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Post-14 Research Group

Curriculum change: General National Vocational Qualifications

Jeremy J S Higham
School of Education, University of Leeds

CONTENTS

 

Abbreviations

1.

General National Vocational Qualifications
1.1 The Principles and Structure of GNVQs
1. The GNVQ Curriculum Model
1.3 The GNVQ Assessment Model
1.4 Responses to the Introduction of GNVQs
1.5 Summary

2.

GNVQs and CURRICULUM IMPLEMENTATION AND CHANGE
2.1 The Implementation of GNVQs
2.2 Curriculum Implementation and Change
2.3 Summary

3.

COURSE TEAM RESPONSES TO GNVQ
3.1 Analysis of Course Team Responses to GNVQ

3.2 The 'Implementation' Approach
3.2.1 Business Intermediate at Stanton College
3.2.2 Business Intermediate at Portland College
3.2.3 Business Advanced at United College
3.2.4 Health & Social Care Intermediate at United College
3.2.5 Health & Social Care Intermediate at Peterson School
3.2.6 Health & Social Care Advanced at Highgate College
3.2.7 Manufacturing Advanced at Meadow VI College
3.2.8 Leisure & Tourism Intermediate at Meadow VI College
3.2.9 Leisure & Tourism Advanced at Peterson School
3.2.10 Leisure & Tourism Intermediate at Highgate College
3.2.11 Summary of Implementation Responses

3.3 The 'Adaptation' Approach
3.3.1 Business Intermediate at City School
3.3.2 Business Advanced at Appletree School
3.3.3 Art & Design Intermediate at Morton College
3.3.4 Art & Design Advanced at Oakland School
3.3.5 Health & Social Care Advanced at Meadow VI College
3.3.6 Summary of Adaptation responses

3.4 The 'Assimilation' Approach
3.4.1 Leisure & Tourism Advanced at Portland College
3.4.2 Manufacturing Advanced at City School
3.4.3 Manufacturing Advanced at Morton College
3.4.4 Manufacturing Intermediate at Oakland School
3.4.5 Art & Design Intermediate at Appletree School
3.4.6 Art & Design Advanced at Stanton College
3.4.7 Summary of Assimilation Responses
3.5 Overall Summary of Course Team Responses

 

 

4.

GNVQ CURRICULUM REALISATION
4.1 GNVQ Curriculum Implementation Reinforcement
4.2 GNVQ Curriculum Design Flexibility
4.3 Local Constraints and Influences
4.4 Summary

5.

GNVQ AND Curriculum innovation

 

Bibliography

 

Tables

 

1. Grading Criteria - Theme 4: Quality of outcomes
2. GNVQ Centres and Courses
3. Categorisation of Course Teams' Responses to the GNVQ Curriculum
4. Form of Course Organisation

ABBREVIATIONS

ACCAC - Awdurdod Cymwysterau, Cwricwlwm ac Asesu Cymru/ Qualifications, Curriculum and Assessment Authority for Wales

FEFC - Further Education Funding Council

A&D - Art and Design

FEU - Further Education Unit

A level - Advanced level

GAD - General Art and Design

AQA - Assessment and Qualifications Alliance

GATE - GNVQs and Access to Higher Education Project

AS level - Advanced Supplementary level

GCE - General Certificate of Education

AVCE - Advanced Vocational Certificate of Education

GCSE - General Certificate of Secondary Education

BTEC - Business and Technology Education Council

GNVQ - General National Vocational Qualification

C&G - City and Guilds of London Institute

H&SC - Health and Social Care

CCEA - Northern Ireland Council for the Curriculum, Examinations and Assessment

HE - Higher Education

CDT - Craft, Design and Technology

HMSO - Her Majesty's Stationery Office

CLAIT - Computer Literacy and Information Technology

IT - (Use of) Information Technology

CPVE - Certificate of Pre-Vocational Education

JCVAB - Joint Council of Vocational Awarding Bodies

CSE - Certificate of Secondary Education

L&T - Leisure and Tourism

DENI - Department of Education Northern Ireland

NEAB - Northern Examinations and Assessment Board

DES - Department of Education and Science

NCVQ - National Council for Vocational Qualifications

DFE - Department for Education

NVQ - National Vocational Qualification

DFEE - Department for Education and Employment

OFSTED - Office for Standards in Education

DoE - Department of Employment

QCA - Qualifications and Curriculum Authority

DVE - Diploma of Vocational Education

RSA - Royal Society of Arts Examinations Board

ERA - Education Reform Act (1988)

SCAA - School Curriculum and Assessment Authority

ESRC - Economic and Social Research Council

TVEI - Technical and Vocational Education Initiative

EV - External Verifier

UCAS - Universities and Colleges Admissions Service

FE - Further Education

VET - Vocational Education and Training

FEDA - Further Education Development Agency

1. General National Vocational Qualifications

The development of General National Vocational Qualifications (GNVQs) offers a productive site for the study of curriculum change, with their mix of national qualification implementation reinforcement features and the flexibility in course design accorded by the GNVQ model to schools and colleges. Vocational areas such as Business and Health & Social Care specified in detail the assessment objectives and criteria across all the requirements of the qualification, but left the design of the course and the associated assignments as well as their assessment to the course provider. Given the onus on institutions in respect of curriculum design and assessment, it is instructive to investigate how different course teams with various histories and traditions in a variety of institutional and geographical contexts have responded to this model of a qualification in their course provision, and to relate the curricular patterns identified to these course contexts and curricular antecedents. These areas of investigation and their implications for the understanding of curriculum implementation and change are the focus of this book which centres round an analysis of data collected for a research project on the GNVQ curriculum funded by the Economic and Social Research Council (ESRC) and undertaken by the Post-14 Research Group at the University of Leeds.

1.1 The Principles and Structure of GNVQs

GNVQs represent a major and sustained attempt by central government to establish a third, general vocational, pathway between the vocationally-specific qualifications epitomised by National Vocational Qualifications (NVQs) and the academic, often subject-based, A level qualification:

we did have a big gap, we had an argument about A levels, about whether they were too academic, too concentrated, etc., etc., etc., etc., we had an argument about NVQs, but then sort of somewhere in the middle seemed to me to be a major weakness. We weren't catering for those youngsters who in practice were going to stay in some kind of training/education up to 18 rather than 16, either voluntarily or because there were no real other options there for them. A levels were by definition not appropriate for them, they weren't designed for that group of the age cohort and we had this loosely described sort of vocational/competence weakness in the system and so the GNVQs really emerged to fill that gap, that was the background. I mean it was rather more complicated than that. (Interview with T. Eggar, former Minister of State, Department for Education)

The policy process related to the emergence of the concept of GNVQs, and the development and introduction of the qualification, heralded in a government white paper in 1991 (DES/DoE/Welsh Office, 1991), was indeed somewhat more complicated. While it is not the purpose of this present work to focus on the origins of GNVQ and the process of policy development (see Sharp, 1997 and 1998, and Raggatt and Williams, 1999 for comprehensive and detailed accounts), it will be important to highlight below a number of the features of this period of development in order to connect the work in schools and colleges with the wider social and political context.

In this white paper, Education and Training for the 21st Century, it was announced that:

'General NVQs should cover broad occupational areas, and offer opportunities to develop the relevant knowledge and understanding and gain an appreciation of how to apply them at work. General NVQs should also:

- offer a broad preparation for employment as well as an accepted route to higher level qualifications, including higher education;

- require the demonstration of a range of skills and the application of knowledge and understanding relevant to the related occupation;

- be of equal standing with academic qualifications at the same level;

- be clearly related to the occupationally specific NVQs, so that young people can progress quickly and effectively from one to the other;

- be sufficiently distinctive from occupationally specific NVQs to ensure that there is no confusion between the two;

- be suitable for use by full-time students in colleges, and, if appropriate in schools, who have limited opportunities to demonstrate competence in the work place.'

(DES/DoE/Welsh Office, 1991, para. 3.8)

In the light of this the National Council for Vocational Qualifications (NCVQ) was asked to develop 'general National Vocational Qualifications' (DES, 1991) and, following consultation (NCVQ, 1992a), in May 1992 NCVQ was able to confirm that a pilot of the qualifications would take place in 100 schools and colleges from September 1992. Initially the qualifications, now designated GNVQs, would be available at levels 2 and 3 of the NVQ framework (NCVQ, 1987), now termed Intermediate and Advanced levels for GNVQ, in 'five broad occupational areas: Leisure & Tourism; Manufacturing; Health & Social Care; Business; Art & Design' (NCVQ, 1992b, p. 2), before becoming more generally available in September 1993. Later level 1 would be added and, by 1996-97, a further ten vocational areas would be offered, though in the event, with the exception of Manufacturing, the original five areas were to remain the most popular.

With the overall structure and specifications designed by NCVQ, these first five GNVQ vocational areas were developed by three awarding bodies: Business and Technology Education Council (BTEC), City and Guilds of London Institute (C&G) and the Royal Society of Arts Examinations Board (RSA). GNVQ was first offered at level 2 which was deemed to be 'equivalent to four to five good GCSEs' and level 3 which was said to be 'equivalent to two A levels' (DES, 1993, p. 2) to schools and colleges from September 1993, with some 40,000 students registering at Intermediate level (level 2) and 34,000 at Advanced level (level 3) in the first year of operation. A further 5,000 students were registered on a pilot programme of Foundation level GNVQs (level 1). By the end of 1995-96, nearly 150,000 students had been awarded GNVQs with over a quarter of a million post-16 students then working on GNVQ programmes (DFEE, 1996). GNVQ thus quickly established itself as a major post-16 qualification route.

Inserted between NVQs and GCE A levels, the distinctive features of GNVQs were their general vocational nature, which was reflected both in the broad areas of vocational activity (as opposed to specific occupations as with NVQs) and the general nature of the 'outcomes' which were not specified as occupational competences but as pre-specified assessment objectives. This point is discussed further later.

With regard to their structure at the time of the GNVQ Curriculum research project data collection (1995-7), GNVQs were organised in terms of units (similar in some ways to the concept of modules at GCE A level). At GNVQ Intermediate level, there were six vocational units, four of which formed a compulsory core (Mandatory Units, common to all awarding bodies) and two of which were selected from a range of options (Optional Units, varying by awarding body). A further three Core Skills units (now termed Key Skills units) had to be successfully completed at level 2: Communication; Application of Number; Information Technology (each common to the three awarding bodies).

An Advanced GNVQ followed a similar pattern to Intermediate GNVQ and had eight mandatory units, four optional units and the same three core skills unit areas but at level 3. The following selection illustrates a sample overall unit pattern for a programme of a student on an Advanced Leisure and Tourism course offered by City and Guilds in 1993-1994.

Advanced Leisure & Tourism GNVQ

Mandatory Units

Unit 1 Investigating the leisure and tourism industry
Unit 2 Maintaining health, safety and security
Unit 3 Providing customer service
Unit 4 Marketing in leisure and tourism
Unit 5 Planning for an event
Unit 6 Providing management information services
Unit 7 Working in teams
Unit 8 Evaluating the performance of facilities

Optional units

Unit 9 Organising an event or service
Unit 13 Investigating international leisure and tourism provision
Unit 14 Running a promotional campaign
Unit 15 Evaluate the impact of leisure facilities and activities

Core Skills Units

Level 3 Unit: Application of Number
Level 3 Unit: Communication
Level 3 Unit: Information Technology

(Source: C&G, 1993, pp. 23-24)

Each of the mandatory and optional units was divided into a number of elements. For example, the elements for Unit 3 above were as follows.

Unit 3: Providing customer service

3.1 Identify the function of customer service in leisure and tourism facilities
3.2 Plan a customer care programme
3.3 Provide customer service
3.4 Evaluate the operation of the customer care programme

(Source: C&G, 1993, p. 23)

Each of these elements was specified in terms of 'performance criteria' which are statements of what a student must be able to achieve. For example:

Element 3.1 Identify the function of customer service in leisure and tourism facilities

Performance criteria:

1 Situations when customer contact or service is commonly needed are correctly identified.
2 The main service needs of different types of customers in the facilities are correctly identified.
3 The likely consequences of good service in the main customer contact/service situations are described.
4 The likely consequences of poor service in the main customer contact/service situations are described.
5 The importance of prioritising customer service needs is described.

For each element a 'range' statement indicated the extent of the areas in which the performance criteria should be met. In the case of the above example:

Range:

Situations: when customer contact is expected (e.g. with reception staff), when customer contact is not expected (e.g. with maintenance staff); face-to-face, telephone, written

Customers: satisfied, dissatisfied; internal, external; different age groups; those with special needs; different cultural groups; individuals, groups

Consequences for: the facility; staff; customers.

Possible products of student work were suggested by 'Evidence Indicators'. Those relating to the present example are:

Evidence indicators:

A report on customer service in two contrasting facilities providing on-going services in different contexts, to incorporate an awareness of the service needs and expectations of different types of customers.

Evidence should demonstrate understanding of the implications of the range dimensions in relation to the element. The unit test will confirm the candidate's coverage of range.

(Source: C&G, 1993, p. 29)

Where a GNVQ centre, i.e. a school or college approved to offer GNVQ qualifications, offered a range of optional units a student might have the possibility of choosing optional units to reflect his or her own interests or desired specialism. In the case of Advanced Leisure and Tourism, a student might perhaps wish to select units that lie more on the tourism side than the leisure side, or might prefer to focus more specifically on outdoor activities and sports. Thus decisions regarding the provision of optional units gave course teams and, potentially, students the opportunity to tailor the curriculum to their particular requirements. One third of the vocational units in the GNVQ curriculum can be determined locally since of the six units at GNVQ Intermediate Level, four are mandatory and two are optional, and of the twelve units at GNVQ Advanced Level, eight are mandatory and four are optional.

Students could also take additional units to supplement their GNVQ award. Like the optional units, these additional units differ according to the awarding body. The additional units might be further optional units in the vocational area, units from another vocational area, non-compulsory core skills units (Working with others; Improving own learning & performance; Problem solving), or self-standing NVQ units or foreign language units. Students could also undertake an additional qualification such as an A level or Advanced Supplementary (AS) level.

The core skills units fall into two categories: those which are compulsory as indicated above, and those which are non-compulsory and which would therefore serve as additional units: 'Working with others'; 'Improving own learning & performance'; 'Problem solving'. It should be noted that the core skills units are now referred to as key skills units though, as the GNVQ Curriculum project data collection took place before they were re-designated 'key skills' following the Dearing Report, they are referred to here by the original term of core skills.

In order to be awarded a GNVQ qualification, a student had to complete all the mandatory, optional and core skills units by meeting all the performance criteria in each unit.

All unit work submitted for the GNVQ took the form of course work prepared by the student and assessed by his or her tutor. This work was then checked and moderated in a process of internal and then external verification. Only tutors who had passed NCVQ-specified assessor units could be Internal Verifiers. External Verifiers were employed by the relevant awarding body to safeguard national standards.

The system of grading, that is awarding a Merit or Distinction grade rather than a Pass, was dependent on the student meeting additional and different criteria. One feature of the GNVQ was that since these grading criteria (organised by grading themes) were not related to the content of the unit but to the student's ability to plan, organise and evaluate their work, they did not reflect the quality of the work assessed against the performance criteria outcomes, which could only be judged on a Pass/Fail basis.

Nearly all mandatory units, but not core skills nor optional units, had associated tests which were designed to confirm that the student had covered the range of knowledge content of the unit. These were multiple choice tests with a pass mark of 70% (originally 80%).

While the GNVQ specifications outlined above indicated in detail the performance criteria against which students were to be assessed, it should be noted that 'Institutions will be free to devise their own programmes of learning to suit their circumstances and resources within the parameters laid down by the awarding bodies.' (NCVQ, 1992b, p. 5). This key point is discussed further below.

1.2 The GNVQ Curriculum Model

Although the various structural features of GNVQ have been outlined, one might well query just how distinctive the GNVQ model is in curriculum terms and, if so, what the essential defining features might be. In this respect many commentators have been clear that, whereas NVQs are occupationally specific work-based qualifications for employees, GNVQs are based on broader employment sectors with only optional work experience and are designed for students in schools and colleges. Equally there has been little confusion regarding the fact that GNVQ awards, unlike NVQs, all share the same unit structure, include core skills units, are graded, and are only offered in a limited number of vocational areas by three awarding bodies (FEU, 1993). Nevertheless, as has been noted, in some quarters there has been a lack of clarity regarding the distinctiveness of GNVQs from NVQs in terms of the way that the content of the two qualifications is specified and assessed. This is hardly surprising, for apart from their common 'stable' in NCVQ (now the Qualifications and Curriculum Authority), their joint proponent in Gilbert Jessup (Director of Research and Development at NCVQ and later Deputy Chief Executive) and the similarity of the two qualification titles (GNVQs even being announced as general NVQs), GNVQs and NVQs are both qualifications designated at a particular level of the NVQ framework and are both broken-down into units and elements with specification of assessment requirements in terms of 'performance criteria' to be achieved across a breadth of areas indicated by 'range' statements.

Nonetheless, while the GNVQs are derived from the NVQ model, form part of the same framework of qualifications and share a number of common features and labels, NCVQ made it clear from the outset that GNVQs would specify the 'skills, knowledge and understanding' to be achieved in the form of outcomes set out in a ' statement of achievement ', and that this was different in nature to the NVQ 'statement of competence' (original emphasis) (all NCVQ, 1992b, p. 3). These latter statements are derived from the functional analysis of successful performance in an occupation and are assessed against a series of occupational standards, the achievement of which being taken to infer competence in a particular function or occupation (Levy, 1995). (For a discussion of issues in competence-based education and training, see Hodkinson and Issitt, 1995. For a review of research in this area, see Bates, 1998a)

However, the fact that the two types of statement have been covered by the single term 'performance criteria' has clearly not assisted the appreciation of this key difference. Sharp notes that this distinction and the associated assessment issues (see Wolf, 1993, for a discussion of technical issues in a criterion-referenced assessment) which would later prove so 'controversial and intractable' (Sharp, 1997, p. 21) were the source of debate and difference both in the preparation of the GNVQ consultation paper and in the consultation itself.

In terms of the relationship of GNVQs to other qualifications, a detailed consideration of the prescription of content for a selection of A levels, BTEC Nationals and Advanced GNVQs has been undertaken by Bloomer (1997). Even within A levels Bloomer identified a wide range of approaches to the specification of content, although he only considered a limited number of syllabuses. He found significant differences between the form of content specification in syllabuses, not only from subject to subject but from board to board within subject areas, and even within subject options offered by the same board. In terms of the three main dimensions analysed: lower order to higher order knowledge; extent of use and application of knowledge; theoretical to practical knowledge, Bloomer found that the variability was such that he was led to question the concept of A level as deserving of a coherent identity. With regard to BTEC Nationals, he concluded that the 'clear impression to be gained from BTEC National course prescriptions is one of minimal variation between courses in respect of the skill and knowledge forms concerned' (p. 51) but that BTEC failed both to differentiate between theory-practice relationships and to specify content in a non-ambiguous way. As for GNVQs, Bloomer found that 'the knowledge base of GNVQ is more tightly specified than that of BTEC while one of the most striking differences is the GNVQ emphasis upon 'outcomes' in contrast with the BTEC-style processes.' (p. 62).

An analysis of the 'outcomes' to be assessed, as represented by the performance criteria for the first version of GNVQ (referred to here as GNVQ Mark I), reveals that the type of outcome varies from those requiring the provision of information to those based on analysis and explanation, and from those requiring description to those based on observed performance of a task (though the latter is less common). Equally for the second version of GNVQ (Mark II) which is the focus of this book, the outcomes required in the form of evidence indicators or specified tasks for assessment take a variety of different forms from reports to presentations, from summaries of knowledge content to simulated tasks (again less common). Given the eclectic range of types of these pre-specified assessment objectives and tasks in GNVQs, often selected for pragmatic and diverse reasons (Bloomer, 1997), it is perhaps not surprising that Jessup and a range of other commentators and researchers have resorted to the use of this designation of 'outcomes' to denominate the basis for curriculum definition. In emphasising the outcomes based nature of both GNVQs and NVQs, Jessup stated that 'GNVQs provide an example of the outcomes model being delivered in an educational context' (Jessup, 1995b, p. 41), defining an outcome as the 'assessment of curriculum objectives' (Jessup, 1995a, p. 8). This distinction between objectives and learning outcomes is also made by Burke who defines an 'outcome' as 'the projected realisation' of an objective (Burke, 1995a, p. 56).

In these terms Jessup, with regard to the original version of GNVQ, saw the 'outcomes' as being the performance criteria, the achievement of which was to be assessed through tasks such as those in the suggested Evidence Indicators: 'Students can demonstrate a range of outcomes, integrated within substantial assignments' (Jessup 1995b, p. 44). As seen above, in the second version of GNVQ, the one with which this book is concerned, the Evidence Indicators take on a more significant role in that a student completing these assessment tasks successfully is deemed to have met all the performance criteria. Indeed, though this shift may be seen to undermine one of the key features of the model, that of assessing against pre-specified learning outcomes rather than making inferences or assumptions about them, Jessup has indicated that the encouragement of these 'more holistic assignments' (Jessup, 1995a, p. 11) is acceptable as long as 'the principle of students needing to demonstrate the outcomes agreed for the qualification' (p.11) is maintained. However, this is an uneasy compromise and the use of the catch-all term of 'outcome', while appealing as a category permitting joint discussions of GNVQs and NVQs, is itself so wide as to cover a range of different approaches. Levy in noting that the term 'outcomes' is used in the literature with a range of diverse meanings suggests that 'there may be an incorrect assumption of a community of judgement which in fact covers up quite important differences' (Levy, 1995, p. 237). The designation of approaches as 'outcomes-based' can be seen to range from the superficial re-expression of existing curricula in the form of learning outcomes to be achieved by students, through the 'mastery learning' concept of hierarchical and closely specified assessment objectives, to the transformational approach to schooling where the specification of curricula, assessment of student achievement, monitoring of institutional performance and distribution of resources are all related to a set of outcomes (for a discussion, see Brady, 1996).

