have a memory of anything to do with education or training as being the equivalent of failure.

Assessors will find that they will have twenty or thirty of this type of candidate, with particular training and assessment needs, thrown onto their caseload. This is without any of the billions that have been allocated to it being put into the consideration of their preparation and resource needs.

Inevitably, when the contracts are accepted by large companies there will be some luckless individuals at the sharp end. These people will have to carry out whatever has been agreed by individuals who were not aware of what the implications could be to saying yes to hundreds or thousands of potential candidates.

It will be a game of statistics.

The whole inspection and external verification regime is not one of advice, support, encouragement, coaching or improvement; it is about faultfinding and blame allocation. In my view of course ““ I may be wholly incorrect in this!

So over the period, things that have proved valuable have been the contact through regional and national/international meetings that we hold, with a great appreciation of the opportunities for networking, and also recognising that there is more than one way of doing it right. This is particularly important for large training centres/college personnel; even departmental personnel within colleges, often have the scales fall from their eyes when they work with others outside of their organisation. They see other ways of doing it, and that can be very encouraging. As well as that we try and provide guidance through our newsletter, on some of the tricky assessment method issues involved in the assessment of vocational qualifications: professional discussion; reducing the amount of unnecessary paperwork that is required of candidates by many awarding bodies and organisations.

Now, there is a blind drive for things to be electronic. The awarding bodies have realised that electronic is cheap, so they are enthusiastic about it. There are web-based systems and software based systems; what they do is turn the assessor from being an assessor into a software administrator. Somebody who lugs around a laptop, asks questions the candidate doesn”t understand, taps it in through the keyboard and then after a series of months, says “You”ve passed”. A lot of candidates in the electronic area don”t really know what they have done and don”t really feel that they have anything tangible to show.

But certainly, it is expanding; it is developing. Some of the really weak aspects of electronic portfolios have been worked on by the providers. They have made them more user friendly. They are still expensive; I know a lot of colleges who have embraced electronic and see it as being sliced-bread incarnate, but they have got a cost to them. Again, it is once more about money.

Our international conferences are a celebration of interesting practice; effective and good practice, which will spur on a lot of members who are looking for ideas, and applaud the successes of those who have been experimental, imaginative and courageous. We do all of this in the face of opposition; none of this is supported by the traditional orthodox stream within assessment and verification. It is something they have to get past; the external verifier, the awarding bodies. If centres do not see that being creative, imaginative and trying new ideas is accepted, then the effect will be that NVQs just go into the buffers; they will become part of history.

The rising generation of young people do not have a great deal of interest in tedious, laborious and time-consuming activity. They want things to be fairly quick and immediately relevant. And NVQs by and large, are incomprehensible. They are incomprehensible to both candidates and employers, and they are a learnt discipline on the part of trainers, assessors and verifiers.

So partly, an assessor finds work by having gone through that translation course, but there is no reason why anything has to be that complicated.

Our look at the continent tends to suggest it has mostly been one-way traffic ““ the Europeans have taken the early examples of the NVQ model and have built on that. I myself have worked with continental centres that have done nothing more than take an NVQ and translate it into their language.

There is huge interest in the NVQ model; if you go to large countries like China, you will see that they have embraced the concept and are doing it on a massive scale, often with the assistance of UK awarding bodies, and personnel. There is interest in it from most of our neighbours on the near continent. The idea itself is a good one; the trouble is the chameleon that is the political education scene.

At the moment, one of the primary targets is the marketing of the post-19 sector. That is somebody’s agenda – you have to ask why? Probably, the reason is you want to reduce the funding of FE, and in order to reduce the funding of FE, you must have some kind of policy that suggests the marketing of the post-19 sector is a good thing.

There is also some interest in offloading low-level work ““ maybe that is what we are looking at with Train to Gain being offered to the multinationals.

Lawrence Miles, Chief Officer, Independent Organisation for Licensed Verifiers and Assessors (IVA).

Related Articles