Learning outcomes themselves, like learning objectives, may of course be of a wide variety, in terms of their nature, expression and specificity. The use of the term 'outcomes' does not thus assist in the understanding of the nature of GNVQ and has served to spawn confusion with competence-based approaches. Even Jessup himself, though keen to differentiate the distinctiveness of GNVQs and NVQs to assist public, employer and higher education understanding, has not always assisted the clarity of the situation in his principled justifications for the general approaches of the NCVQ 'outcomes-based' model of qualifications in which he includes and discusses both GNVQs and NVQs. Wolf, on the other hand, in her study of competence issues in training, and in particular of the NVQ competence model, is clear that GNVQs 'are not, in spite of their name, competence-based awards in any recognizable sense. They are vocationally oriented but otherwise fully integrated into conventional patterns of delivery and assessment.' (Wolf, 1995, pp. 28-29)

It is not hard to see the case Wolf is making in the first part of this statement, for although there are indeed some performance criteria and evidence indicators with a clear behavioural orientation focused on competence in the employment sector in GNVQ, any such examples are relatively few and far between and may easily be met by students taking part in simulated events. The 'outcomes' of GNVQ would appear not to be derived from a functional analysis of performance in an occupation, nor indeed from any systematic theoretical perspective, but, as seen above, to be a range of types of pre-specified learning outcomes which, in GNVQ Mark II, can be substituted by a variety of pre-specified tasks which students have to be able to complete in order to pass the qualification.

The second part of Wolf's statement is more contentious, especially regarding the assessment model, and it is to this that the discussion turns next, as while it may not be possible to discern a coherent underpinning rationale for the diverse nature and wide range of the outcomes specified in GNVQ, a more systematic and rationalised approach can perhaps be seen in the mode of overall assessment of the qualification.

1.3 The GNVQ Assessment Model

One of the main critics of the approach to assessment in GNVQ has been Smithers who maintained that GNVQs have no syllabus and that this was a significant and structural weakness in the model (Smithers, 1997). Jessup would agree with Smithers that GNVQs have no syllabus of the traditional type, yet while Smithers has criticised GNVQs, in contrast to A levels, for their lack of syllabus and thus lack of prescribed learning content, Jessup would claim that the approach of 'outcomes not syllabuses' (1995a, p. 9) means that in a curriculum such as that of GNVQ which is specified in outcomes, there is no distinction, and therefore no disparity, between the learning objectives and the assessment criteria. Thus, the argument goes, whereas GNVQs do specify all the learning objectives, in 'most courses and qualifications there is miss-match (sic) between the curriculum objectives set for learning and the assessment regime that measures achievement' (Jessup, 1995a, p. 8). Jessup has argued that the assessment sampling of the syllabus leads to a narrowed focus on those elements known to be assessed and that the only rational way to approach the design of a curriculum is to ensure coverage, through full assessment of all areas with tasks and assessment criteria known in advance.

This approach to assessment which might be considered to be one of the distinctive features of GNVQ, has been termed 'comprehensive assessment' by Jessup. In this the student must not only achieve all of the pre-specified outcomes of whatever sort (Jessup, 1995a, p. 10) without sampling of the content for assessment but not be permitted compensation of inadequate achievement in one area by higher achievement in another, thus ensuring full curriculum coverage and a minimum standard in all areas. In some respects this is a parallel to the so-called 'mastery learning' approach. This concept in competence terms is meant to indicate that all aspects of the pre-defined outcomes must be achieved in order for the qualification to be awarded and that the assessment of outcome is assessed on a 'pass'/'not yet competent' basis. However, as Oates (1997) suggests, the importation of this general concept from NVQs to GNVQs has not been a straightforward transfer in that the mastery model of assessment has not survived in a pure form and has suffered some diminution in terms of the existence of grading levels (with a judgement being made on only one third of the portfolio evidence), unit tests (with only 70% required to pass) and the general nature of the outcomes required by the GNVQ specifications. One could go further and make the point that the unit tests do not always cover all mandatory units and are not applicable to the optional and core skills units which form a substantial part of the qualification. Furthermore, the original GNVQ model has now been modified in that the Evidence Indicators which have supplanted the need to assess against individual performance criteria do not always require coverage of entire range. Nonetheless, while it is clear that the model of GNVQ assessment is not a pure mastery model in NVQ terms, and arguably never was, this general concept of 'comprehensive assessment' has some applicability with regard to GNVQ for, in order to pass the GNVQ qualification students are assessed upon and must complete successfully all aspects of all units.

One of the criticisms levelled at comprehensive assessment as found in GNVQ is that it entails substantial bureaucracy and work by the teacher who is involved in the assessment of all aspects of the 'syllabus'. Jessup's view on this is that it is a valid point but that it is no more work than all the formative marking and final assessment in a traditional course such as A level. He considers associated workload complaints to be an understandable response from teachers who are used to a traditional models of courses in which 'activities carried for assessment are different to and separate from those for the purpose of learning' (Jessup, 1995a, p. 10).

As indicated above, this approach to assessment may be contrasted with that of a traditional pre-16 or post-16 academic qualification. Tomlinson (1981), commenting on Scriven's categorisation of the levels at which objectives may be set: into conceptual (abstract description of the area to be covered), manifestational (sorts of performance to be sampled) and operational (specification of the precise assessment task), has noted that the syllabus for a qualification such as A level may be presented using a combination of both conceptual and manifestational level objectives. In contrast it can be seen that in GNVQ Mark II the Evidence Indicators may be said to be situated at the level of 'operational objectives'. However, although assessment tasks may not be specified at this level in a terminally examined syllabus, the GCSE or A level student and teacher might well be keen to gain access to examples of assessment such as past examination papers to attempt to discern the hidden operational objectives.

It may be helpful at this juncture to consider the assessment approach of a standard academic course such as GCSE which is deemed to have an approximately equivalent level to Intermediate GNVQ. It can be seen that in GCSE French, for example, teachers preparing candidates for assessment on the National Curriculum 'attainment target' of Writing are informed in advance by the Northern Examinations and Assessment Board syllabus (NEAB, 1999) that their students will be assessed against certain pre-specified objectives (e.g. 'to write on past, present and future events, expressing their personal opinions' (p. 11)) across a given range of areas (e.g. 'School'; 'Home Life'; 'Tourism'; 'Careers and Employment') in a prescribed task (e.g. a letter in the target language of approximately 90 words). Here, the equivalents of the 'performance indicators', the 'range' statement and the 'evidence indicators' can be seen. Apart from the vocational nature and contexts of GNVQ tasks, the difference is that whereas in GNVQ the candidate is required to show evidence of achievement of the pre-specified objectives or equivalent tasks across the full range of areas covered by the qualification, GCSE candidates are tested against the pre-specified objectives in only a limited, but unknown, sample of areas (and may benefit from compensation). Indeed a candidate following the course-work option in French is additionally asked to select in advance not only the sample of areas in which the pre-specified objectives and prescribed tasks will be assessed, but the actual tasks within these sampled areas to be accomplished. The written element of the GCSE French syllabus is therefore open to criticism in Jessup's terms in that the content is sampled for assessment leaving whole areas unassessed, and even, especially in the case of the course-work option, potentially untaught. Thus, while in theory an unseen examination assessing potentially any objective of the syllabus should be sufficient both to ensure full curriculum coverage and to infer similar attainment levels in those aspects of the syllabus left unassessed, the structure of the means of examination together with human nature and the principle of compensation may well result in selective coverage as well as inadequate attainment in some areas (both assessed and left non-assessed). However, it is not the present purpose to enter into a discussion of the technical aspects of assessment, such as validity and reliability. In terms of the present study, the key point is that the GNVQ assessment model attempts to ensure that pre-specified tasks are successfully completed for all aspects of the qualification, and it is to the implications of this for curriculum design that the chapter turns next.

One of the consequences of the GNVQ approach to the specification of curricular content is that schools and colleges are left to devise their own courses, though often with guidance and support from the awarding body. Indeed Jessup has claimed that 'Courses are deliberately not prescribed because GNVQs also recognise the need for flexibility to allow school and colleges to make the best use of their local circumstances.' (Jessup, 1995b, p. 43). Elsewhere, in arguing that unit-based qualifications have a number of advantages over traditional linear models in terms of their flexibility for credit accumulation, credit transfer and part-certification, Jessup has claimed that:

'Although this (the unit-based model) tends to lead to modular delivery, this is by no means universal practice. Units can be, and in many current courses are being, integrated in various ways in larger activities extending over several months. This is a perfectly legitimate means of delivering GNVQs. The crucial point to note is that GNVQ (or NVQ) units are units of assessment , not units of instruction. The 'content and processes' which are assessed by elements and units to build towards a final qualification may be learnt in any effective way' (ibid. pp. 42-43).

In the light of such comments, Spours has argued that 'Structures of delivery are regarded as a second order issue and the responsibility of the institution. The effect has been to produce an enormous variability of approaches to GNVQ, and confusion about course design and resourcing amongst a wide range of institutions.' (Spours, 1995, p. 17), citing two early reports based on surveys in the first year of GNVQ (Office for Standards in Education (OFSTED), 1994 and FEU/Institute of Education/Nuffield Foundation, 1994).

Burke sees this situation somewhat differently and, citing Stenhouse's work promoting teacher development through curriculum development, states that this perspective 'sits comfortably alongside the Outcomes approach, which fully recognises the professionalism of the teacher' (Burke, 1995a, p. 75). However, Jessup in underlining the flexibility of course design and provision potentially available to GNVQ centres and tutors, acknowledges that the 'outcome-based model of qualifications chosen for GNVQs relies heavily on assessment methodology to shape the content and modes of learning' (Jessup, 1993, p. 136) (see also Ross, 2000) and Bates and Dutson argue, in the context of an NVQ programme, that:

'the standards approach tends to short-circuit the involvement of the central actors - teachers, trainers, assessors - in the process of making policy and transforming vocational training. Furthermore, it fails to fully utilise their considerable expertise in and commitment to working upon the obstacles to high-quality training. It is consequently all the more open to creative invention as it passes through the terrains which they control.' (Bates and Dutson, 1995, p. 57)

These points will be taken up in the review of research on GNVQs and other curriculum models in the next chapter, and during the discussion of the analysis of data from the GNVQ Curriculum research project.

1.4 Responses to the Introduction of GNVQs

Following the pilot in 1992-93 and the early experience of the first GNVQ courses from September 1993, there were a series of public criticisms of GNVQs. One of the main sets of criticism has been led by Smithers who has consistently engaged in a critique of GNVQs (and also NVQs), often conducting the debate in a high profile way, for example through newspaper articles and television (Smithers, 1993). While not always clarifying the distinctions between GNVQ and NVQ, in a Channel 4 Dispatches programme Smithers put forward a series of criticisms of the NCVQ model of outcome driven qualifications, relating essentially to what he saw as a behavioural competence model, a lack of syllabus and specified content, over-reliance on tutor-assessed work and bureaucratic, unfamiliar procedures. Smithers concluded in the associated report by calling for the drawing up of syllabuses in the short term and the reconstitution and total reformulation of GNVQs and NVQs by September 1996. The report met with an angry response from NCVQ which dismissed it as 'damagingly inaccurate' in a 36-point public statement refuting both the allegations and the basis on which they had been drawn up, claiming that 'polemic (was) represented as fact and unrepresentative perceptions (were) presented as if they were widely held' (Targett, 1994. p. 3). Nonetheless, whilst there was little other public reaction from national bodies, the programme and report had fuelled public disquiet.

Other official views of the emerging picture of the introduction of GNVQs in schools and colleges in the pilot stage came from the Employment Department in Introducing GNVQs into Schools and Colleges (Employment Department, 1992) and OFSTED in GNVQs in Schools: The introduction of General National Vocational Qualifications 1992 (OFSTED, 1993). For example, in contrast to the tone of Smithers report, OFSTED found that the 'introduction of GNVQs has been much welcomed by senior staff, teachers and students in schools' (p. 2) and praised the quality of teaching and learning. In general, Advanced level courses were found to be satisfactory though doubts were expressed about Intermediate level. However, a series of recommendations were made by OFSTED regarding guidance to schools in respect of the management of portfolio work, the allocation of course time, provision of the core skills and pastoral support of students, and further action was required in various areas of the assessment procedures: grading criteria; external verification; external tests; guidance and training (p. 5).

In March 1994, in response to these concerns, the then Minister for Further and Higher Education, Tim Boswell, asked NCVQ to focus on the development of GNVQs in the following six areas:

- improve the external testing regime;

- provide more training for external verifiers;

- clarify the grading criteria;

- clarify the knowledge needed for a GNVQ;

- provide clearer guidance for teachers; and

- tighten procedures for accrediting schools and colleges offering GNVQs.

(DES, 1994, p. 3)

One year later NCVQ put forward the measures taken in response. A new 'Quality Framework' document offering detailed guidance on the quality assurance of GNVQ was published (NCVQ, 1995a) and this was accompanied by a series of revisions to the assessment of GNVQs designed 'to reduce the burden on teachers and students, making assessment and grading more consistent and the sampling of work by verifiers more rigorous and effective' (NCVQ/JCVAB, 1995, p. 1). These revisions applied to all GNVQs from September, 1995 and it was therefore with this GNVQ Mark II version that all course teams in the GNVQ Curriculum research project were working.

One of the main changes in the revised version was the reformulation of the specifications for the units. For example, the mandatory units for Advanced Leisure and Tourism were in many cases completely rewritten with different titles and elements, and the others were subject to significant changes of emphasis in the redrafted version. The revised element equivalent to the element outlined above for GNVQ Mark I is given below. It can clearly be seen that the phrasing of the performance criteria has shifted to a more user-friendly form, stating what the student must be able to do rather than expressing a similar requirement in the passive tense.

Element 6. 1: Investigate customer service in leisure and tourism

Performance criteria:

A student must:

1 explain the types and components of customer service in leisure and tourism organisations

2 explain the importance of customer service in leisure and tourism organisations

3 explain, with examples, the importance of effective communication in the provision of customer service

4 describe the types of customers in leisure and tourism organisations

5 carry out an investigation into selected leisure and tourism organisations and summarise the findings.

(Source: NCVQ, 1995c, p. 46) (original emphasis)

The other major change was the revision of the potential function of the Evidence Indicators. These were also rewritten and supplemented with 'amplification' and 'guidance' sections, and could now serve as the sole requirement for evidence for assessment. In other words a tutor or student could be confident that in meeting the new Evidence Indicator requirements their work would cover all the necessary performance criteria. The Evidence Indicators for the example element are given below and illustrate the greater specification of detail for the work required of the student.

Evidence Indicators

A brief report outlining in general terms the theory underlying effective customer service in leisure and tourism organisations. The report should explain the types and components of customer service, its importance in leisure and tourism organisations and the importance, with examples, of effective communication in the provision of customer service. Sufficient examples should be given to ensure broad coverage of all the categories listed in the range 'Importance of effective communication'. The report should also describe different types of leisure and tourism customers.

A summary of findings based on an in-depth investigation of two selected leisure and tourism organisations. One organisation should be from the leisure and recreation industry, and the other from the travel and tourism industry. The findings should cover the types and components of their customer service in these organisations, the types of their customers and the effectiveness of communication used by them to support customer service.

(Source: NCVQ, 1995c, p. 46)

Other revisions were apparently more procedural in nature, for example the arrangement of the grading themes under two categories: Process (Theme 1: Planning; Theme 2: Information seeking and information handling; Theme 3: Evaluation) and Quality of Outcomes (Quality of outcomes). The effect of this adjustment did however serve to bring into greater prominence the importance of the quality of the student's work in the vocational area. By way of illustration, the grading criteria for Theme 4: Quality of outcomes are given in Table One.

 

Merit

Distinction

Synthesis

Student's work demonstrates an effective synthesis of knowledge, skills and understanding in response to discrete tasks.

Student's work demonstrates an effective synthesis of knowledge, skills and understanding in response to complex tasks.

Command of 'language'*

Student's work demonstrates an effective command of the 'language' of the GNVQ area at Advanced level.

Student's work demonstrates a fluent command of the 'language' of the GNVQ area at Advanced level.

*'language' refers to the concepts, forms of expression and presentation used within the GNVQ vocational area or discipline. (NCVQ Note)

(Source: NCVQ, 1995b, p. 28)

Table One Grading Criteria - Theme 4: Quality of outcomes

However, while these revisions removed many of the concerns surrounding the unfamiliar performance criteria and went some way to meeting more general concerns about GNVQs, criticisms of the new qualification multiplied as more students in more institutions enrolled on GNVQ courses and as further studies were carried out and published. Some were focussed at the national policy level (see for example, Gleeson and Hodkinson, 1995), others drew attention to the bureaucratic and complex nature of the assessment demands made by GNVQ (Spours, 1997).

A second report by OFSTED (1994) based on the academic year 1993-94, before the revisions brought about by the Boswell six-point plan had been brought into effect, again highlighted a number of positive aspects, especially in respect of Advanced GNVQ, but equally urged action on a range of national assessment issues including the clarity and scope of unit specification; simplification of grading criteria; provision of material to exemplify standards; extension of the role of the external verifier; improvement of external tests. With respect to further education colleges, the Further Education Funding Council (FEFC) reported on a similar range of concerns, concluding there was 'much confusion surrounding the standard of work expected' (FEFC, 1994a, p. 22).

In terms of the core skill units, both FEFC (1994a) and OFSTED (1994) expressed criticism that core skills were not being developed and assessed in a vocational context, and the interim report of a detailed national survey of GNVQ provision and enrolment patterns led by Wolf found that approaches to the teaching of core skills were 'extremely variable' (FEU/Institute of Education/Nuffield Foundation, 1994, p. 7).

In response to this continuing sequence of critical reports and adverse findings, a review of GNVQ assessment was commissioned by NCVQ and led by Dr John Capey of Exeter College. The review took evidence from a range of organisations and individuals concerned with GNVQ though its terms of reference were limited to issues internal to GNVQ and focused more on the practical assessment procedures than on more fundamental matters such as concerns regarding non-completion rates which had led both the Association for Colleges and the Joint Council of Vocational Awarding Bodies to call for an investigation into the reasons for the apparent high non-completion rates at Advanced level (Sutcliffe and Blackburne, 1995, p. 1).

When the Capey report was published by NCVQ in November 1995, it gave a broad and warm endorsement to GNVQs:

'The review group was impressed by the positive attitude of students and teachers towards the GNVQ's philosophy and structure' (NCVQ, 1995b, p. 2).

'The review group was unanimous in supporting the GNVQ model in which outcomes are clearly specified and the teachers' task is to provide learning opportunities through which the student provides evidence of outcomes' (NCVQ, 1995b. p. 22).

At the same time the group had no doubt about the need to simplify the assessment and recording demands of the qualification, making a series of recommendations in respect of manageability of assessment, grading of portfolios, unit tests. These recommendations which were subsequently confirmed in the School Curriculum and Assessment Authority (SCAA) review of 16-19 qualifications through the Dearing Report (SCAA, 1996). A sum of 10 million was set aside by DFEE for GNVQ support and development, and a revised GNVQ was subsequently put forward by the Qualifications and Curriculum Authority (QCA), a new body which had been formed from the merger of NCVQ and SCAA. This version of GNVQ was piloted in four vocational areas from September 1997 and the essential changes to the format of the qualification were: a move to assessment based units rather than elements; greater clarity regarding the learning content of units, addressed to the student; grading criteria reduced to 'learning skills' and 'quality of outcomes' and contextualised for application to each vocational unit, with a cumulative system of points to determine the overall grade; a reduction in the number of external tests (four at Advanced level and two at Intermediate level) which now use open-ended questions and count towards the final grading; the introduction of externally set assignments for internal marking and external moderation; revised Key Skills units with set assignments and a separate Application of Number test; and, a new external moderation system. (Source: QCA, 1997) It should be noted that as the data collection for the GNVQ Curriculum research project was completed in the summer before the introduction of the pilot, all course teams were working with the same, second version, of GNVQ, though one team was involved in the pre-piloting of some individual units.

Concurrent with pilot of the revised GNVQ model, and therefore before the introduction of GNVQ Mark III, some criticisms of GNVQ continued to emerge in the official findings of work on the second version. FEFC in a second report (FEFC, 1995), concentrating on the issues raised in its report the previous year, was able to provide a positive overall picture though it found that a number of 'serious problems' remained, recommending action in respect of: the assessment system; documentation and guidance on assessment and curricula; staff development; external tests; the development and assessment of core skills; internal verification; external verification; completion rates; documentation on retention, completion and progression rates. With respect to GNVQs in schools, OFSTED, in a detailed examination of assessment issues, found substantial evidence to support the need to take forward the recommendations of the Capey Report. OFSTED thus repeated and clarified assessment, grading, moderation, and verification concerns expressed earlier, again outlining positive aspects but expressing further concerns on the assessment of core skills (OFSTED, 1996).

In further general reports on GNVQs in school sixth forms (OFSTED, 1997 and 1998), inspectors found a much more positive picture emerging in terms of the standard of students' work especially at Advanced level: 'Using value-added analysis, HMI conclude that more than three-quarters of the students whose work was inspected has achieved more in GNVQ that they might reasonably have been expected to do if they had studied GCE A-levels' (OFSTED, 1997, p. 3). It was nonetheless noted that problems with assessment still persisted in the absence of the introduction of the revised GNVQ (Mark III).

During this period NCVQ was also coming under severe criticism in respect of NVQs, in particular regarding the competence-based model of assessment. As with GNVQs, this situation led to a number of national reviews and reports (FEFC, 1994b; Prais, 1995; Beaumont, 1996; Marks, 1996). It should be noted that, while GNVQs were slowly moving further towards A level and even further away from NVQ in their assessment model, many, though not all, of the concerns being expressed in respect of NVQ had parallels in GNVQ.

The shared features, common governance and general resemblance between NVQs and GNVQs, together with a tendency by some commentators to direct criticism at the NVQ Framework and in a general way at NCVQ (which governed both qualifications), led to a situation in which it was not always clear whether the criticisms were meant to be applicable to GNVQ or to NVQ, or to the two different qualifications at the same time (see for example: Marks, 1996; Smithers, 1993). This general association of GNVQs with NVQs together with the blurring by some academic and media commentators of similar but distinct criticisms resulted in a widening of the scope of critical comment.

In March 1999, after some delay, due firstly to concerns about the ability of schools and colleges to cope with the projected timetable of reforms, and later to a widespread consultation on 16-19 qualifications by the incoming Labour government (DFEE/Welsh Office/DENI, 1997), the GNVQ reforms anticipated following the Dearing and Capey reviews and subsequent piloting took shape. A third version of the GNVQ was thus developed for introduction from September 2000.

1.5 Summary

This consideration of the nature of GNVQ has highlighted the essential distinctions between NVQs and GNVQs. Despite a number of similar features, including common labels for some aspects of the two qualifications, they are clearly distinctive with NVQs being outcome-based and occupationally-specific qualifications for employees to gain in their workplace, and GNVQs being broader and more general vocational qualifications for school and college students. As seen above, the Mark II GNVQ model of assessment is based on a set of pre-specified tasks, at the level of Scriven's operational objectives. It is these and the associated set of specifications that dictate the 'syllabus' to be covered and respond to Jessup's desire for 'comprehensive assessment'. In other words the assessment based on the GNVQ specifications seeks to ensure coverage of the prescribed curriculum and a minimum standard in all areas of the qualification. Course teams are then left to devise curricular programmes responsive to students' perceived needs and interests and to local circumstance so as to prepare their students to be assessed on these pre-specified tasks. However this potential flexibility in course design and provision has been a source of negative criticism in respect of the variability of approaches and degree of confusion in resourcing levels at institutional level.

As indicated the fieldwork data collection for the GNVQ Curriculum project was undertaken while all course teams were working with the second version of the GNVQ specifications. The GNVQ courses were thus investigated against a background of the high-profile national introduction of GNVQs followed by publicly expressed criticism about their outcomes-based nature and associated assessment model and procedures, about the bureaucracy of the qualification and about the development and assessment of core skills. The course teams were, however, working with a revised GNVQ which sought to respond to the problems identified, not least through the introduction of more 'user-friendly' specifications with a greater emphasis on the Evidence Indicators. Nonetheless, contemporary with the data collection, further concerns regarding the GNVQ model continued to emerge nationally together with concern about completion rates. A further development was the publication of the findings of the Capey review and the Dearing Report pointing the way to yet more revisions to GNVQ.

2. GNVQS AND Curriculum Implementation and Change

2.1 The Implementation of GNVQs

As can be seen from the previous chapter, the establishment of GNVQ as one of the major qualification routes for 16-19 year olds in England has taken place within an atmosphere of critical debate necessitating initially some revisions to the GNVQ qualification and later a significant reformulation of the assessment model.

While the introduction of GNVQ has spawned a wide range of research projects, as indicated above many of these (and much of the general commentary on GNVQ) have been at the national policy level. A number of such studies have focused on the overall organisation of 16-19 curricular provision with its three tracks and considered the potential benefits of a unified system, either through an overarching qualification or via a more integrated framework of qualifications (Richardson et al, 1993; Spours and Young, 1996; Higham, et al. 1996; Howieson et al, 1997). For an overview of research in this area, and more broadly in vocational education and training, see Brown and Keep, 2000.). Others have focused on subject-specific aspects (Yeomans, 1998a) or more fundamentally on the social-philosophical aspects (Pring, 1993; Pring, 1998) or on the nature of the learning opportunities provided to young people in schools and colleges (Eraut, 1997, Huddleston and Unwin, 1997).

Some commentators have claimed that GNVQs have suffered from 'role and function problems due to their uneasy position between the academic and the occupationally-specific qualifications tracks' (Spours, 1997, p. 66; see also Hodkinson and Mattinson, 1994). Another series of concerns has focused on the lack of perceived status equivalence between Advanced GNVQ and GCE A levels, particularly but not exclusively in terms of the admission to Higher Education (Scharaschkin, 1996; Shirtliff, 1996; Fitz-Gibbon, 1997). Such critiques of the 'parity of esteem' have led to a series of surveys, notably led by the GNVQs and Access to Higher Education Project (GATE) to consider admissions requirements and procedures for Higher Education (e.g. Universities and Colleges Admissions Service (UCAS), 1996) and Edwards in a compelling analysis of the policy relationship between GNVQ and A level makes the key point that:

'The versions of advanced general education embodied in GNVQs, more vocationally oriented and more applied than the established academic model, have to resemble this model sufficiently in market value that prospective students will not be diverted onto a less suitable pathway by the greater rewards to which it may lead. But GNVQs also have to be sufficiently unlike the established model to appeal to the much wider constituency on which raising the educational level of the workforce depends.' (Edwards, 1997, p. 6)

In a comprehensive review of research into the effects of the competence and outcomes movement, Bates highlights the findings of a number of studies that indicate heavy demands placed on tutors arising from the emphasis on assessment: 'volume of assessment and administration', 'increased work load', 'the need to develop appropriate resources and learning materials', and 'the need for major programmes of staff development' (Bates, 1998a, p. 9). She notes that 'Accounts of how staff involved experience these various changes vary greatly in emphasis' and, significantly, that 'There is no work as yet which illuminates the contextual factors which might account for such divergent responses' (pp. 9-10).

More widely, several research studies have involved large-scale critical analysis of learning approaches in A levels and GNVQs based on systematic classroom-observation (Meagher, 1997; Haywood, 1997; McEwen et al., 1999) and a number of studies have focused on the learner's perspective (Bloomer and Hodkinson, 1997; Hodkinson, Sparkes and Hodkinson, 1996; Unwin and Wellington, 2001). Beyond this, in the context of claims that GNVQs promote 'active modes of learning' (Jessup, 1995a, p. 10) and that they liberate students to 'take responsibility for their own learning' (Jessup, 1995b, p. 42), several studies have examined GNVQ from the viewpoint of student empowerment (see for example Hodkinson, 1994; Hyland, 1994; Bates, 1997 and 1998b; Bates et al. 1998; Bloomer, 1998; Yeomans, 1998b and more widely: Bloomer and Hodkinson, 1997; Bloomer, 1997). Here the focus has been on an analysis of the potential role that students might play in determining their own learning objectives and experiences. Bates' work in highlighting the contradictory nature of the notion of student empowerment linked it to a number of contextual features, including, significantly for the present study, 'teacher agency as reflected for example in their motivation, creativity and expertise in developing and adapting the GNVQ course in a way which engages pupil interest and commitment' (Bates, 1997, p. 17). This 'would involve a logical extension of the terms of 'empowerment' and formally recognize student influence over both content and pedagogy' (p.31).

There have been a number of policy-oriented critiques of core skills/key skills and their role within GNVQs and more widely within the 16-19 curriculum (for example, Jessup, 1990; Coates, 1991; Lawson, 1992; Halsall, 1996; Higham, 1997) and an informative account of the development of core skills (Oates, 1992). The final report of the national survey conducted by Wolf and her colleagues (FEU/Institute of Education/Nuffield Foundation, 1997) found that not only were the initial findings of 'variability' of core skills provision confirmed but that centres were continuing to find difficulties in developing satisfactory provision and assessment approaches to core skills. Otherwise, apart from the OFSTED and FEFC concerns regarding the assessment of core skills and the lack of vocational integration (FEFC, 1995; OFSTED, 1996), there are few accounts of empirical work focusing on core or key skills, though Oates and Harkin do outline a number of approaches taken by centres piloting GNVQ to the integration of core skills in GNVQ vocational unit work: a) integrated in vocational area sessions; b) drop-in core skills centres; c) discrete teaching of core skills (Oates and Harkin, 1995, p. 191). These categories were later supported by FEFC (1995). For Oates, working in the NCVQ Core Skills Development team, integration was seen as successful when 'core skills are acquired through settings which contextualise the core skills in ways meaningful to students' (p. 187).

While work experience does not form a compulsory part of GNVQ, reports by FEFC (1994 and 1995) suggest that student work experience on employers' premises took place in over three-quarters of Further Education (FE) GNVQ courses and indicate a variety of patterns of work experience and that the integration of work experience into vocational work on the courses was under-exploited. OFSTED reports rarely comment directly on work experience other than to support the view that it works best when it is 'linked directly into specifications for the vocational units' (OFSTED, 1997, p. 24). There are few significant or in-depth accounts of GNVQ work experience though Thompson et al. (1996) have carried out an evaluation of GNVQ work experience projects for the Employment Department. However, the focus of this project was at the level of Training and Enterprise Council projects and it did not directly address the work taking place in schools and colleges from a detailed curricular perspective.

In a commentary on the pilot phase of GNVQs, Harrop gives an account of the initial responses of institutions, tutors and students drawing on the 1993 OFSTED report and on an early report by the Employment Department (1992). She notes that, in the absence of exemplars of assignments and other previous course materials, 'many teachers were basing their delivery on previous experience with similar qualifications' (Harrop, 1995, p. 124) and that this was consequently leading to some teachers not giving sufficiently detailed consideration to the specifications which would later be used for assessment.

A questionnaire survey, part-way through the first year of GNVQ, of all FEFC-funded institutions offering GNVQs covered a wide range of initial implementation issues though was not able to shed much detailed light on how colleges were organising and delivering the courses other than to indicate that nearly all colleges reported integrating some or all three of the core skills units with vocational units. A brief report on the survey limits itself on curricular matters to suggesting that 'there is clearly some scope for improvement in current GNVQ programmes and procedures' (Hyland and Weller, 1994, p. 5).

In such early accounts and other practitioner case studies of the GNVQ pilot and the initial stages of the first year of operation (e.g. Jackson, 1995), it is difficult to distinguish between the effects of the model of GNVQ Mark I and the generally challenging impact on schools and colleges of the hasty implementation of a new and unfamiliar qualification with little national support in the early stages. In terms of the GNVQ Curriculum project, which focussed on the work of experienced GNVQ teams working with GNVQ Mark II, these initial accounts are necessarily of limited value though they do provide the background to the revision of GNVQ announced in March of the first year, and it should be noted that when the 'experienced' course teams are so called in a later chapter, it is to this experience of GNVQ that reference is being made.

The national survey conducted by Wolf et al. on behalf of the Further Education Unit (FEU), the University of London Institute of Education and the Nuffield Foundation represents a major longitudinal questionnaire survey of students, teachers and institutional experiences of GNVQ. This substantial overview was supplemented by 42 site visits over a period of three years. Given the form of data collection, the resultant report is able to indicate in significant detail the pattern of overall trends (e.g. in centre approval; course recruitment; student attainment; student aspirations and destinations). The project did not attempt however to collect detailed qualitative information as with a case study approach nor to apply a theoretical perspective to the data collected. As a result the report does not discuss the processes of curriculum construction and even in respect of overall course organisation is restricted in its findings to a discussion of timetable hours plus the following indications of course structure:

'Our survey results indicate that units have always been the prime teaching unit. Although GNVQ guidance has tended to encourage integrated cross-unit approaches, centres have tended overwhelmingly to deliver GNVQs unit by unit - either sequentially (a unit each half-term) or by running two units a term side by side. The only exception to this pattern is Art & Design, where almost half the team leaders prefer a more integrated approach.' (FEU/Institute of Education/ Nuffield Foundation, 1997, p. 27)

The other major surveys of the progress of GNVQs have been undertaken by the inspection agencies for the school and college sectors, FEFC and OFSTED respectively. As Wolf (1999) notes: 'the main source of information on GNVQ activities comes from the annual reports published by official government inspectors who observe a large number of institutions, but whose reports are both largely unquantified, and, inevitably couched in extremely measured terms' (p. 200). Although the two FEFC reports do not deal in detail with curricular findings and relate to the GNVQ Mark I version of the course, the 1996 and 1997 OFSTED reports on GNVQs in schools (the latter restricted to Advanced courses) were both based on inspection visits undertaken during the two years of data collection of the GNVQ Curriculum project, and in terms of their focus of reporting have a clear shift from the assessment model to teacher planning and provision of the GNVQ courses and student attainment. In particular, the OFSTED report on GNVQs in sixth-forms in 1996 based on more than 100 inspection visits gives a sharper focus to the curricular practices. In respect of standards of student achievement (the remit of the report), OFSTED found the following:

'Good-quality work was very clearly linked to good course organisation and a well-planned teaching programme, supported by a written scheme of work. This planning was not satisfactory in approximately one-fifth of schools visited during the year.' (OFSTED, 1997, p. 20)

'Good work was clearly associated with well-qualified and experienced teachers, who had a sound knowledge and understanding of the vocational area ( . . . ) teachers displayed a suitable level of vocational expertise in approximately two-thirds of the schools visited. Staffing was generally satisfactory in areas such as art and design, business, and science, where courses sit easily within established academic disciplines in which schools have well-established departments. In vocational areas such as health and social care, and leisure and tourism, which cut across conventional subject boundaries, and which have not previously been taught in schools, the staffing situation was usually less satisfactory.' (ibid., pp. 21-22)

'In just over half of the schools, the vocational dimension of the curriculum was well developed. In these schools, visits to local business, industry and services were a regular part of the teaching programme. Work-related experiences were used to provide the students with a real insight into the world of work. ( . . . ) In approximately a quarter of schools, external links were judged to be insufficiently well developed to make an appropriate contribution to the quality of students' work'. (ibid., pp. 23-24)

As with findings of other surveys and research studies, these significant points for curriculum construction will be taken up in the discussion of the findings of the GNVQ Curriculum project.

Elsewhere, at the empirical institutional level, the main focus for work and commentary has been in respect of assessment, and the organisation and design aspects of the GNVQ curriculum have received comparatively little attention. One doctoral thesis included a focus on GNVQ Business tutor and student attitudes towards liberal, general and vocational education philosophies (Smith, 1997) and Bloomer reports on externally funded studies he has undertaken in respect of the teaching and learning experiences of teachers and students in the post-16 curriculum. One of the foci of this latter report is an analysis of class observations and student and teacher interviews across 13 post-16 vocational courses in two tertiary colleges, a selective school and an independent school. The courses were either BTEC National or GNVQ Advanced and each was visited twice. Bloomer found that:

'Despite being bound by common curriculum prescription, teachers varied considerably in the ways in which they 'acted upon' that prescription. The prescribed curriculum, it would appear, has a limited effect upon practice; the process of curriculum making hinges as much upon the values and views of knowledge, learning, teaching, human nature and educational purposes which teachers bring to bear upon their work.' (Bloomer, 1997, p. 86)

He points to a series of substantive differences between the two qualifications, not least the degree of prescription of learning approaches, the specification and organisation of content and assessment requirements, and suggests that there is 'far less freedom for tutors to exercise their discretion over course content under GNVQ' (p. 62). However, no comparative analysis is attempted between the findings from the BTEC National courses and the GNVQ Advanced courses and the discussion of these findings does not differentiate between the courses. The relative extent of the applicability of the findings to GNVQ Advanced rather than to BTEC National is consequently not clear, though, judging from the course titles, there appears to be a predominance of BTEC National courses in the sample.

One study in 1996 at Lancaster University, involving the interviewing of Business and Leisure & Tourism teachers and curriculum managers in 12 schools and colleges discussed the extent to which teachers and lecturers considered themselves to be empowered or disempowered in curriculum planning terms. It was argued by the research team that the GNVQ model was in theory an empowering one in that curriculum planning decisions were left to teachers and lecturers to make, albeit in line with the specifications. However, the team found that the combination of the detailed GNVQ assessment model and the circumstances of its implementation resulted in an 'atomisation' of the curriculum. These circumstances comprised lack of time, lack of appropriate in-service training and continuing change and uncertainty regarding the requirements often leaving staff 'in the position of relying upon their experiences of A level or BTEC National courses and their own interpretations of the confusing GNVQ documentation' (Helsby et al, 1998, p.73). This 'atomisation' with little integration of content across performance criteria and elements was seen by Helsby et al. to have its parallel in Bernstein's classification of knowledge with strong boundary maintenance, though they did note that their work took place in the early stages of the implementation of GNVQ and that 'increased familiarity and confidence may enable teachers to plan future GNVQ programmes that facilitate a more integrated and holistic approach to learning' (p. 76).

The approach of five GNVQ course teams has been documented in Glover (1996). Written by a tutor in these teams, one in each of the five original GNVQ areas, these accounts together with two institutional case studies reveal the tensions and decision made by the course teams in implementing GNVQ. While this work contains much of direct interest, the accounts are addressed neither from an analytical nor a methodological perspective but were gathered for the purposes of assisting practitioners by giving detailed descriptions of the approaches of others. The reader is thus left to interpret the accounts as he or she will.

From the subject perspective a number of areas such as Social Science and Science have conducted debates regarding their involvement in GNVQ. As an example of such a debate, Geography is of particular interest given that it is a subject which, although strong at GCE A level following the introduction of the 16-9 modular syllabuses, is no longer compulsory at Key Stage 4, its recruitment ground for post-16 students. Various articles in Geography education professional journals have addressed the question posed by Marvell: 'Should your department consider GNVQ leisure and tourism?' (Marvell, 1994), both with respect to post-16 GNVQs and to the related pre-16 Part 1 GNVQ. Butt summarises the main arguments on either side, stating that 'it is important that Geographers get involved in the development of GNVQs in those schools and colleges which introduce them, for only in this way will their geographical voice be heard' (Butt, 1994, p. 183). He goes on to warn though that 'if Geography becomes too closely associated with vocational education it will lose its intellectual purpose' (p. 183) whilst cautioning that 'failure to realise the importance of "moving with the times" might create a demise in the subject's fortunes' (p. 183).

The examples of empirical work to inform the understanding of the implementation processes in GNVQ are thus few and far between despite the substantial volume of research undertaken on GNVQ. The chapter will therefore now turn to a consideration of the literature on curriculum change more widely and in particular on the findings of studies into other recent large-scale curricular programmes.

2.2 Curriculum Implementation and Change

A number of studies have focussed on the key importance of the teacher in determining the extent and nature of the implementation of an innovation. Huberman's work on the careers of teachers has considered the different stages of the teachers 'life-cycle' and he further analyses his findings in terms of different character types such as 'disenchanters' and 'progressive focussers' (Huberman, 1988). Huberman argues that these character types 'override most generational and institutional differences' (p. 130) and that it is at this level that change, where required, must first be initiated. Equally Fullan's wide-ranging discussions of the processes of change in schools take on a sharpened focus as he concludes on the primacy of the individual's action at the classroom level. He is clear that 'In the final analysis it is the actions of the individual that count' (Fullan, 1991. p.77) arguing that the extent and form of change is ultimately reliant on the differing teacher responses: 'Some teachers, depending on their personality and influenced by their previous experiences and stage of career, are more self-actualized and have a greater sense of efficacity which leads them to take action and persist in the effort required to bring about successful implementation' (p. 77). However, while he states that 'Both individual teacher characteristics and collective or collegial factors play roles in determining implementation', (p. 77) he ultimately shies away from a fuller discussion of the different responses of individuals or for that matter course teams, simply stressing the complex nature of the task facing those wishing to bring about change.

Underlining this key role played by teachers, Hargreaves argues that 'it is what teachers think, what teachers believe and what teachers do at the level of the classroom that ultimately shapes the kind of learning that young people get' (Hargreaves, 1994. p. ix). While he maintains the importance of teachers' 'dispositions, motivations and commitments' (p. 12), he readily acknowledges that:

'at the heart of change for most teachers is the issue of whether it is practical. Judging changes by their practicality seems on the surface to amount to measuring abstract theories against the tough test of harsh reality. There is more to it than this, though. In the ethic of practicality, among teachers is a powerful sense of what works and what doesn't; of which changes will go and which will not - not in the abstract, or even as general rule, but for this teacher in this context'. (original emphasis) (ibid.)

Here he hints not only at the response by individual participants in curriculum change but at the underlying reasons for that response, a response which will inevitably differ as the underlying reasons differ. Beyond this, Hall, in discussing the constructivist perspective, makes the point that not only will construction of the curricular definition of the innovation's purposes and implications 'occur individually and collectively' but that individuals and groups 'will construct the meaning of the innovation and interpret the innovation differently at different times in the change process' (Hall, 1995, p. 117). It is argued that the focus may, if the change process is managed well, shift from personal and practical concerns to 'analysis and interpretation of the innovation in terms of its consequences and effects upon students' (p. 117).

Some have taken an autobiographical perspective in an attempt to gain access to teachers' individual construction of meanings and rationales for action. However, many of these personal accounts, while full of interest and explored meaning fail to connect with other accounts and wider shared meanings (see for example the isolated autobiographical accounts of five teachers at various stages of their careers in Bell, 1995, or the related accounts of four English teachers in Hawthorne, 1992). In contrast, Bates, in a study of curriculum policy and practice in careers education, involving a focus on teachers' own careers, found that 'The entire process is highly dependent on wider economic, social and political conditions. Local interaction at all levels constantly absorbs and expresses deeper political forces' (Bates, 1989, p. 228) and Blenkin et al. later emphasise that:

'It is important to realize that the structures of meaning through which teachers interpret their work are not idiosyncratic; they are social constructions mediated through the occupational cultures and discourses within which teachers' practices are located. These in turn are located within and sustained by wider social, political and cultural structures and discourses.' (Blenkin et al., 1992, p. 60)

They go on to posit that teachers' work is determined, or at least constrained, in practice by a further set of local structures in the teacher's institution that are themselves dependent on and feed into the wider societal structures, making the point that it is not the structures themselves that determine teacher responses but the perception of the structures.

In tune with this, and arguing for a wider, social constructionist perspective, Goodson advances that:

'Curriculum research and theory must begin by investigating how the curriculum is currently constructed and then produced by teachers in the 'differing circumstances in which they are placed'. Moreover, our theory needs to move towards how those circumstances are not just 'placed' but systematically constructed; for the persistence of styles of practice is partly the result of the construction of persistent circumstances.' (Goodson, 1988a. p. 37)

He goes on to make the case for curricular investigation to take place 'in the middle ground between scientific/rational theories and Schwab's concrete and particular: 'this student, in that school, on the South Side of Columbus' (p. 39). He bemoans 'the current 'flight to theory' followed by the counterbalancing 'flight to practice' (and the occasional intervening 'flight to the personal')' (p. 117) arguing for a more integrated approach that takes account of both practical approaches and the individual teacher's perspective, setting this in the context of wider theories and historical development particularly in respect of organisational aspects of the curricular content at the meso-level of the subject.

This argument has its parallel in organisation theory. In his work on school organisation, Ball (see for example, Ball, 1990) advances a development of organisation theory that locates itself somewhere beneath the macro, and all too often abstract, analyses and yet above the individual discussions of the particular. He draws attention to the mis-placed assumption that schools are single, consensual entities and highlights the differing conflicts that occur in a 'micro-political' climate. In curriculum terms, this present study attempts to respond to such a challenge in taking an in-depth consideration of the particular (for that cannot be ignored being one of the many expressions of the general, and without which the general cannot exist) and drawing out the patterns of behaviour and response in an attempt to address the key importance of seeing predictable patterns.

Grundy has developed Habermas' theorising (1972) to make the case for an emancipatory curriculum which allows an interpretative view of curriculum text and liberates the teacher to make meaning with the learner entailing 'a reciprocal relationship between self-reflection and action' (Grundy, 1987, p. 19). This approach is further developed by Cornbleth to give importance to the 'biographical, structural, sociocultural and historical context' (Cornbleth, 1990, p. 7). Here she argues for the only version of curriculum as being that which is taking place in practice and in a context, curriculum as a context-free paper plan to be implemented through a technocratic approach is seen as having little meaning. The intermediary position of Schwab is again rejected as taking insufficient account of wider social processes and context. The case is then made that while curriculum can only come into existence in a particular context, this is insufficient. One can certainly agree here that the two extremes of the technical-rational approach to curriculum and the individualisation of single, non-replicable production are unsatisfactory from both descriptive and prescriptive perspectives. Cornbleth goes on to argue that it 'is time for critical curriculum studies to move beyond document analysis and design to examination of practice in context and contextualized approaches to curriculum change' (p. 119). In stating this she readily accepts the rich and detailed accounts of individual instances of curriculum enactions but remains dissatisfied by their ability to provide a broader picture. While this book does not attempt a wider social contextualisation of the processes and products of the GNVQ curriculum under study, it does seek to identify patterns of contextualised action and response to a centrally imposed curriculum.

Several key texts outlining the process of curriculum innovation relate to a series of centrally developed but essentially school-focused curriculum development projects funded and developed by the Schools Council. While the form and pattern of dissemination of these projects varied and changed over time, the general approach was that of the development of a broad curriculum framework with a degree of latitude within the programmes (see MacDonald and Walker, 1976). As Rudduck's and McLaughlin's work indicate the design, and even aims, of these discrete projects were seen as negotiable (see, for example, Rudduck, 1986; McLaughlin et al., 1990; see also Shipman et al., 1974). In this context the key importance of individual teachers in the development of these innovative approaches to curricula is underlined by Parsons (1987) in his in-depth longitudinal study of the Schools Council 'Geography for the Young School Leaver' project, though he does set this is the context of wider collaboration and support of school departments, project teams and LEAs (see also Dalton, 1988).

Whilst the research findings outlined in these texts make for interesting and informative reading, they relate not only to curriculum development projects rather than to national qualifications as is case with GNVQ, but also to a different policy context. The impact of the series of structural and systemic innovations such as the local management of schools, national curricula, the marketisation of secondary and further education with the concomitant emphasis on standards, targets and the general loss of teacher autonomy over the past decade means that the work is of less applicability to the context of today.

Even in respect of this period of curriculum development in the late sixties and seventies, 'an era when professionals were, rightly or wrongly, more in control of professional practice than they are today, and when curriculum development, as a smooth transition from one form to another, was being actively explored both in professional practice and theory' (Blenkin et al. 1992. p. 73), a study of teacher responses to the various science-related innovations of Nuffield and The Schools Curriculum found that:

'only a minority (possibly 10-20 per cent) were committed sufficiently to consider themselves as fully adopting the innovation and not all of these implemented it faithfully. ( . . . ) The degree of change tended to be an extension of previous practice rather than to differ from it or to be a reorientation of it'. (P. Kelly, 1980. p. 67)

Significantly, the categories for analysis used in such studies took due account of the voluntaristic nature of involvement in such projects, for example the responses of teachers in respect of the Nuffield A level Biological Science project were categorised as:

Adopted early

Adopted late

Partial Adoption

Not adopted.

(ibid., p. 71)

Such categories are also reflected by Rudduck when she states 'we have generally underestimated the power of the existing culture of the school or classroom to accommodate, absorb or expel innovations that are at odds with the dominant structures and values' (Rudduck, 1986, p.7).

Literature relating to the introduction of the Employment Department's Technical and Vocational Education Initiative (TVEI) from the mid-eighties has cast further light on the effects in schools of the development of curriculum programmes on a national scale (see for example Phillips (1992); Bell and Raffe (1991); Jamieson (1993); Harland (1987); Fiddy and Stronach (1987); Lee (1996); D'Hooghe (1992); Segal Quince Wicksted (1994); Stoney et al. (1986); Barnes et al. (1987b)). Modifying categories put forward by Saunders (1986), a TVEI evaluation team at Leeds University analysed institutional responses to the introduction of TVEI according to the following categories:

1. Adaptive extension

The School utilises TVEI as an opportunity to review and reshape the whole 14-18 curriculum

2. Accommodation

The school organises a TVEI scheme with innovative elements but effects a compromise between TVEI goals and the claims of existing curricular arrangements.

3. Containment

The effects of TVEI funding are almost entirely confined and absorbed by the school's existing practices which resist change.

(Barnes et al., 1987a, p. 12)

While this appears a neat classification, the evaluation team acknowledged the difficulties, in some cases, of allocating schools to a particular category. Nonetheless its work was an important contribution as McCormick reflects that:

'Sadly there is little published research on what happens in schools as a result of curriculum change. There are few parallels of the curriculum histories represented in the work of Goodson (1983) and Moon (1986) at the level of the school to indicate whether the interactions of interest groups etc., are carried out at this level.' (McCormick, 1999a, p. 215)

One of the clearest exponents of findings in the TVEI field and a member of the Leeds team, Yeomans enriched a strand of thinking on the making of curricula at different levels (see for example Bates, 1989) which he termed 'policy refraction': 'In essence this holds that curriculum as policy and practice is made and remade as it is formulated, reformulated and successively implemented at a variety of levels and contexts' (Yeomans, 1997, p. 68). In TVEI, these levels and their contexts were from national government downwards through local educational authorities to schools and classrooms. Yeomans' analysis concluded that 'of the prisms through which TVEI was refracted the school emerges as perhaps the most significant with teachers as highly significant players' (p. 273).

In terms of policy refraction, Yeomans argued that the 'vagueness' and 'ambiguity' of the TVEI curriculum policy, and thus its tendency to refract, could perhaps be seen as a strength:

'On this view curricula do not spring fully-formed into practice. It is not a matter of getting the philosophy, aims and objectives clear and then following them through. Such an approach immediately raises questions about whose philosophy, aims and objectives and who is responsible for following them through. Curriculum construction can be, perhaps must be, a practical, multi-faceted, multi-level activity involving constant adaptation, modification and reconceptualisation. Perhaps the issue is not whether policy refraction takes place or not, but how it is exploited.' (ibid., p. 274)

However, a cautionary note is sounded:

'It is also important to warn against the notion that because TVEI was highly refracted that this will necessarily occur with any centralised curriculum initiative. It was the peculiarly permissive characteristics of TVEI which made high degrees of refraction possible rather than any 'iron law' of domestication.' (ibid., p. 273)

As Yeomans himself points out elsewhere (1998c), TVEI is unlike GNVQ in a number of important respects, not least in that the former is a nationally-led but localised curriculum development programme and the latter is a national qualification. Beyond this the context 'is very different with the incorporation of colleges, opting-out of schools, LMS and formula funding' (p. 145), a point that has been made above by others in respect of the Schools Council projects.

Campbell and Neill too note this significant shift from 'piecemeal and voluntary' curriculum change to 'imposed' change stemming from the progressive implementation of the 1998 Education Reform Act (ERA) (Campbell and Neill, 1994, p. 203) (see Ball, 1994 for an analysis of the increasing constraints and pressures). A major feature of the ERA was of course the National Curriculum. While GNVQ cannot be seen as 'universal and statutory' (Campbell and Neill, 1994, p. 203) in the same way as the National Curriculum could, for many teachers and course areas, as will be seen, the decisions taken centrally in some schools and colleges have resulted in a comparable situation.

The introduction of centrally-imposed curricula such as the National Curriculum has led Goodson to point to the paradox between the increasing shift in the use of personal stories of teachers in the autobiographical tradition and the increasing technological approach to curriculum innovations on a national scale:

'Teachers' personal and practical stories and voices are being encouraged at a time when more and more teachers are being held accountable and having their work prescribed, interrogated and evaluated. ( . . . ) at precisely the time the teacher's voice is being pursued and promoted, the teacher's work is being narrowed and technized.' (Goodson, 1988b, p. 18)

This latter point is underlined by Crombie White:

'What remained of the concept of professional autonomy was restricted very much to the how, not the what, of teaching, and the prescriptions of the programmes of study and SATs left precious little creativity for the former.' (original emphasis) (Crombie White, 1997, p. 80)

and reinforced by Helsby commenting on her research on the implementation of the National Curriculum (see Helsby and McCulloch, 1996):

'the accompanying discourses constantly implied that teachers had failed to safe-guard educational standards and cast them in the role not of professionals, making decisions about the curriculum, but of technicians following orders devised elsewhere and in need of closer direction. Apparently the notion of teachers' curriculum autonomy was finally to be abandoned in favour of overt central control'. (Helsby, 1999. p. 59)

However, as she goes on to conclude 'A tightly prescribed curricular framework remains dependent upon the actions of teachers to transform it into practice' (p. 64) and she too notes that the responses of teachers differ, though again the categorisation and explanation of these responses is left unattempted.

In contrast with the somewhat pessimistic assertions in some of the above quotations regarding the reduction of the role of teacher to technician, researchers on an ESRC-funded study into the impact of the National Curriculum on primary schools found their evidence

'did not support the view that teachers felt deskilled or deprofessionalised. Teachers were tenaciously holding on to a professional model of their role and, in many cases an active and creative engagement with policy developments'. (Croll, 1996a, pp. 14-15)

Elsewhere Bowe, Ball and Gold in reporting on their research into the introduction of the National Curriculum in Mathematics, Science and English in four secondary schools noted that 'our research indicates that it is governed as much by serendipity, ad hockery and chaos as planning' (1992, p. 101). They go on to dispute any assumption that the power-coercive implementation of the National Curriculum has led to a clear understanding, much less a faithful implementation of what is sought. They note too that the implementation of the National Curriculum is itself being paralleled by a changing context following the introduction of the ERA including the local management of schools. Given the compulsory nature of the National Curriculum, the option available in respect of many School Council and, later, TVEI projects of non-adoption is not available and this is reflected in the authors' discourse as they state that 'Research will need to identify the nature and extent of resistance, accommodation, subterfuge and conformity within schools and between departments' (p. 84). While their research did not tackle such an analysis in these terms, Bowe et al. did highlight a number of dimensions that they found affected teacher and departmental responses to change: 'the different capacities, contingencies, commitments and histories of these institutions' (original emphasis) (p. 117) and the different 'interpretational stances' were categorised, at the level of department, as 'professional' or 'technical' (p. 119-120). While contingencies in terms of staffing, student intake, accommodation, resources could act either to limit or increase the likelihood of change, evidence was found that where capacities for change and for response to the specialist requirements of the new programme, commitments to established subjects or other ways of working, and a history of innovation were all low, this resulted in a technical response with 'a high degree of reliance upon policy texts, external direction and advice' (p. 118). High levels in each of these categories was found to lead to a 'greater sense of autonomy and ( . . . ) greater willingness to interpret texts in the light of previous practice' (p. 118).

Ultimately Bowe et al. conclude that the National Curriculum 'is not so much being 'implemented' in schools as being 're-created', not so much 'reproduced' as 'produced' (p. 120) though this stands in contrast to one of the findings from a major study into the implementation of the National Curriculum programme of study in Mathematics, namely that:

'(a) major role in the planning for many teachers was taken by the commercial scheme - that is, the degree of (commercial) scheme use and the way that the scheme was used were major influences on the way in which teachers planned their teaching for mathematics'. (Johnson and Millett, 1996a. p. 44)

Students' influence on the decisions of teachers in the drawing up of learning experiences receives only limited attention in the non-GNVQ literature. However, Bates identified the concept of 'pupil power' as a major theme in her study of careers education causing teachers to adapt lessons to conform to student expectations as to the purpose of careers lessons (Bates, 1989). More recently, the research reported above into English, Mathematics and Science teachers' responses to the introduction of the National Curriculum found that one of the main concerns of teachers was to ensure that they provided 'experiences suited to particular pupils' needs and levels of development' (English Studies Centre, 1991, p. 14).

While ultimately it is the interactions between students and their learning experiences that is the only curriculum that has significance, few innovation studies refer to the role of students in the determination of curriculum other than as a contingency. Rudduck explains: 'Pupils are partners in the transactions of the classroom that we call teaching and learning. Too often they are cast as conscripts in the innovative campaigns launched by teachers' (Rudduck, 1989, p. 215) and Grundy points out that:

'where a technical interest is at work in the learning environment, the pupil will have virtually no power to determine his/her own learning objectives. The learners can, however, also exercise a reactive power, by being unwilling or unable to participate in the learning environment. But again, this constitutes them as reactors, not actors in the learning situation' (Grundy, 1987, p. 30).

Emphasising the key role of teacher professional continuity in curriculum change initiatives, Rudduck makes the pertinent point that:

'Change involves the adaptation or abandonment of practices that are familiar and therefore comfortable. If change is seen as a denial of a person's professional past, then his or her investment in a change programme will at most be slender' (Rudduck, 1986, p. 16.)

Continuing this theme, Goodson (1998a) has maintained the importance of the role of antecedent contestations of curriculum and individual life histories, stressing the strength of the codification of knowledge in the form of school subjects (see, for example, Goodson and Marsh 1996). This draws upon the work of Bernstein (1971) on the framing of knowledge, and the identification of teachers with a school subject has been found by recent empirical studies to remain powerful. Quicke and Winter (1996) in an ESRC-funded study of the development of pupil autonomy in the national curriculum took an autobiographical approach to the study of a small number of teachers. They found that all the teachers responded in the same general way by tending to retreat into their 'subject identity' reinforced by the collection-code nature of the subject-based National Curriculum.

Supporting this point, following a study of teacher responses in three departments to the implementation of the Geography National Curriculum, Roberts concluded that:

'Persistent differences between schools can be understood, it seems, not only in terms of different responses to the National Curriculum in particular contexts but in terms of continuities of professional action, which are underpinned by persistent ways of thinking about curriculum, pedagogy and professional roles.' (Roberts, 1997, p. 111)

but as with other studies no attempt was made to classify the different types of response and the underlying reasons.

A study of teachers' responses to the implementation of the National Curriculum core subjects of Science, Mathematics and English conducted by the relevant teacher associations (English Studies Centre, 1991) found that in terms of the wider context of the introduction of the National Curriculum, the local management of schools was seen as having a major impact in terms of the time and resources available. The overall emphasis though in this study was on the extent to which the National Curriculum was being implemented successfully despite the constraints, with a discourse from teachers in line with the technical-rational approach adopted by the policy makers. Despite the focus on the teachers' views, there is little other reference to the teacher's role in negotiating and constructing curricular experiences other than to empathise the 'commitment and professionalism' of teachers (p. 17).

Researchers at the University of Warwick discussed the findings of their major two-year study of the implementation of National Curriculum English at Key Stages 1, 2 and 3 in a similar vein. The first conclusion of their work being that 'Schools and teachers at Key Stages 1, 2 and 3 were successfully using the order in their planning and delivery of the teaching of English' (Raban et al, 1993, p. 124), though it was noted that the response of teachers to the proposed revision of National Curriculum English resulted in them 'halting any further effort in implementation'. The main recommendations of the report were put forward in response to a belief by teachers that their work in implementing the National Curriculum English could 'be strengthened best through further support and sharply targeted guidance' (p. 126). This is perhaps all the more a surprising request for greater central influence given that English teachers were amongst the main protagonists in the teacher action leading up to the review of the National Curriculum by Dearing.

A detailed study of the effects of the implementation of the National Curriculum on Science teachers has been undertaken by Jones (1996). While her study is not focussed on the processes of curriculum change but rather on the impact of successive National Curriculum Science changes on the teachers' motivation, professionalism and sense of identity, Jones found that there was a strong sense of subject identity, in terms of Biology, Chemistry and Physics, and that this had a very strong influence on how these teachers approached the Science curriculum. She also found that Science teachers as a group would identify strongly with the Science department as opposed to the school and that the pressure from this peer context too had a bearing on how they approached change. Elsewhere, despite the focus on subjects and curriculum change as in the work of Goodson and despite Goodson and Ball underlining the need for curriculum investigation to be undertaken at the meso-level, little systematic and curriculum-focussed research has been undertaken at the level of the subject department or of the course team in secondary schools. Siskin's work in North American high schools, though having a strong organisational focus, has concluded that 'any efforts to improve high schools, or even to understand them, can not ignore the power of departments' (Siskin, 1994, p. 189. See also Siskin and Little, eds, 1995) though this dimension is not explored in any depth with respect to curriculum development and change.

Related to this a categorisation of different teacher responses to change in terms of collaboration with peers involved in the change process has been developed by Hargreaves. While genuine collaboration is seen to have many benefits in terms of curriculum development (Hargreaves, 1994; Marsh, 1997), Hargreaves warns of the dangers of a number of other forms of 'collaboration':

''comfortable and complacent collaboration': here teachers chose not to take on the agenda of change in the classroom but may agree to cooperate in the 'sharing of resources and ideas'

'conformist collaboration': the group is dominant in this response and the individual teachers conforms to the general group response to the innovation

'contrived collaboration': the pattern of change here is dictated by the administrative setting up of collaborative structures which may counter-productively constrain change and genuine co-operation and collaboration that might otherwise have been engendered.

'co-optative collaboration': this approach is one that may be taken by policy-makers and administrators in a conscious attempt to go thorough the motions of teacher involvement (usually after the policy has been decided and there is little left to play for)'.

(Hargreaves, 1994, p. 247)

A particular stumbling block in terms of the 'implementation' of the Science National Curriculum teachers identified in Jones's study discussed above was that the Science teachers had no say in the development and shaping of the national Science curriculum which they were required to teach and that this led to a lack of ownership.

In arguing for the involvement of teachers not only in the design of curricula but in their engagement with the reasons for change, A. V. Kelly bemoans the lack of appreciation in this area by the 'planners of the national curriculum' (Kelly, A. V., 1995, p. 105). This general point is developed by Taylor et al. who stated that teachers

'are expected to produce change of the kind prescribed by particular policies but are seldom given an opportunity to exploit these policies in relation to their own values and traditions. Their understanding of policies is therefore often either limited or skewed, and what is subsequently produced in practice often bears little resemblance to the original intentions'. (Taylor et al., 1997, p. 7)

and go on to dismiss

'(the) so-called rational model of education change which separates policy processes into two distinct stages of policy development and policy implementation. This model assumes that, given a set of perfect conditions, policies can produce the desired outcomes. But given human diversity and organisational complexity, this assumption is fundamentally flawed.' (ibid.)

This point is supported by Hord who argues that it is no longer 'possible to imagine that reform of education will 'just happen' because well thought-out and developed policies are delivered to good people by an authoritative or power figure' (Hord, 1995, p. 100) and puts forward six strategies for change. Despite the suggestion of these strategies there seems to be scant evidence that significant account is taken of the responses of individuals and teams to curricular change. The emphasis is on getting the implementation plan right. In North America this technological approach which has its affinity with the technical analysis of curriculum implementation in the United Kingdom is discussed in terms of a 'fidelity perspective'. In this approach it is recommended that the innovation is structured closely with clear instructions to teachers regarding the approach to be taken. The opposing tradition advanced as an approach is the 'process' or 'adaptive' perspective in which 'adaptation' is proposed as a desirable, even necessary, state in the process of change (Marsh, 1997). These two perspectives are put forward by their supporters not as the descriptions of what takes place in schools and colleges but rather as prescription for desirable approaches to bringing about change.

McLaughlin discussing the findings of classroom organisation projects which 'require teachers to work out their own styles and classroom techniques within a broad philosophical framework' found that 'the very nature of these projects requires that implementation be a mutually adaptive process between the user and the institutional setting - that project goals and methods be made concrete over time by the participants themselves' (original emphasis) (McLaughlin, 1976, p. 167). In a wider study involving these projects, implementation was seen to be a dynamic process which did not 'merely involve the direct and straightforward application of an educational technology or plan' (p. 168) and three different processes were identified:

'Mutual adaptation' which involved changes to the project design, the institution and the individual was seen as characterising a successfully implemented project. Compromise was thus seen as a feature of each of the key elements;

'Cooptation' in which the project design was adapted but without impact on the institution and the individual participants. Here 'project strategies were simply modified to conform in a pro forma fashion to the traditional practices the innovation was expected to replace - either because of resistance to change or inadequate help for implementers' (p. 168);

'Nonimplementation' which related, as might be expected, to the failure of the innovation, and, in its starkest form, to the ignoring of the project by teachers.

Cho in a wide ranging analytical review of the 'fidelity' and 'adaptive' perspectives, and of a further perspective put forward by Snyder (1992), an enactment perspective in which teachers and pupils make their own curricular meanings, puts forward the case for the refocusing of the debate to position it:

'BETWEEN an image of the teacher-as-learner in the middle ground on the continuum of fidelity of use and adaptive perspectives AND that of the teacher-as-member-of-classroom-community, argued in the enactment perspective.' (original emphasis) (Cho, 1998, p. 23)

Cho thus claims to be 'primarily interested in seeking more room for teachers' professional autonomy' and rejects the strict line taken by those either prescribing or researching implementation from a fidelity perspective, namely the notion of 'teacher-as-deskilled-worker' (p. 28). He does however acknowledge that 'the enactment perspective may go beyond the "recommendably adaptive uses" of the innovation' (p. 30).

With respect to this latter point in the context of a mandated curriculum, Snyder clarifies the position as follows:

'From the fidelity perspective, the role of the implementing teacher is one of a consumer who should follow the directions and implement the curriculum as those possessing curriculum knowledge have designed it. ( . . . ) From the mutual adaptation perspective, the role of the teacher becomes more active in shaping the curriculum to meet the demands of the local context. ( . . . ) From the enactment perspective, the role of the teacher is integral to the process, for there would be no curriculum without teachers and students giving form to it in the classroom. Whether using an externally created and imposed curriculum, adapting a curriculum, or using their own, teacher and students in the classroom create the curriculum that is worthy of study. It is the teachers' and students' interpretations of what is happening in the classroom and changes in their ways of thinking and believing that are the focus of researchers who study curriculum enactment rather than curriculum implementation.' (Snyder, 1992, p. 429)

This quotation clearly illustrates the state of the debate in North American where these three approaches to curriculum development and associated evaluation or research have polarised both discussion and activity.

While it is plausible to oppose implementation (both fidelity and adaptation) to enactment, it does potentially lead to the creation of a false dichotomy. Certainly given the GNVQ model, in which the outcome objectives are pre-specified but the creation of the curricular form and content is left to teachers and learners, it is possible to consider simultaneously both how the innovation is implemented and how the curriculum is enacted by the actors (teachers and learners). Where this trio of perspectives seems to be most fruitful is in the analysis of responses from teachers and course teams.

2.3 Summary

This chapter has shown that a series of research projects have focussed on GNVQ, though many have been policy-oriented and at the level of the overall 16-19 curriculum, especially in relation to GCE A level provision and to recruitment, retention and progression as well as to work experience and to core skills. Others have had GNVQ assessment issues, learning approaches and student perspectives as their main concern. However, as has been noted, there are few if any accounts of the GNVQ curriculum that are systematic and contextualised at the level of the institution or the course team other than generalised summaries of official inspection findings, some of which are based on the first version of GNVQ during the pilot and the first two years of the qualification. Thus while detailed information is available on the issues outlined above the theorisation of curriculum realisation in GNVQ is limited.

One of the more significant contributions has been Bloomer's analysis of teaching and learning in GNVQ and BTEC based on visits to 13 courses across 4 institutions. As indicated above, he found considerable variations in practice in how teachers 'acted upon' curriculum prescription and reported that this related to teachers' own values, orientations and purposes. The value of this work in terms of the present focus on the GNVQ is however limited by the non-differentiation of GNVQ and BTEC courses in reporting the findings though GNVQ was found to be significantly more prescriptive than BTEC. In the other main systematic study, at Lancaster University, based on interviews with curriculum managers, teachers and students in 12 schools and colleges, researchers found that despite the potential for curriculum empowerment in the GNVQ model, teachers were falling back on their previous curricular experiences and own interpretations of the GNVQ specifications because of a lack of time and training. This was seen to lead to an 'atomisation' of the curriculum.

The findings of research into other recent large-scale curricular programmes indicates the key role of the teacher in determining in what form a curriculum is realised. In this respect Fullan's and Hargreaves' work and that of Huberman are significant and the latter has identified 'disenchanters' and 'progressive focussers' as generic character types, though none of the above has developed a discussion about change at the course team level. In common with this approach an autobiographical perspective has been taken by some, though has often fallen short of theorising and connecting to other accounts and wider contexts, much less discussing the importance of the perception of local and societal structures and forces as emphasised by Bates and Blenkin. In this vein, Goodson's arguments for a wider, social constructionist approach at the level of the subject that analyses persistent styles of practice and locates itself somewhere between the particular and the personal and the wide theoretical perspectives have largely gone unheeded as have the parallel pleas by Ball in terms of school organisation theory. With respect to the national implementation of curricular programmes, a failure to take account of these local perspectives and of the views and experiences of teachers as key instruments of change is seen by Bloomer, Bates, Goodson and Ball as an approach which will tend to cause failure, or at least reworking.

Considering curriculum implementation from the national policy perspective, Grundy and Cornbleth argue for the development of 'emancipatory' curricula which take account of the points being made above and anticipate the interpretation of curricular text and, as a starting point, argue for systematic and contextualized accounts of curriculum change. In the United Kingdom, accounts of this nature do exist in respect of Schools Council programmes though these more innovative approaches to curriculum development are products of different political and national education contexts and their contribution to the understanding of the process of curriculum implementation of national qualifications today is therefore limited. They do provide however possible models for analysing change such as the categorisation of responses of teachers in the Nuffield A level Biological Science project: Adopted Early; Adopted Late; Partial Adoption; Not Adopted, or Rudduck's interpretation of accommodation, absorption or expulsion of innovative curricula.

Research into the development of TVEI programmes provides a further set of potential categories for analysis of responses, here at the institutional level: Adaptive Extension; Accommodation; Containment, though as Yeomans has pointed out the context as well as the nature and purposes of TVEI place a limitation on the applicability of these findings. Turning to wide-scale curriculum programmes developed during the context which was in force at the time of the introduction of GNVQ, research on the National Curriculum is, given the significance of the programme, surprisingly limited in its scope and depth. Helsby's and Croll's work on secondary schools and primary schools respectively, indicate the primacy of the teacher's role but neither attempt a categorisation of responses. Bowe, Ball and Gold found that the power-coercive model of national curriculum implementation had not brought about faithful implementation but had produced departmental responses that were either 'professional' or 'technical'. Elsewhere has been seen the significance of subject identity in determining the response, and the importance of involving tutors in the curriculum design and development process with a consequent shift away from the dislocation of the national policy process and implementation by teachers. While there appears to be little evidence of this on this side of the Atlantic, in North America, as has been seen, there are two dominant prescriptive approaches to curriculum implementation, one being the 'fidelity perspective and the other the 'process' or 'adaptive' perspective.

McLaughlin's research into emancipatory curricula, similar to Snyder's 'enactment perspective', and of the style recommended by Grundy, identified three approaches: Mutual Adaptation; Cooptation; Nonimplementation. However, Cho has argued for a greater focus on teachers' professional autonomy and therefore a situating of curriculum investigation and discussion between the fidelity and adaptive continuum which portrayed the teacher as a learner to a greater or lesser extent and the enactment orientation which portrayed the teacher as a member of a classroom community.

3. COURSE TEAM RESPONSES TO GNVQ

As previously indicated, this book focuses on an analysis of data collected for an ESRC-funded project on the GNVQ Curriculum. This project entitled 'Constructing a New Curriculum: the rise of General National Vocational Qualifications' (award number R00023 5911) was conducted by Dr Paul Sharp, Dr David Yeomans and myself, all of the University of Leeds. The collection of the data on which this chapter is based was undertaken between September 1995 and July 1997 during which period a revised version of GNVQ was in force.

A case study approach was adopted, with intensive research into the five original GNVQ areas of Art & Design; Business; Health & Social Care; Leisure & Tourism; Manufacturing, at Intermediate and Advanced levels being undertaken across ten GNVQ centres in Northern England and North Wales. The selection of centres covered schools, sixth-form colleges and further education colleges in a range of geographical locations broadly representative of the national provision. All three GNVQ awarding bodies were represented. An overview of the courses within these institutions (which have been anonymised) is given in Table Two.

Typically ten days were spent in each institution investigating two post-16 courses in different areas, one at intermediate and the other advanced level. The main methods employed by the project team were semi-structured interviews with managers, GNVQ co-ordinators, course leaders, tutors and students. Teaching and learning activities were also systematically observed as were relevant meetings, external and internal verification and other assessment activities. Beyond this portfolios were inspected and centre and course documentation was collected as was national GNVQ material such as specifications and guidance. Interviews were also held with relevant national policy makers. The project was guided by a Consultative Group, and Consultation and Dissemination Conferences were held, partly to seek participant validation of emergent findings and partly for research management and dissemination purposes.

We now turn to a discussion of the analysis of the course teams' curricular responses followed by a summary of each of the 21 courses. The discussion of the overall findings in the context of the GNVQ curriculum model and a consideration of the implications for the understanding of the processes of curriculum implementation are undertaken in Chapters Four and Five.

GNVQ CENTRE

Type

Location

Course Area

Level

Awarding Body

City School

11-18 School

Industrial area

Business

Intermediate

C&G

 

 

 

Manufacturing

Advanced

C&G

Peterson School

11-18 School

Rural but near industrial towns

Health & Social Care

Intermediate

BTEC

 

 

 

Leisure & Tourism

Advanced

BTEC

Appletree School

11-18 School

Market town

Art & Design

Intermediate

BTEC

 

 

 

Business

Advanced

BTEC

Oakland School

14-18 School

Town in a rural area

Manufacturing

Intermediate

C&G

 

 

 

Art & Design

Advanced

C&G

Meadow VI College

VI College

Large industrial town

Leisure & Tourism

Intermediate

BTEC

 

 

 

Health & Social Care

Advanced

BTEC

 

 

 

Manufacturing

Advanced

BTEC

United College

Tertiary College

Medium-sized town

Health & Social Care

Intermediate

C&G

 

(Formerly VI College)

 

Business

Advanced

C&G

Highgate College

FE College

Large industrial town

Leisure & Tourism

Intermediate

BTEC

 

 

 

Health & Social Care

Advanced

BTEC

Morton College

FE College

Urban

Art & Design

Intermediate

BTEC

 

 

 

Manufacturing

Advanced

BTEC

Stanton College

FE College

Urban

Business

Intermediate

RSA

 

 

 

Art & Design

Advanced

RSA

Portland College

FE college

Semi-rural near industrial area

Business

Intermediate

BTEC

 

 

 

Leisure & Tourism

Advanced

*BTEC
& RSA

* The Advanced Leisure & Tourism course at Portland College used the optional units to offer two pathways, one specialising in Sport and the other in Travel. For each pathway a different awarding body was used.

Table Two - GNVQ Centres and Courses

3.1 Analysis of Course Team Responses to GNVQ

As seen in Chapter Two, a series of researchers and commentators such as Huberman, Fullan and Hargreaves have concluded upon the key role of the teacher in curriculum implementation. They and others have underlined the importance of the wider context of the course team and of institutional structures, both in contemporary and historical terms, and beyond this, in the case of Goodson, Bates and Blenkin, of wider educational and societal influences. While stressing the complexity of the resultant situation and the individuality of specific contexts, much curriculum research stops short of attempting systematic analyses of the differing curricular responses across a range of contexts and of the underlying reasons for any emergent patterns. All too often such work seems to ignore Ball's, Goodson's and Cornbleth's pleas for research that investigates persistent styles of practice in differing circumstances, and those of Goodson for a more integrated approach to theory development which takes account of both the practical approaches in curriculum organisation and implementation and the perspectives of individual teachers and course teams.

Given the focus of this study on curriculum construction in the context of GNVQ courses and the fact that the GNVQ students have been enrolled on a course as a whole, rather than on a series of subjects as with GCSE or GCE A level, it seems not only wholly appropriate but important to consider the responses of the group of tutors responsible for the design, provision and assessment of the course. This group of tutors is referred to here by the term 'course team' though this should not be taken to imply that the group is an established, static or homogeneous entity, nor that it necessarily operates as an effective team of people collaborating in a shared enterprise. Indeed to take the term 'course team' as having a wider meaning other than a simple convenient label would be to invest it with a deeper significance that is not intended.

In devising categories for the analysis and presentation of the findings of the GNVQ Curriculum research project, categories that attempt to respond to the above pleas, the intention was twofold. Firstly, to provide a tool for the systematic analysis of the different curricular responses to GNVQ in different contexts, and for the possible contemporary and historical explanations for any patterns of response. Secondly, to create categories which would focus on the key role of the course team and course tutors in curriculum implementation within the wider institutional and policy context.

To achieve these objectives a number of potential categories were available as discussed in Chapter Two. Of these some are put forward at the level of the individual teacher in respect of a curriculum innovation in an institution (e.g. Adopted early; Adopted late; Partial Adoption; Not adopted, as in P. Kelly's research into the Nuffield A level Biological Science project). However, these types of categorisation were thought to be inappropriate for the present purposes in that not only is the focus on the role of individual teachers but such categories encapsulate a time dimension (P. Kelly) and/or a voluntaristic dimension (P. Kelly, Rudduck), both of which were irrelevant in terms of the GNVQ course teams given that once a decision had been made to proceed with a course, there was no possibility of late adoption or non-adoption in view of the students being enrolled on the course.

Other existing categories were situated at the level of the institution (e.g. Adaptive Extension; Accommodation; Containment, as used by the Leeds TVEI team). This categorisation, while having much to recommend it at an institutional level, was specific to institution-wide curriculum innovations such as the TVEI programme and did not match the scenarios at the course team level. It did, however, form a basis for the categories chosen in that it related to the broad types of response that were found in the GNVQ courses.

For the categorisation of departmental or course team responses, few models have been put forward. One of the more significant ones is that of Bowe, Ball and Gold who analysed departmental stances to the introduction of the National Curriculum in Mathematics, Science and English in four secondary schools. Their categories of response were 'professional' or 'technical'. The former entailing a greater degree of interpretation of curriculum specifications and the latter a greater reliance on official texts and guidance. These were useful concepts, though not providing sufficient differentiation to take account of the pattern of types of response that emerged from the analysis of the GNVQ data.

More generally, as seen in North America, there are two main prescriptive discourses in terms of curriculum innovation which might usefully lend themselves to a categorisation of curriculum responses. One is an implementation perspective which locates curricular approaches on a continuum from faithful implementation (a fidelity perspective) to adaptive implementation (as in McLaughlin's categories of 'Mutual adaptation', 'Cooptation' and 'Nonimplementation'). The other tradition discusses such innovations in terms of curriculum enactment by teachers and learners. However, as Cho argues, to adopt solely either perspective is to lose the potential of the other. Furthermore, as suggested above, this distinction is potentially misleading as it is possible, indeed fruitful, to consider simultaneously both the extent of the implementation of the innovation and the ways in which the curriculum is enacted.

It should be noted, however, that the categories developed (and described below) were grounded in the data. That is to say, they were not pre-determined categories but described the range and pattern of curricular responses that emerged from the analysis. The development of the categories, as well as the allocation of course teams to them, was undertaken following careful consideration of all the evidence available and giving due weight to the various sources: student, tutor and course leader interview material; notes on course material and student work; observation notes of classes, workshops and assessment; notes of attendance at open days; and, other field notes. Using these sources, consideration was given to each course team's approach to a number of areas: curriculum organisation, course provision, assessment, vocational aspects. These approaches were considered in the context of institutional polices; the course's facilities and resources; the composition of the course team; staff views on the GNVQ model; and, the course history. They were then analysed by: institutional type; institutional context and location; vocational area; qualification level; and, awarding body. The range of course team responses was clearly a continuum and a judgement had to be made with regard to the positioning of the category boundaries. This judgement resulted in the following categories of course team approach:

Implementation

The Implementation approach is where the course team exhibits a close adherence to the implied curriculum framework, here expressed in the GNVQ specifications, and does not bring a strong or systematic independent approach to curricular organisation and provision. Course teams in this category typically seek to understand what is required and expected of them by the qualification's specifications or syllabus and then attempt to implement this faithfully. There are a variety of reasons for this approach which will be discussed case by case in the next section. This Implementation category of course team response has much in common with the 'technical' response categorisation by Bowe et al., and the subsequent two categories of Adaptation and Assimilation may be said to equate to their broad category of a 'professional' response though a distinction is made here between different orientations of course teams vis--vis change.

Adaptation

Like the Implementation approach, Adaptation involves the course team in attempting to meet the expectations and requirements of the qualification's specifications but in a broader and less reliant way with the curriculum being influenced significantly by the course team's prior teaching or vocational experience and orientation. The particular adaptation of the curriculum by the course team may or may not be conscious.

Assimilation

The Assimilation approach is a more pronounced and self-conscious version of Adaptation with the distinction lying both in the extent of the impact of course team's prior teaching or vocational experience and orientation and also in the general intentions of the course team which seeks to assimilate the new course into its existing curricular tradition whilst meeting the minimum requirements of the qualification. This category of course team response is not dissimilar from McLaughlin's 'Cooptation' category or the 'Accommodation' or 'Containment' categories used in the analysis of TVEI institutional responses.

As with the TVEI evaluation discussed above, it is not suggested, however, that the categorisation of course team approaches was either straightforward or necessarily as clear-cut as the delineation of the categories might imply. Based on the sources of evidence and themes for analysis outlined above, there was a clear element of judgement in respect of the allocation of each of the course teams to the categories according to the best fit. Indeed, there was variability of approach by different tutors within the course teams and also overlaps between course teams placed in different categories.

It should be noted that the categories of approach are not put forward as having external validity in the sense that they are predictive of the type of response given certain conditions. That is to say while the vocational and teaching background and orientations of members of a course team, the reasons for the introduction of the course and the circumstances and resources pertaining in the institution and its locality may have led to a particular response, such is the complexity and variability of the many factors involved that no claim is made regarding causality in terms of the response of any other course team in this or any other curriculum initiative given an apparently similar set of circumstances. Where there may well be a generalisable element, apart from in the methodology, is in the identification of typical response categories or types.

We now turn to the summary and discussion of the different responses of course teams within their allocated categories. See Tables Three and Four for an overview of the range of responses. Within each response category the final course outlined is considered to be a typical example of the category and is treated in greater detail to give an increased insight in the nature of the response.

GNVQ CENTRE

Type

Course Area

Level

Approach

City School

11-18 School

Business

Intermediate

Adaptation

 

 

Manufacturing

Advanced

Assimilation

Peterson School

11-18 School

Health & Social Care

Intermediate

Implementation

 

 

Leisure & Tourism

Advanced

Implementation

Appletree School

11-18 School

Art & Design

Intermediate

Assimilation

 

 

Business

Advanced

Adaptation

Oakland School

14-18 School

Manufacturing

Intermediate

Assimilation

 

 

Art & Design

Advanced

Adaptation

Meadow VI College

VI College

Leisure & Tourism

Intermediate

Implementation

 

 

Health & Social Care

Advanced

Adaptation

 

 

Manufacturing

Advanced

Implementation

United College

VI/Tertiary College

Health & Social Care

Intermediate

Implementation

 

Business

Advanced

Implementation

Highgate College

FE College

Leisure & Tourism

Intermediate

Implementation

 

 

Health & Social Care

Advanced

Implementation

Morton College

FE College

Art & Design

Intermediate

Adaptation

 

 

Manufacturing

Advanced

Assimilation

Stanton College

FE College

Business

Intermediate

Implementation

 

 

Art & Design

Advanced

Assimilation

Portland College

FE college

Business

Intermediate

Implementation

 

 

Leisure & Tourism

Advanced

Assimilation

Table Three: Categorisation of Course Teams' Responses to the GNVQ Curriculum

Institution

Area

Level

Course team approach

Format of provision

Focus of activity

Pattern of unitisation

Length of concurrent units

Student position
vis--vis optional units

Stanton College

Bus.

Int.

Implementation

Unitised

Unit

Concurrent

Term

No choice

Portland College

Bus.

Int.

Implementation

Unitised

Element

Concurrent

Year

No choice

United College

Bus.

Adv.

Implementation

Unitised

Element

Concurrent

Term

No choice

Peterson School

H&SC

Int.

Implementation

Unitised

Element

Concurrent

1 or 2 semesters

No choice

United College

H&SC

Int.

Implementation

Unitised

Element

Sequential

n/a

Guided choice

Highgate College

H&SC

Adv.

Implementation

Unitised

Unit

Concurrent

Semester

Restricted choice

Highgate College

L&T

Int.

Implementation

Unitised

Element

Concurrent

1 or 2 semesters

No choice

Meadow VI College

L&T

Int.

Implementation

Unitised

Element

Concurrent

Year

No choice

Peterson School

L&T

Adv.

Implementation

Unitised

Element

Concurrent

Year

No choice

Meadow VI College

Manu.

Adv.

Implementation

Unitised

Unit

Concurrent

Semester

No choice

Morton College

A&D

Int.

Adaptation

Unitised

Element

Concurrent

Semester

No choice

Oakland School

A&D

Adv.

Adaptation

Unitised

Unit

Sequential

n/a

Choice

City School

Bus.

Int.

Adaptation

Unitised

Element

Sequential

n/a

No choice

Appletree School

Bus.

Adv.

Adaptation

Unitised

Element

Concurrent

Semester

Restricted choice

Meadow VI College

H&SC

Adv.

Adaptation

Unitised

Element

Concurrent

1 or 2 semesters

No choice

Appletree School

A&D

Int.

Assimilation

Project-led

Project

n/a

n/a

Choice

Stanton College

A&D

Adv.

Assimilation

Project-led

Project

n/a

n/a

Choice

Portland College

L&T

Adv.

Assimilation

Unitised

Unit

Concurrent

Year

Travel: Choice Sport: No choice

Oakland School

Manu.

Int.

Assimilation

Unitised

Element

Sequential

n/a

No choice

Morton College

Manu.

Adv.

Assimilation

Project-led

Project

n/a

n/a

Guided choice

City School

Manu.

Adv.

Assimilation

Project-led

Project

n/a

n/a

No choice

Table Four: Form of Course Organisation

3.2 The 'Implementation' Approach

3.2.1 Business Intermediate at Stanton College

As indicated above courses in this 'implementation' category tended to keep closely to the GNVQ specifications laid down for their particular course area, and the Intermediate Business course at Stanton College was a typical example of this. The course was unitised, that is to say that, as implied but not required by the GNVQ specifications, it was time-tabled according to the mandatory and optional units of the GNVQ specifications. Indeed 17 of the 21 courses investigated were delivered principally on a unitised basis, the only exceptions being some of the Manufacturing and Art & Design courses in the assimilation category (see Table Four). Thus this Intermediate Business course did not seek in the main to integrate content from different units nor to plan linkages across units. The units were time-tabled concurrently over the period of a term. In contrast to most of the other unitised courses, the focus of activity in this Intermediate Business course was on the overall unit rather then on the individual elements. It was thus slightly less in conformity with the implied structure of GNVQ than others in that sometimes an assignment or assignments would be planned to go across the unit and incorporate content from different elements within the unit.

The course team of three had previous experience of a wide variety of business and commerce courses and had previously taught Business courses offered by BTEC at First and National Diploma levels though they had not brought a clear flavour of these courses to GNVQ. They considered that the BTEC model had been much more permissive than GNVQ which they found constraining and inflexible, partly because of the burden of assessment:

you've got to cover so much that you cannot go outside it and do an assignment like this (BTEC) one that I'm talking about. You've got very little time to cover the whole thing in the book. In the GNVQ text book for the first section, the Unit One covered 155 pages of information and assignments and you have to do that in 45 hours, you know. (Stanton College, Business Intermediate course tutor)

and partly because of overly-prescriptive specifications. As the course leader commented about the Evidence Indicators:

Very prescriptive. But it's a case sometimes of . . . well they're prescriptive because as I said some of them say, you know, you can look at unit three for instance, just an example, and it will say you must look at three examples of internal communication. You must analyse two of these and you must look at four of this and four of that, and you think well hang on, you know, you might have a case study where those aren't included. (Stanton College, Business Intermediate course leader)

Two of the course team had prior vocational experience though this was distant, one had been a secretary for a multinational company some 35 years previously and the other had worked in a wholesalers fifteen years beforehand. Even in the latter case the tutor offered: 'my experience is probably out of date now'. This somewhat distant personal experience of working in business seemed to feed a general lack of confidence and unclear vision of the purpose of the course. This had not been assisted by the low student numbers and the college's unwelcome response which had been to replace 8 of the specialist tutors' 12 class contact hours with generic GNVQ workshop hours under the supervision of a non-specialist tutor thus increasing the need for reliance on course worksheets and learning packs. Consequently, individual work on assignments in a college GNVQ workshop was a central feature with little class teaching.

With regard to the optional units, students were given no choice as the course team thought two units stood out as being most suitable and also matched with the available staff. Both units linked up with units that most students would subsequently take as part of the Advanced Business course, and one, on Promotion and Sales, fitted in with the work experience centrally organised by the college and with students' own part-time jobs.

As with all courses, the course tutors were of the opinion that the integrated development and assessment of core skills within the vocational area was the ideal. Like the majority of the course teams (14 out of 21), the Intermediate Business course tutors sought to develop core skills within their vocational area as best they could but also looked outside the course team for support in this task. The support would typically come from specialist core skills tutors elsewhere in the school or college. For example, if a particular student was diagnosed as having difficulties in a particular core skill area, he or she might be expected to attend a voluntary workshop or even be referred by tutors for additional support. A particular feature of this course was that the additional support classes for Communication and IT were vocationally related.

Overall the course team's response to the college-wide introduction of GNVQ had been to conform to the perceived prescription and to retreat into a bureaucratic model of implementation with heavy reliance on the specifications and on national guidance and college guidelines to devise a course which was centred around student learning packs, worksheets and a course textbook.

3.2.2 Business Intermediate at Portland College

In a parallel course at Portland College, the single course tutor had emigrated after the first term and a new course team had been put in place with a variety of tutors. This replacement course leader who was new to the GNVQ Intermediate level but not to GNVQ Business readily acknowledged that she found the GNVQ specifications constraining, that this unitised course was not well organised and that the concurrent provision by element of all the units, each lasting a year, had led to a disjointed course with little integrated content:

I feel that it's too bitty and we are treating the units as little bits of information. It needs to be seen more . . . this is why I liked this idea of an integrated assignment when the students were out on work placement. And we need to see that, you know, there isn't one industry in isolation, there isn't one department within one industry operating in isolation. I think that students have to see the relevance of what they're doing in the classroom. They have to look at what they're doing there and base it on what is going on in the outside world. ( . . . ) I think as a vocational course I do find it quite restricting. (Portland College, Business Intermediate new course leader)

In courses elsewhere restrictions on staffing availability had led to units being taught by different tutors mitigating against the integration of content across units. In this course, however, the fact that the small team of tutors was time-tabled together for much of the week had not led to integration of content across units which were delivered by different tutors in parallel throughout year. The other main difficulty was that no one person had taken charge to oversee the course and ensure a coherent provision. This had led to the college's decision to bring in an experienced course leader who could teach across the various units.

The shortcomings in place during the period of investigation had been compounded by a high incidence of the use of student teachers on the course, one of whom had experienced difficulties with the relatively able group of 15 students who had not proved easy to teach. The new course team members, all of whom had a business background, did not find this (now disillusioned) group easy to teach either, variously describing lessons as 'nightmarish' and 'difficult', and sought to adhere closely to the GNVQ specifications. They were using Evidence Indicators as the basis for assignments in line with college policy (reinforced by the external verifier) and were treating the units as subjects which were taught separately throughout the year in parallel in 90 minute blocks. This was a common form of course provision (see Table Four) with units running concurrently throughout a term, semester or the whole year with different tutors taking a unit for perhaps 70 or 90 minutes each week. Unlike the case here, this course structure was normally driven by the organisational requirements of the institution, for example because of the availability of specialist staff who would teach on other courses time-tabled in a similar pattern of, say, double periods or 90 minute slots. For this Intermediate Business course, this format of course organisation was subsequently abandoned the following year for a semester model as work had tended to build up for students in each of the six units over the course of the year.

The team leader was critical of the content of the Intermediate GNVQ specifications which she felt were restrictive in that they were too focussed on business systems, people and organisations with little integrated content and practical vocational work. Equally, as some tutors only saw the group once a week for a 90 minute block, practical work as well as continuity was difficult to develop. The need to cover the content of the course in the 15 hours per week available and the nature of the group had also meant that the course team had been reluctant to take them on external visits and base integrated assignments on such work. Furthermore the high levels of unemployment in this deprived area had made any such contact with businesses difficult and the attitude of local employers had not helped either:

They're Intermediate students in an environment where we've got fairly high unemployment; where the shopping centre, the main shop in the town shopping centre is closing, and as a result of this many other multiple stores have said that they're going to pull out, not that we have many multiple stores. We're in an environment that isn't moving, it isn't going into the future, the [major industry] has retracted, you've got local companies here on our doorstep, they wouldn't entertain the idea of having students there on work placement when they write away for information locally, their letters are ignored. So you haven't got that time in the programme if you like, to cover these Evidence Indicators. (Portland College, Business Intermediate new course leader)

The result had been that the course, which had suffered from staffing changes and which had relatively low status in the college in terms of facilities, accommodation and timetable allocation, was heavily based on written work and worksheets and, despite the Business background of the tutors, tended to lack any practical vocational dimension being implemented closely according to the GNVQ specifications with little enhancement from local business links.

3.2.3 Business Advanced at United College

A further course falling in the category of 'implementation' was the Advanced Business course at United College which was taught by two members of staff on a unitised, concurrent basis, with a parallel course with a further two tutors. The course had a wide range of external links and outside speakers, with one week of work shadowing. The course tutors both had experience of work outside education and the course leader was clear that her experience of working in local government offices for twelve years gave her an insight into the standards required:

I think I know what's expected of them in an office and I know sort of the standards that's got to be attained in an office. And when they go out on work experience I can advise them what to do far better, that I've been there and seen it and realised that the work place is not somewhere where you can have sort of anything but good behaviour to be honest, and actually high standards. (United College, Business Advanced course leader)

In terms of course planning the tutors were each allocated their units and then proceeded from there to plan what they did and to communicate this to each other in the form of schemes of work. Tutors therefore had a degree of freedom in designing the curriculum for their units as long as they fitted their activities in with the Evidence Indicators. They seemed happy to be left to get on with planning and teaching their units within these clear parameters and had few complaints of GNVQ. There was however no apparent attempt to plan the course as a whole or the two parallel courses together. The approach of giving tutors their unit specifications and leaving them to their own devices had met with only partial success:

Sometimes it works, sometimes we've had a few problems with people not actually addressing what's needed, to be perfectly frank. I mean we have an internal verification system that we can identify where gaps in the Evidence Indicator have been.(United College, Business Advanced course leader)

and had led to concerns about the overall co-ordination of the course. Significantly all staff teaching on the course in the second year were different from those who had taught on it in the previous year.

Although the students were happy to recommend the course despite these problems and the heavy workload, they were given no choice in respect of the optional units:

we actually say that they all do the same ones simply because in theory it should be wonderful if you said: 'Right, there are your eight optional units, choose which one you want.' But there is a tremendous amount of work to preparing this . . . I mean, if you get them like I aim to do, to get them to read their own specifications and their own Evidence Indicator and range, and they can actually adapt to it and take it on board, then you're all right, but many of them can't, so sometimes you're spoon-feeding them to get this work through. So you imagine - I've got 17 in this group, I originally had 18, and there's 18 in the other group; you imagine that sort of combination. (United College, Business Advanced course leader)

Beyond this the same member of staff cited the disparate nature of the optional units as entailing not only a larger course team but one with a wider range of expertise. Additional language units were however offered in French, German and Spanish and a GCE A level was compulsory though in an area other than Business. Some students did GCE A levels in Information Technology and others in Economics. The explanation given related to the college policy to make the students' timetables of 12 hours up to 16 so they became full-time students and did not have to pay for their courses.

The college had central and well developed procedures for the support and development of core skills, as the GNVQ Co-ordinator in the college explained in respect of the two courses in her institution:

We have support tutors for Communication, Application of Number, IT and Personal Skills. We're very fortunate because often it is double-staffed but it's something that we've fought to keep and we hope that we're going to keep it. It's not a generous allocation but it's enough to support. I support Application of Number on this site and so in September I have a carousel arrangement which is distributed to all vocational tutors and they know exactly when I'm going to be coming on the Monday and Tuesday morning, it works out once a month. ( . . . ) Now that support can vary, it may be that they don't need any support as such themselves the tutors. It may be that a couple of students need support, it may be that students don't need support so I would take their portfolios to have a look at what number they'd done and we have a recording sheet, I'll show you in a minute, which we can update then. (United College, Business Advanced GNVQ co-ordinator)

Overall, despite the good level of vocational input and experience provided for students and the systematic approach to core skills, the scope for innovation in curriculum design by tutors was limited to the element level, though the experience of the individual tutors clearly influenced the form of provision in the different elements. The general lack of overall course co-ordination had resulted in the tutors each individually implementing their part of the course with a clear, and expected, reliance on the specifications and other external guidance.

3.2.4 Health & Social Care Intermediate at United College

In the same college the Health & Social Care Intermediate course also had two parallel groups, each with one main tutor. The course with which the GNVQ Curriculum project was concerned was principally taught by a former Physical Education teacher, though she had recently been joined by an ex-nurse. However, the course leader was new to the vocational area:

I think because I haven't got the depth and breadth in the industry at all, maybe it's a learning curve for me, so this is why maybe I don't give them lots and lots of handouts and things like this. We talk, we read, and we investigate together ( . . . ) They've got to go out there and find out and organise it for themselves. (United College, Health & Social Care Intermediate course leader)

She had however, been trained to become an internal verifier and had attended Further Education Development Agency (FEDA) network meetings for staff development though had not found these particularly useful.

The course again followed the implementation model with close adherence to the GNVQ specifications. It was very structured and organised with careful co-ordination of activities and assignments. The sequential pattern of unitised provision adopted here was relatively rare with only four of the 17 courses following this pattern, two of which, including the present course, were taught principally by single tutors which facilitated this model.

The students were given close supervision and guidance regarding assignments. However, despite this strong structure, the assignments were designed to place a strong emphasis on the students finding out for themselves. As with the other course area studied in this college, there were suggestions of previous difficulties arising from a lack of co-ordination and again a new course team had been put in place. This time though there appeared to be cross-fertilisation of ideas between the two parallel courses. Both courses were organised with units being delivered with a focus on elements. The two groups of students each undertook two units at the same time in one semester and then reversed tutors and units in the second semester. Here the tutors had considered integration and taught an integrated assignment on the induction course but had decided to stay with unitised provision by element as they believed students coped better with more focused assignments. It was also felt to be much easier for staff and for their professional development if they only needed to concentrate on the unit they taught and if this unit was within their specialist area.

Of the six courses that gave students a choice of optional units, two left the choice to the students as a whole but once a collective decision had been made all had to conform to this. One of these courses was the present course where the tutors considered the most popular choices and took their own specialisms into account in coming to a decision.

As indicated under the previous course, there was a central college policy of in-class support tutors for core skills and this course was one of only four which had involved such tutors in assessing the achievement of core skills in the completed assignment.

With regard to freedom in course provision, the course leader did not find the GNVQ specifications constraining in themselves and commented:

I need to know where I'm going and I need guidelines and I use the Evidence Indicator first and foremost, and I look at the PCs, and (compare) PCs to the range and I apply what I think. I look at other materials around and I pinch, and I talk to my colleague, and then she keeps my feet on the ground. She's actually a nurse and new into teaching, so she's got the industry links there and I'm the one with the ideas, I say let's go and do this. (United College, Health & Social Care Intermediate course leader)

She felt there was sufficient flexibility to tailor the course 'to the needs of the student and the environment, and facilities around in industry', though the volume of work for the one-year course brought its own constraints. This emphasis on meeting the needs of the students and in making the course as interesting as possible with visits, speakers, activities and weekly work experience was much appreciated by the students.

In summary, the main course tutor who had neither a work nor a teaching background in the vocational area had sought to design a motivating and practical course that was effective in meeting the GNVQ specifications. Although the response could be said to fall into the implementation category in organisational terms because of its close adherence to the specifications, the course was nonetheless carefully planned according to various generic curricular design principles.

3.2.5 Health & Social Care Intermediate at Peterson School

In contrast to the previous course, the Intermediate Health & Social Care course at Peterson School had an established course team of five tutors, each of whom was allocated one or two units which they taught concurrently throughout a semester or the whole year. These units tended to be referred to by students (and tutors) as subjects and there was strong identification of units with individual tutors. Only one of the tutors had significant prior vocational experience (as a school nurse), the others having teaching backgrounds in Home Economics, Health Education and Sociology. The course leader described the team as 'cross curricular': 'we've all come from other departments as well, we've all got fingers in other pies'.

As with the parallel course at United College, and several other Intermediate courses, the course team saw GNVQ as needing to be very practical in order to maintain student interest. The course leader felt that the diversity of tutors also assisted in providing variety and interest for students as did the use of outside speakers such as a health centre practice manager, a health visitor and a nursing home matron:

Well I think the students have chosen that course expecting to have quite a lot of hands-on experience, so they, if they're sat behind a desk a lot of the time, they will start to say 'Oh we didn't think this course would be sitting behind a desk like this all the time', so they do actually welcome the practical activities and they do actually also welcome a change of face as well. And if they know it's a specialist that's delivering something practically biased I think they take it on board more than if it's one of us and they perhaps think that we're making it up, or we don't really know what we're doing, you know, so they do honour more the person that's coming in as a specialist to deliver something. (Peterson School, Health & Social Care Intermediate course leader)

Outside visits had been more difficult to arrange given the tutors' 70 minute teaching slots though the course had been time-tabled over four days leaving one day a week free for work experience. This was scheduled in two blocks, each in a different company in the Health and Social Care sector, to which the two prescribed optional units were linked through assignments, as were three additional key skills units.

The course leader was generally very happy with the balance of content in the GNVQ specifications, did not find them constraining, though they were followed closely, and had enjoyed the new way of working that GNVQ had brought to her teaching. She, like others in the team, had undertaken some short periods of related work experience and made sure she had a good understanding of the unit being delivered.

The course provision was focussed on the element with an adherence to the Evidence Indicator structure. Apart from being encouraged by the specifications, this form of provision was seen to be suitable for the type of students on the course who, it was thought, would have found more integrated work difficult to cope with:

Well I look at the PCs, but I also look more at the Evidence Indicators and the range because obviously you've got to cover that and if you cover that you cover the PCs basically. But I look very much now at what they also recommend you do as well, you know, is it a report on this or that and I look at what's asked for and I try and write my assignments around that ( . . . ) they're based per element basically. I don't at the moment do one assignment for a whole unit. Now I know they are bringing that in and I'm dreading the day because of the low ability we have on the intermediates to do one assignment for a whole unit is going to seem like the end of the earth to them, so I don't know how they'll get on with that. (Peterson School, Health & Social Care Intermediate course leader)

The course then followed an implementation model in which, as with the course at United College, the students' interests were seen as paramount within the context of a faithful implementation of the curriculum implied by the GNVQ specifications.

3.2.6 Health & Social Care Advanced at Highgate College

Another course falling into this category which gave tutors significant freedom in course and assignment design, once units had been allocated, was the Advanced Health & Social Care course at Highgate College. Here there were a number of parallel courses (depending on student numbers) with up to 12 tutors in total.

The course had been preceded by two BTEC National Diploma courses - one in Health and the other in Social Care. Members of the course teams therefore came from different departments in the college and the college had retained joint course leaders, one in each area. This had served to perpetuate some division within the course area though students did benefit as the optional units were used to provide two sets of offerings: a Health route and a Social Care route. Students could elect for either route though there was no choice of units provided on either option.

On the surface the course had a clear structure and was well organised with a strong central bureaucratic culture from the college. However, the co-ordinated planning remained at a procedural level and tutors were given substantial freedom to pursue the unit in the ways they individually felt fit:

To deliver it any way they choose, yes. In any order they choose. Some of them go by element, some of them go by subject, some of them go, you know, combine all the Evidence Indicators, some go on individual elements. It's just left entirely up to them. (Highgate College, Health & Social Care Advanced joint course leader A)

This management of the course and the allocation of units restricted tutors' freedom in course design except within units and resulted in the GNVQ specifications being covered closely with little planned integration of subject content across units. The course therefore tended to be disjointed with a variety of approaches to the concurrent units which were effectively taught as discrete modules.

Despite the specialist routes and the vocational background of several course tutors, the course did not have a strong vocational flavour in terms of visits and outside speakers, even the college organised work experience was not linked into an assignment on the course as one of the course leaders explained:

I think with the Advanced students because we always allow them to choose, within reason ( . . . ) it's actually, it's not assessed and they don't do assignments out there. It's not easy to integrate into your assignments because the trouble is, because they choose, you might have one student at a vets, you know, another student at a hospital and they're doing social science, a student who's in the relevant placement is at an advantage, but we don't use it as well as we should. (Highgate College, Health & Social Care Advanced joint course leader A)

While the many individual tutors on this course were adopting a range of curricular approaches within their respective units, some of which might well be classified as adaptation or even assimilation, the overall model used by the course area was one of implementation of the GNVQ specifications in a relatively constrained way.

3.2.7 Manufacturing Advanced at Meadow VI College

In common with several of the courses in this category the implementation approach to the Advanced Manufacturing course at Meadow VI College was in part caused by the tutors' lack of vocational and teaching experience in the relevant area. This sixth-form college had a long tradition of preparing students for GCE A level but had been obliged to refocus some of its energy onto the emergent GNVQ in order to compete for and increase student numbers.

The college had been approached by a major chemical company based in the area to run the course as part of a programme of training future technicians. The course team of four, three of whom were members of the Science department teaching A level Physics and Biology and one of whom who was a former engineer teaching Craft, Design and Technology, had been asked by the college to mount a GNVQ Manufacturing course. When asked why he and his colleagues in Physics had been willing to take on the course in a new area, one of the tutors replied:

P45 would have ultimately been the incentive. Because I mean now there's four of us in Physics at the moment, at the time there were five but one's retired. We now have ( . . . ) 25 hours of A level Physics taught here per week, there are four of us. (Meadow VI College, Manufacturing Advanced course tutor)

The chemical company selected the students, required two science units to be taken as additional units, paid successful students a small bursary and guaranteed four weeks of paid work experience in the summer followed by the offer of training employment. However, despite this close relationship, the company had little input into the core of the curriculum other than to be a resource and the course team had been left to design and deliver the course. The course team's response had been relatively modest in that the GNVQ specifications were adhered to fairly closely but with little practical work undertaken. Despite this close adherence to the specifications the course team had not felt too constrained:

We certainly see freedom . . . part of the things that's Manufacturing, so that's different from other GNVQ areas in that there's not so many traditions, it's not an accepted body of knowledge. And even if it is to some people, we were never part of that closed set beforehand, so we covered 'What's Manufacturing?' Oh yes, oh right, that's . . . (Meadow VI College, Manufacturing Advanced course tutor)

The course was organised by concurrent units which were used as the basis for curriculum provision, but the course team had then adopted a mixture of assignment sizes taking a pragmatic approach to integration across units preferring to use a range of different-sized assignments to integrate content within units and sometimes across them. While, in theory, the larger projects were seen as desirable from point of view of content integration, it was believed that in practice such large projects could not be easily held together.

Although some tutors had taken part in teacher placements in industry, it was clear that the course team derived their view and understanding of the nature and content of the manufacturing area from the GNVQ Manufacturing specifications which they sought to implement as faithfully as they could:

I mean one of the things, I mean I'll admit I'm an amateur, you know. I was a Physics teacher and then this came along, so at a certain level where I receive my knowledge of what is Manufacturing is from the specs. You know, I don't have any great experience to draw on to contrast with that. The present specs I think are more comprehensible than the previous ones. ( . . . ) we've learnt as we're doing it, and we have been consulted about the new re-writes. (Meadow VI College, Manufacturing Advanced course tutor)

Thus despite having a Science background the tutors did not seem to have an independent view of what the course should entail, perhaps because of the distance between their own academic subject area and the vocational area of manufacturing which itself lacks a long tradition. This is not to suggest that the course was not carefully thought out and designed but the reliance on the specifications was a relatively strong one.

3.2.8 Leisure & Tourism Intermediate at Meadow VI College

In the same college, a further group of four tutors had also been identified and asked to offer a new GNVQ course, an Intermediate Leisure & Tourism course, as a result of the college policy to offer GNVQs. Two of these tutors had previously been teaching on Business courses and the other two were Geographers, though the course leader was keen to point out that all had some (limited) background in leisure and tourism either teaching or working in one of the sectors and there had been some GNVQ staff development internal to the college albeit in generic areas.

Perhaps because of the pulling together of a disparate course team whose specialisms lay elsewhere and maybe also because of the Business teaching background of the course leader, the tutors had focussed in detail on the implementation of the specifications as given and there was little suggestion of an external view of the vocational area being brought forward to influence the course design. Tutors choose one Leisure and one Tourism optional unit to offer. It was felt that there was no point offering different pathways at Intermediate level.

All elements in this unitised course were planned in a week-by-week scheme of work and kept centrally in a folder with assignments internally verified as being suitable for the assessment of the element or Evidence Indicator before they were given to students. As the course leader explained:

What it is, I'm left to it in the sense that I've planned. We all have a scheme of work, what it is we have a folder and in it we've got our scheme of work so we write down exactly what we're going to do week by week, then we actually have all the material that we're going to use in those weeks so be it a case study, be it a handout, be it an OHP. And the reason we've done that is because we thought if somebody was away they could just pick up that folder and say right this is where you are at. And it's worked, it really has, yes, because all our folders are in there, it's easy access for anybody, so if I'm away on a course or if I'm away for a week or something, everybody on the team knows where I'm at. And it's fine. So I'm left to do my own unit. (Meadow VI College, Leisure & Tourism Intermediate course leader)

Within this tight framework, tutors then had freedom to deliver their year-long concurrent unit as they wished though the course was essentially assignment-driven with a significant amount of independent work under supervision or in the college library:

We are giving them free time to go out and do research, and I think that's a novelty with them, because they've never been taught that, have they, especially at school? So for us to say to them, right, you've got this assignment, we brief them on the assignment, we tell them what to do and everything and right we'll say, right in the next lesson you're off to the library to do some research, and again it's a novel thing. But in our induction period for GNVQ we actually show them how to go about looking in the library, and how to do a reference, and how to do the paperwork and all that. (Meadow VI College, Leisure & Tourism Intermediate course leader)

In addition there was also a clear emphasis on students researching leisure and tourism facilities and a series of visits were undertaken in connection with this including a course trip to Amsterdam to look at Customs and the marketing of Zeebrugge's ferries.

Overall the course was organised and managed in a detailed and business-like way with planning focusing on the element. The course team, whose background in the vocational sectors was limited, went to some lengths to try and devise interesting and practical contexts for the element indicator tasks and placed a strong emphasis on the students to take the initiative. Nonetheless the model adopted was one of implementing the GNVQ specifications with pre-verification of assignments to ensure they adhered to the Evidence Indicator.

3.2.9 Leisure & Tourism Advanced at Peterson School

As with the two previous courses, the course leader of the Advanced Leisure & Tourism course at Peterson School had been asked to teach and lead this new course. In a similar way to the course leader of the Health & Social Care Intermediate course at United College, this former Economics A level teacher described this as a steep learning curve and felt unable to comment on the content of several units though he, like others in the team, had undertaken periods of work experience to increase his experience in this area. Most of the course team of seven in this comprehensive school had some form of general business background and there was some sports expertise. One tutor commented:

Leisure I think is the easier for us to do because there's things like sport which a lot of them are happier to do. Tourism, I could be totally wrong, but I do not think any of us have had a tourism background. (Peterson School, Leisure & Tourism Advanced course tutor)

Like many of the courses in the implementation category, the course was delivered on a unitised basis with units taught concurrently and with the focus of course activity being at the element level. The course leader stressed that assignments were purely based on elements because of the said GNVQ requirement for this and described how he started his assignment planning process as follows:

Definitely with the Evidence Indicator, then which is mainly the bulk of the assignment, then to look back at the PCs and decide which parts of the range need to be covered, then try to put vocational aspects on to the assignment, so to give you some sort of, you know, framework, context. (Peterson School, Leisure & Tourism Advanced course leader)

The specifications were said to be no more difficult to read and use than an GCE A level syllabus:

I find them just the same. I think it's the syllabus. I don't see it as any different at all, you know, I think it's set out differently but beyond that. ( . . . ) I personally find it very clear. Occasionally the jargon that they use is very complicated and once you've got beyond those, you'll find that it means something quite simple. A gut reaction feeling then . . . in terms of the actual specs as opposed to an A level syllabus I see very little difference. I find them both stating what needs to be taught and that's it. (Peterson School, Leisure & Tourism Advanced course leader)

There was no student choice of optional units as tutors did not feel that they had the relevant vocational experience to offer specialist pathways, particularly given the view expressed that some optional units were highly specialised. Here two of the optional units were language units (French at level 2) which had run successfully on a GNVQ business course for 2 years but were thought to be more relevant to the Leisure & Tourism area. Beyond this the course team strongly encouraged students to take additional core skills units for which there were specialist classes in IT and Application of Number outside the course.

While there was no strong leisure and tourism staff background, the course had a number of strong vocational links with companies in the area and students undertook 3 weeks of work experience within the sector each May with linked assignments, though visits to leisure or tourism facilities were not easy to organise within the constraints of the school day.

As indicated above the course was organised at the element level and the GNVQ specifications were seen as relatively uncontentious to implement by this course team which had little specialist expertise in the vocational sectors and tended to follow the specifications closely.

3.2.10 Leisure & Tourism Intermediate at Highgate College

This established course in an FE college was delivered to two groups totalling thirty students by a course team of four. While the course leader had a background in personnel administration and also taught on GNVQ Business courses, the other team members had a leisure and tourism background. However, only two members of the team were principally engaged in teaching on the course, one being the team leader and the other a former hotel manager. One of the two further members of the course team had a travel and tourism background and the other, who assisted with the customer service unit and Information Technology, had worked in hotel management. The course team, some of whose members changed from year to year, were assisted by two Post-Graduate Certificate in Education students who were undertaking a major but part-time teaching experience placement. They both had Sports Science degrees and experience of working in sports centres so this had been felt to assist with the balance of experience in the team.

The course leader did not consider himself to be at a particular disadvantage in terms of a lack of vocational or teaching experience in the area, considering that only general teaching ability was necessary to research and deliver the specifications at Intermediate level. He was planning though to take the opportunity to undertake some work experience in a local museum which was of personal interest to himself and which fed into an additional unit on art heritage and history that he would be offering the following year. He was confident and business-like (not unlike the course leader on the Intermediate Leisure & Tourism at Meadow VI College who had a similar business background) and had a strong influence on the content and nature of the course which was efficiently organised within a clear college framework of policies and procedures.

The course was timetabled on a concurrent unit basis with tutors having responsibility for different units. Integration across units had been attempted and rejected and a decision had been made to deliver the course at the element level as it was felt this was more manageable for the students, and for the staff. It was also felt preferable for staff to teach their specialist unit in terms of both their vocational interests and their professional development.

As with several of the other courses in this implementation category, the freedom given to tutors was somewhat confined by the course leader's expectation that all assignments would be planned to focus on the element using the Evidence Indicator. He had welcomed the increased guidance given by the awarding body and found the Evidence Indicator approach useful in making clearer what was required:

I think the up-dated version is better, it's more precise and more specific than the original version was. From our awarding body, the BTEC awarding body, we have much more wide-reaching guidelines than just the performance criteria. We've got guidelines about Evidence Indicators and more explanation of what's required against the PCs. I think certainly the up-dated version of the units of study and the elements within those units of study are better than they were. (Highgate College, Leisure & Tourism Intermediate course leader)

He would even have welcomed standardised nationally-set assignments, though this view was not shared by his course team who enjoyed devising assignments that related to their professional interests. This focus on the Evidence Indicator had been reinforced by the approach of the external verifier. While the Evidence Indicator would be rephrased to accommodate the particular nature of the assignment and to make the language more student-friendly, all assignments had to be planned and to be internally verified in advance to ensure they integrated the core skills and met not only the requirements of the Evidence Indicator but also those of Performance Criteria. This had been the former procedure and had been maintained as being helpful, though not necessary, under the new system.

The close monitoring of schemes of work and of the constituent assignments, which formed the basis of the course, was not seen as a diminution of professional responsibility as tutors were encouraged to reflect their personal vocational experience in devising the content and focus of the assignments and were given full autonomy in the classroom or workshop. This framework, which extended to prior agreement of lesson plans with the student teachers, was principally designed to assist with the transient and part-time nature of the course team. It did not seem to be resented by course members who enjoyed devising assignments and led to an organised course with an efficient focus on the Evidence Indicators. At the same time the different tutors were able to bring in a range of assignments that involved the students in the first-hand investigation of various leisure and tourism facilities in the locality, and while there were few direct vocational links with companies in the sector, a number of external visits were organised and students undertook three weeks of vocationally related Work Experience. While there was a variety of teaching styles in evidence, there was a general student-centred approach with much one-to-one teaching and support.

There was a general belief that the linking of 'Leisure' and 'Tourism' had led to a overly ambitious and broad qualification. As with the other Intermediate Leisure & Tourism course, members of the course team readily classified the students into two types according to whether they were interested in Sport (primarily male students) or Tourism (primarily female), and even extended this to tutors that they had met at conferences and on short courses, characterising them as tracksuit wearers or as tweedy suit types. Again as with the other course, the course leader did however reject the notion that the optional units should be optional at the student level, preferring to offer students at least one unit from each side to ensure a balance but permitting a second 'specialised' optional unit as an additional unit:

The optional units - they're part of the main thrust of the GNVQ. So having said that, the choice of optional units then becomes a little bit more crucial to make sure that they have a balance ( . . . ) between 'Leisure' and 'Tourism'. Because if we're giving them a curriculum that's supposed to give them the entitlement to go in either direction, then their portfolio, their profile if you like, has to have breadth. And it's unfair if one student really concentrated on the sporty option units alone, only, and nothing to do with the travel destinations, so what I've done is to say, right, you will do the sports thing if you wish to but you will then do the administrative one and you will do the travel destinations one. ( . . . ) So we're treating the third option unit on a certificate as an additional. (Highgate College, Leisure & Tourism Intermediate course leader)

Beyond this students were given the opportunity to take an NVQ Customer Service unit at Level 2 and additional units in foreign languages, though the latter had not been popular nor had the European Awareness unit which replaced them.

Across this course, as with other Intermediate courses, one of the driving forces in the selection and organisation of content was the desire, not to say need, to make the course accessible and motivating for students who were generally considered to require much support and assistance. This student interest, and to some extent staff interest, dictated the design of practical assignments and the linking of assignments to work experience, activities and visits. These choices though were exercised within a strongly defining framework of course team and college policies which reinforced the GNVQ specifications and led to an implementation approach.

3.2.11 Summary of Implementation Responses

As we have seen, the ten course teams in this category adhered closely to the GNVQ specifications for their vocational area, though within some course teams individual tutors took an adaptation or assimilation approach. It should also be noted that while some course teams implemented the GNVQ curriculum in a constrained way, others (such as the Leisure & Tourism Intermediate course at Highgate College or the Health & Social Care Intermediate course at United College) worked within the spirit of the GNVQ specifications, albeit with close adherence, to develop a range of practical and motivating work-related tasks.

Spread across six of the ten GNVQ centres, the course teams with an implementation approach all organised the course around the GNVQ units and most had adopted the Evidence Indicator as the focus of course activity within these units, in both cases as implied but not required by the specifications. Typically there was an attempt by the course team to understand what was required and expected of them in the specifications and then to implement this. This is not to suggest that they were merely 'curriculum technicians' as in the 'technical' response categorisation by Bowe et al. as GNVQ does not of course provide a laid down curriculum and some degree of interpretation and curricular design is required.

The apparent explanations for the general close adherence to the specifications were however varied and multiple. In the case of the Advanced Business course at United College, the Advanced Health & Social Care course at Highgate College, the Intermediate Health & Social Care course at Peterson School and the Intermediate Business Course at Portland College, a major contributory factor was the absence of overall course curriculum planning other than at a procedural level, for example the allocation of units to tutors. In each of these cases once it had been decided which tutors were teaching which units, the tutors, often from disparate teaching areas, were then given significant autonomy within their units ranging from full autonomy (with consequent varied curriculum design approaches) on this Advanced Health & Social Care course to the expected use of the Evidence Indicator to structure the units on these other three courses. The course teams' general but unspoken approach was that the specifications had done most of the course planning for them in dividing up the curriculum content of knowledge, skills and understanding into suitable, or at least acceptable, units for 'delivery'. In all four cases, curriculum co-ordination was effectively left to the centrally planned GNVQ specifications and in two cases, at Portland College and at United College, this had led to staffing changes to bring about greater coherence. The reasons for this overall approach of reliance on the specifications to dictate the courses' structure and approach often seemed to derive from a lack of a shared understanding of the purpose and nature of the course and of a shared set of guiding principles derived from the vocational area or a related vocational or curriculum area. (Indeed one might question whether the term 'course team' is a meaningful one here, though as indicated above it merely serves as a convenient label for a group of tutors.) In some cases, however, the administrative structures and the practical and material circumstances of the course were also highly significant in contributing to an implementation approach.

An important factor on five of the six Intermediate courses in the implementation category, including the two intermediate courses discussed above was the nature of the students on the course. A major justification expressed by course leaders for the close adherence to the specifications was that it was felt that the students would not be able to cope with moving too far from the specified element indicators nor with integrated assignments. The tight structure clearly indicated in the specifications was said to lend a sense of purpose and progression as the students worked through these shorter-term tasks and gained feedback from the assessment. This was not to suggest that all the resultant courses were necessarily restricted in their scope. The Health & Social Care course at United College was carefully planned and built round a range of interesting vocationally oriented practical activities, visits and case studies as were the Leisure & Tourism courses at Highgate College and Meadow VI College, despite the fact that none of the leaders of these courses had experience or a teaching background in the vocational area. Consequently, they did tend to rely closely on the element indicators to dictate the structure of the course and the nature of tasks required but then sought to give these interesting and practical content and context. In the case of the latter course there was though a greater reliance on written work and on students working independently.

The sixth intermediate course, the Business course at Stanton College had not felt these student pressures to the same extent and the course activity was organised along unit lines. However the close adherence to the specifications had resulted from low student numbers leading to a college decision to cut teaching hours on the vocational units to four per week plus eight hours in a supervised workshop. This lack of teaching contact time had caused the course team to devise a course dominated by worksheet and written activities that followed the specifications closely.

On the Meadow VI College Leisure and Tourism a college management decision to offer the course and to ask tutors with limited or no vocational experience to take it on may also have contributed to the implementation approach. It had clearly done so in respect of the Manufacturing course in the same sixth form college where the course team, composed mainly of A level science tutors and with some engineering experience, did not bring a clear interpretation of Manufacturing to the course.

In addition to these two course teams, there were several other cases where this general lack of an independent approach to the GNVQ curriculum and the close adherence on specifications was to a greater or lesser extent related in part to limited vocational experience or teaching background in the course area. Further factors that led to an implementation approach and to a restricted course with a reliance on the specifications were: the relatively low status according to some Intermediate courses by the institution in terms of access to specialist facilities, resources and staffing; and, the policy or expectation in some institutions that GNVQ courses would be based on the Evidence Indicator. On some courses this policy was reinforced by pre-verification of assignments by internal verifiers to check that the assignments covered the Evidence Indicator.

The implementation approach was thus the result of the influence of a combination of factors. For reasons such as a lack of external reference point or local circumstance the course teams in this category tended to seek to understand what was required by relevant GNVQ specifications and to devise and implement a curriculum to meet them as closely as they could or simply were constrained to follow the specifications closely because of course structures and policies.

3.3 The 'Adaptation' Approach

3.3.1 Business Intermediate at City School

As with the implementation approach, the course teams in this adaptation category sought to follow the GNVQ curriculum requirements, although the interpretation of these was a more flexible one with less reliance on the specifications. The courses bore the strong influence of the tutors' prior experience, whether in teaching or in the vocational area itself. Falling within this category, the Intermediate Business course at City School was delivered by a single tutor who had previously worked in business before coming into teaching five years earlier. The tutor believed that the GNVQ specifications were too focused on written tasks with an emphasis on writing about doing business rather than carrying out actual business practices. She felt they lacked a practical dimension and wished to see more routine office work:

There's a lot of stuff that's repeated and there's a lot of stuff where it really is sort of writing about things rather than actually doing things, you know. There's not an awful lot on the accounts side, where really there could be more on that, there could be more on everyday running of business. It's a lot of sort of looking at a business and writing about it. (City School, Business Intermediate course tutor)

The curricular response had been two-fold: Initially, she had devised a sequential unitised course that was delivered by the element and which adhered closely to the specifications. The course took place in a single classroom with the tutor present and available throughout the week. The basic approach was task-led with students working at their own pace through a series of worksheet-based element assignments, many of which were directly based on the tutor's own experience in business or on case studies. The tutor had then written a published textbook following this approach to minimise confusion for students and to assist them to cope with the complexities of the original GNVQ assessment requirements. The main justification of the approach and the subsequent textbook was to assist both students and tutors in coping with the complexities of the original GNVQ specifications with their emphasis on Performance Criteria. The tutor described her approach to designing the assignments which formed the core of the course as follows:

Well originally I wrote them round performance criteria and the range, the tasks, and now I tend to still do that because it does cover the Evidence Indicators but perhaps a bit more detail sometimes than there need be. But I also, when I go to do a new assignment I go to the specifications, that's the bible, which this tells you exactly what you have to do so I look at that, and I look at that and make sure I'm not making them do something they don't have to do. ( . . . ) That gives you the Evidence Indicators so you can double check to make sure that we're covering everything in there and we're not covering things we don't have to cover. (City School, Business Intermediate course tutor)

Despite this relatively close adherence to the GNVQ specifications, one which might indicate an implementation approach, the course tutor had devised a series of more practical activities relating directly to her view of the needs of the vocational area. She had built up a strong link with a major network selling company and, with the students, had set up mini-enterprises which sold jewellery and perfume products and which dealt with supply companies. In each case the activities involved both visits and external speakers and led to linked assignments:

We've also started our own mini-enterprise linking up with a firm in (name of town) that sell perfumes, and we've got our own perfume kits. We have the kits and the students take them home to their parents and family and sell them and we keep our accounts and records for that, and we also got a chap from there who works there. He actually came and spoke to the students as well, and (name of student) collared him, [turning to the student working in the classroom] didn't you?, and actually wrote one of your assignments round the perfume factory - so we've linked those two businesses in quite well. We've used them for two of our assignments ( . . . ) and they're very different because the perfume factory is very small, and lots of problems that they've got there, and they can actually see a small business, and then they can see a very large business like (name of network selling company). (City School, Business Intermediate course tutor)

In this way the students were able to conduct all the practical business activities that the tutor felt were lacking in the GNVQ specifications. Beyond this the students undertook related work placements which were also directly linked to assignments.

In terms of the GNVQ qualification, the course assignments thus followed the specifications very closely in the implementation mould. At the same time there was much evidence that the overall course curriculum included a series of additional practical activities which were linked into the element-based written assignments. So the course, while adhering to the GNVQ specifications, had been consciously adapted to reflect the views and vocational experience of the course tutor, unlike the two other Intermediate Business courses which, partly constrained by circumstances principally arising from their low status, had followed an implementation model.

3.3.2 Business Advanced at Appletree School

The Advanced Business course at Appletree School was delivered by a team of four tutors, three of whom had some experience in business. The three full-time members of the team also formed the GCE A level Business Studies team and equal numbers of students took both courses. The school gave GNVQ Business an equal status with GCE Advanced Business Studies and the course leader explained:

Therefore that's up to us in our promotional activities to distinguish between the two. At the moment it's reasonably easy in that an Advanced GNVQ is given two slots in the option blocks whereas an A level is given one; so if somebody wants a weighty chunk of Business Studies then they can opt for the Advanced GNVQ; if they want it as part of their programme (of) three or more A levels, two or more A levels, then they can opt for the GCE A level. We also tend to put more emphasis on the fact that the A level is end-tested as opposed to the predominance of continuous assessments on a GNVQ, so that there are people who are good in the exam room who obviously opt for the largely terminally A level, although we're doing the A level modular and we're opting for course work where students want to, to give them an opportunity to do their marks, you know, to get their marks before they go into the exam room. (Appletree School, Business Advanced course leader)

The GNVQ Business course was organised with the tutors each teaching their specialist units (as they did the A level modules) which ran three at a time on a semester model. The course leader gave the principal reason for the unitised provision as being the 'very diverse specialities' of the tutors on the course. This allowed each tutor to take a unit in his or her specialist area.

Tutors were given full freedom to plan their own assignments and tasks. While these assignments were usually based on elements, they were sometimes based on a unit though this was not seen to be an easy option. Tutors on this course had considered the wide-scale integration of course provision and had rejected this. Nonetheless, going some way towards a major integrated assignment, the course team had devised a mock national election project - the highlight of the course for the students - which incorporated a diverse series of smaller assignments:

I've interpreted the criteria to allow me to do that because within that unit and I mean, probably in more detail than you're going to want, but within that unit they have to identify the objective of an event, identify the constraints, obviously you do that before you start, determine the (?), produce a planning schedule, we've had to do that, to get it ready for the (?), provide and monitor the admin. on the event, that's what they'll do on the day, and then evaluate it. And what better event than that? Identify the documents required, draft them, produce them in final format, send them out and store them. Again, it's talking about an event, we have documentation, what's wrong with interpreting the criteria so that at the end of the day we've got business documents in evidence? We've got draft and file copies, we're going to have to manufacture the electronic transmission side of it but so be it, we'll do that, that may be how we transmit our results to the press, we'll e-mail one of the local papers, or we'll fax one of the local papers or whatever with the results and a picture of somebody doing it, perhaps a Polaroid, you know, paste it on and fax it. So that sort of thing will happen. (Appletree School, Business Advanced course leader)

Despite this election project which stood out from the rest of the course, the GNVQ tutors' discourse reflected the way they saw the GNVQ, essentially in GCE A level terms of 'finance units' and 'economics type units' with concepts such as 'demand and supply' being taught formally by the specialist tutors. The Unit tests were approached 'properly in the same way that we prepare an A level student for an examination' (Course leader).

As the school was located in a market town in a rural area, local businesses were saturated with requests from course-work students in many subject areas and visits and external speakers were also difficult to arrange, in the case of the former particularly so given the constraints of the timetable and the distance to the nearest major town. Equally the practical influence of Work Experience was limited as there was only one week (common to all Year 12 students) which was not linked to an assignment.

The course leader was happy with the overall balance of content in the GNVQ Advanced Business though he found the course hard for the students to get through 'doing it properly in our view'. The essential distinction between the GCE A level and the GNVQ business courses in the school was seen to be that the GCE course was more taught 'more formally' and was 'end-loaded' (although the course-work option minimised this difference) and that the GNVQ course was more practical and for those who wanted a double dose of Business without the constraints of examinations. There was however a convergence of teaching styles and approaches and it was clear that each of the courses was influencing the other. The course then was being adapted in line with the GCE A level approaches and expectations of the tutors though it had maintained a distinctive GNVQ flavour of more practical activity.

3.3.3 Art & Design Intermediate at Morton College

At Morton College a management decision to replace the BTEC National in Design, Print and Photography by GNVQs in Art & Design had been imposed on the tutors in the area who had been apprehensive about this move. The Intermediate course had since struggled to recruit in terms of both quantity and quality of students as the college, which was a Technology college, was in direct competition with an Art college and a number of local schools were offering the same course. Indeed the previous year's course, based mainly on one tutor, had not seen any completing students and a new course team and leader had been brought in by the college to address the situation. The new course leader commented:

We're not a college of art and design, we're a college of technology, you know, we have resources in DTP and photography. But we do have to bend the rules quite a bit as far as the interpretation for photography ( . . . ) in a way manipulating the interpretation of what that unit was, to enable us to deliver 3 hours photography a week for that. (Morton College, Art & Design Intermediate new course leader)

The five tutors in the new course team, each with vocational experience and a different specialism, were aware of their strong design background and of the specialist print and photography facilities of the college and had perhaps over-compensated by giving the course a strong general art flavour with some (limited) emphasis on design principles. It was not easy to discern any vocational elements to the work undertaken and artefacts produced, as fieldwork notes indicate:

Again strong impression was of the fine art bias of the work. The only functional work I saw was some graphic work, advertising posters, logos, headed paper etc. from the print course. But the GNVQ work at both Advanced and Intermediate levels seemed to me to be almost wholly self-expressive. Mentioned again to (name of tutor) that I'd been surprised that the work I'd seen was as "arty" as it was. He agreed that the emphasis was on art rather than design, thought this might be a reaction to the design/print background of the department. (Fieldwork observation note)

Interesting that all the examples which (name of another tutor) used were from nature and great artists, nothing from commerce, industry, everyday life - is this an example of the lack of vocationalism in Art & Design courses? (Class observation note)

Despite the urban location of the college, there were few vocational links, no work experience was undertaken and there were few external speakers and visits. The course leader was happy to admit that the course was not vocational in orientation and encouraged individual creativity and personal expression.

The course team had pulled back from a complex, almost unworkable, project-based approach to course provision in previous years. The course had moved to a unitised format with four or five units running at any one time and was now focussed essentially on the element though with a range of assignments that sometimes crossed over elements and even units. As the course leader explained:

That was our third year of GNVQs. We had initially started from a very big feeling 'Oh let's just write an assignment and we'll pick elements from here and PCs from there and units' and that and it was the most horrendous thing to have sat. Absolutely horrendous, as students said to me when they had finished the unit. We never knew really when they'd finished the unit, we had to wait till we had the whole day of assessment, cross checking. Oh, it was really too laborious, so we got to that through trial and error really. And then had cross college team of GNVQ co-ordinators in all subject areas and we just sort of learnt from each others' experiences what worked and what didn't. (Morton College, Art & Design Intermediate new course leader)

 

This course was the only one which involved specialist tutors in both the writing and assessment of core skills aspects in vocational assignments. Two nominated core skills staff were part of the vocational team planning and delivering this GNVQ programme. The core skill staff would attend team meetings and assist the vocational staff to build core skills into the assignments, supplementing these with targeted special assignments to cover approximately ten per cent of the core skills material. All vocational area assignments would have to be approved by core skills staff who would later assess the core skills evidence. These tutors also staffed the workshop and were allocated hours on their timetables to support the course in whatever way the course team thought fit.

The course leader was keen to develop the particular contribution that this technology college could bring to GNVQ, partly arising from the experience, expertise and commitment of the team members and the college facilities and resources but also as a distinctive marketing device given the strong competition from the neighbouring art college. This conscious decision could be seen most clearly in the two optional units that were offered to the students, one focusing on desktop publishing and creative graphics and the other on photography. The course team had thus brought about the development of a more technological perspective to the course by adapting the GNVQ Art and Design specifications.

3.3.4 Art & Design Advanced at Oakland School

The course team of the Advanced Art & Design course at Oakland School consisted of five tutors. All were Art and Design trained and all but one (who was a fine art specialist) had vocational experience. With the exception of one tutor who was in her first year of teaching, this was an established team of GCE A level Art teachers. Students had their own place in a small Art studio, which they could use all week long if they wished, and worked individually through projects sequentially. These projects tended to be based on single units on which all tutors worked together, though one tutor would take a lead on an individual project. Here the link was seen as the student's piece of work with the project assignment driving the student's learning activity and interactions with tutors. The principal justifications given were that students preferred to concentrate on one unit at once and that it was impractical to be constantly packing away materials to switch between projects. Integration across units via larger assignments was not a feature of the course though some units were paired with a common theme running through so that students could develop their work, for example by basing 3D work on earlier 2D drawings.

There was little formal input other than demonstrations of techniques at the beginning of units and students would seek help and specialist tuition as and when required. This way of working had been chosen to unify the students' curricular experience, to give them maximum flexibility and to free them from the constraints of the main school timetable which gave tutors 50 minute blocks of teaching. These constraints overcome, the tutors saw few if any constraints on the curriculum other than those applied to the students' work in terms of simulated vocational briefs.

The vocational dimension tended to permeate the latter half of the course in terms of the contextualisation of the work undertaken, though external vocational links were relatively limited. One external brief had been accepted and, as with all sixth-formers, the students on the course undertook a week of work experience. However, because of the rural location of the school access to relevant businesses and other resources such as museums and art galleries was severely restricted.

Tutors interviewed were quite clear about the distinction between A level and GNVQ. The tutor in her first year of teaching explained:

A-level is much more self-expression and they don't have any . . . you don't ask them to look at clients. You don't say to them you're going to design a mural. They start with a theme and they work on a concept. They never work on graphics or - it may look like graphics because they've been interested to look into graphics but, unlike GNVQ, they'll have Woodlands or Sea & Shore. They'll develop towards a composition or a piece of textile but it won't be for anywhere. It won't have any limitations, whereas (GNVQ) they'll be told you can only make it this big and it has to be in these 3 colours - whereas A-level will never be restricted. (Oakland School, Art & Design Advanced course tutor)

and the course leader stated:

I would hope that when you'd looked through a student's portfolio you would see a glaring difference between what an A level art course is like here and what a GNVQ course is like. With GNVQ, as I would hope, you would see a much more integrated approach to what is the design process. (Oakland School, Art & Design Advanced course leader)

Despite the differences signalled by these tutors between GNVQ Art and Design and GCE A Level Art relating to the contextualisation of simulated briefs and the design aspects, a strong vocational dimension was not in evidence for GNVQ students and the main criteria for curriculum decision-making on this course was

student progression at Advanced and if all our students get accepted into higher education if that's where they want to go, then that is the main criteria, everything else we will make sure we fit. (Oakland School, Art & Design Advanced course leader)

Students had a relatively free choice of optional units though they were expected to take a photographic unit. In practice they mostly did the same units (typically those based on 2D, 3D, media, photographic work). There was little suggestion of any specialist route, indeed the optional units were not seen by tutors as being particularly specialised. No additional units were offered as a GCE A level was encouraged (in an area different from Art so that students broadened their curriculum). The course leader thought that offering a range of additional units could be seen as 'paper-chasing' and that they could affect the quality of the non-additional units.

At Oakland School the GNVQ course teams had sole responsibility for the development and assessment of core skills. The Advanced Art & Design tutors expressed a certain unease about this situation but were covering the specifications for core skills in the vocational area assignments.

While the course team's expressed commitment to the GNVQ concept was present within the design briefs, in terms of overall organisation and provision the course had effectively been adapted to the established pattern of individualistic project working of the GCE A level Art oriented team.

3.3.5 Health & Social Care Advanced at Meadow VI College

This unitised course was principally taught by two tutors who were originally solely GCE A level lecturers in this sixth-form college. As with the other two courses studied in this college (Advanced Manufacturing and Intermediate Leisure & Tourism), they had gone along with the college management decision to move into GNVQ as their A level course numbers had dwindled. The tutors, formerly an A level Biology lecturer and a Head of Home Economics, received some part-time assistance from a former psychiatric nurse and from two other GCE A level specialists who differed from year to year but were usually a sociologist and a psychologist (and for whom they provided a brief introduction to GNVQ). One of the two main tutors summed up the situation thus:

We were A level establishment. We were just pitched in at the deep end. (Meadow VI College, Health & Social Care Advanced course tutor A)

and they had found the situation:

very stressful, because we'd never done anything like it before, and when you come from an academic background, and just get launched into this, and to understand all the BTEC speak of the specifications was extremely overpowering and difficult. (Meadow VI College, Health & Social Care Advanced course tutor B)

For various structural reasons and because of the late arrival of specifications, the tutors had been given little time to prepare the course, had found little guidance forthcoming from the college and had been obliged to fall back on their own experience. Nonetheless they had found themselves having to 'increase your expertise in areas that you never dreamed of before'. They reported that they had been given much conflicting advice from a variety of national sources which had been demoralising and frustrating and that when they had sought support from their awarding body about the depth to go into for performance criteria they had been told to interpret them as they wished. Their general response had been: 'if it's supposed to be an A level course, then we all teach to A level standards' and this had been supported by their external verifier.

Having devised the course along these lines they had tended to 'stick with it' despite having access to staff development organised by the college. The staff development courses organised by the awarding bodies were not thought to have helped with the problems faced: 'generally speaking they're not very useful, you really learn on the job' and the staff were rather scathing about other courses: 'very much a case of the blind leading the blind'. The two tutors had though found involvement in a GNVQ network of tutors useful.

This GCE A level emphasis, coupled with the front-loading of the mandatory units on the course encouraged by the GNVQ model, had meant that students were faced with a demanding course as they were expected to perform at A level standard in Year 12:

But they struggle with what they're doing. I mean the other thing about a GNVQ - with A level Biology you start, well, or with A level Home Economics - any A level, you start them off at a basic level and gradually work them up to a more difficult context, whereas with these, you're pitching them straight into advanced Physiology or advanced whatever; and there's no opportunity to build up any - or fill in any gaps, before you're actually into the meat of it. So a lot of them doing the Equal Opps ( . . . ) won't have any Sociological context from earlier, you know, lower down the school. Some of them have probably never done Sociology before. (Meadow VI College, Health & Social Care Advanced course tutor A)

This is not to suggest that the tutors were now anything but very positive about GNVQ to which they had an obvious commitment but rather that the general course culture had a subject discipline orientation and the tutors' discourse reflected their GCE A level subject perspective. For example in a discussion of which optional units they offered, one commented:

There's a Physics type and a Chemistry type unit. The majority of our students wouldn't be wanting to do that. There's Technical Science for Health Care; there's Physical Science for Health Care, that's for the Chemistry unit and Physics unit. Then the Physiology's more of a Biology unit again; and then there's another Psychology-type unit. (Meadow VI College, Health & Social Care Advanced course tutor A)

and this nomenclature had transmitted itself to the students who also referred to some of the units as Biology or Sociology units.

The two main course tutors, who each delivered the units in their specialism, explained that they had initially adopted the element-based pattern of provision as it was 'convenient', seeming to them to be the only way to cope when the specifications first came out and they had to prepare for the course in a matter of weeks over the summer. They had found that this format assisted students to work well in a focused way and that, as there was much content to cover in the course, it enabled them to keep a close eye on the coverage of the range and helped students to see where they stood in relation to this. They had therefore tended to stay with this format of provision adjusting a little to the Evidence Indicators when they had been introduced. They did not see the GNVQ specifications as particularly constraining and, while admitting that they were 'teaching in a very formal structured way', one of the tutors found that, compared to teaching A level:

there's the opportunity to be much more exciting in a sort of restrained way. [laughter] You can't do it in Biology because you're very much restrained there by the content of the syllabus which you've got to grind through come hell or high water to get them to do the Biology. (Meadow VI College, Health & Social Care Advanced course tutor B)

Although the former psychiatric nurse brought a distinctive vocational influence to the parts of the course that she delivered, there were few vocational links in terms of visiting speakers or external visits, though there was an assignment linked to Work Experience. In fact the tutors had not found the GNVQ specifications to have a particular vocational feel. One commented:

I'd say it was more academic definitely. Three-quarters academic, and even the vocational bit, you only have to sort of put it into a vocational setting. They don't have to be in the vocational setting (Meadow VI College, Health & Social Care Advanced course tutor A)

and the ex-nurse felt that although the course specifications were demanding they were 'not written by an expert' and this was supported by one of the other tutors:

you've got the strong feeling that whoever wrote them did not teach the subject and, in many cases, didn't know what they were talking about. That they were definitely not experts in that particular field - there are so many mistakes, I mean huge, glaring mistakes. (Meadow VI College, Health & Social Care Advanced course tutor B)

The tutors did not however wish to see a more vocational perspective in the specifications as they thought that this would have made the course too much like an NVQ and less useful for progression to higher education.

This course then clearly fell into the category of adaptation. The tutors, who overall had little prior experience or expertise in the vocational area, had not sought to stray far from the specifications despite their misgivings about some aspects and were delivering them in a relatively faithful way at least in organisational terms. This implementation approach however did not extend to the academic content and the format of provision and the tutors were clearly adapting (even extending) the specifications to their own subject perspectives and GCE A level orientation. In this way the course was not unlike the Advanced Business Course at Appletree. Given the apparent lack of guidance and staff development the course team had received, this adaptation response was perhaps unsurprising.

3.3.6 Summary of Adaptation responses

The course teams in this category had each adapted the GNVQ specifications to their own tradition of working. In the case of the Advanced Health & Social Care course at Meadow VI College, this had been the only way in which the two A level lecturers had felt able to cope when faced with a new course, late access to the specifications and a lack of useful guidance. As with college's decision to introduce the Intermediate Leisure & Tourism and the Advanced Manufacturing courses using a course team with little or no work or teaching experience in the area, the full-time tutors Health & Social Care tutors had been thrown back on their own resources. However, unlike the Manufacturing course for the Science and Engineering tutors and Leisure & Tourism course for the Business and Geography tutors, the Health & Social care course had seemed to be sufficiently close to the Home Economics and Biology tutors' previous teaching experience for them to adapt the course, albeit using Evidence Indicators, to their work of working rather than to take the implementation approach of these other course teams. In a similar way the A level Business Studies team at Appletree School and the A level Art team at Oakland School had had the confidence to adapt the Advanced GNVQ specifications in the related area to their co-existing way of working at GCE A level, near as it was to their existing specialism.

The two Intermediate courses in this category had taken an adaptation approach for very conscious but different reasons. The Intermediate Art & Design course at Morton College had been introduced following a college decision to replace a Design, Print and Photography course. The course team, which had replaced a previous course team whose complex project organisation had been too ambitious, had been keen to adapt the course to reflect their own expertise, experience and the specialist facilities of the college not only because they felt they therefore offered a better course but because they needed to distinguish the course from a parallel one at a local Art College for recruitment purposes. Being element-based the course had features of the implementation category but it had a distinctive approach and even came close to the assimilation category.

The business background and practical orientation of the single tutor on the Intermediate Business course at City School had given the tutor clear views on the GNVQ specifications. The tutor was not however seeking to assimilate the course into a previous teaching tradition but rather to develop the course in line with her own concept of what was required in a business course at this level. This involved a strong element of vocationally related and practical assignments together with a close adherence to the specifications for assessment purposes. The response was thus on the borderline of implementation and adaptation but was judged to fall just within the latter category because of the development of a distinctive approach.

The five course teams in this adaptation category typically had a greater degree of confidence, rooted in a pre-existing tradition, than those in the implementation category. Although they too sought to understand what was required by the GNVQ specifications and to bring this about, they had a view of the wider purposes of their own course and a clearer set of curricular or vocational area principles to call upon in making judgements about the format and nature of this course. Despite the focus on the Evidence Indicator in most of the courses in this category, they were considerably influenced by the tutors' prior teaching or vocational experience.

3.4 The 'Assimilation' Approach

3.4.1 Leisure & Tourism Advanced at Portland College

As indicated above, the assimilation approach is similar to adaptation but the impact of tutors' own teaching or vocational experience is a strong one and the course team actively seeks to assimilate the GNVQ course into existing curricular provision. This was clearly the case here where two vocational pathways had been developed by Advanced Leisure & Tourism tutors at Portland College. These pathways, in Sport and Travel, were marketed as separate courses in the relevant sections of the college's prospectus.

Students on the two courses would follow together a common core of the eight mandatory units and then undertake the four optional units in their specialism. The importance of the specialism was indicated by a tutor on the travel side:

I tried to do the mandatory units in the first year - we got them as much out of the way as possible, to give them the opportunity to get the units in, and then they could concentrate very much on their specific areas, you know, specialist areas, in the second year. (Portland College, Leisure & Tourism (Travel) Advanced course tutor)

The students had no choice of optional units in the Sport pathway but could make a group decision about the four units to be undertaken on the Travel course. The specialisms were further enhanced by the provision of additional units such as NVQ units related to travel/tourism or sport/outdoor activities for students who wanted a more practical and vocationally-specific course. Interestingly, for historical reasons the two pathways had different awarding bodies. Each student group did the respective awarding body unit tests, though these were considered to be similar and this caused no problems. Students had one set of assignments and a single assessment pro-forma.

The origin of the courses lay in the preceding BTEC and C&G courses in 'travel and tourism' and 'sport and recreation' respectively. The college had originally offered a single general Leisure & Tourism course but this had soon been abandoned having attracted few students as it seemed that nearly all came to the college with a definite view that they wanted to study Travel or Leisure but not both. Equally the tutors had been dissatisfied with the broad and pre-vocational nature of the course and it was also felt that the Travel aspects had been neglected by the college as optional units had been biased towards Leisure. The decision had then been taken to revert to offering separate courses in the Travel and Sport areas:

we looked at the industry, it was felt that we had, certainly on the Travel and Tourism side, a very good course, a very successful course, high retention rates, large numbers of students going on to higher education or to work in the industry. (Portland College, Leisure & Tourism (Sport) Advanced course leader)

While this responded to the wishes of tutors and the student market, it did not satisfy some students who had come to the college for the general Leisure and Tourism course to prepare for work in the leisure industry. This included one of the students being tracked as part of the GNVQ Curriculum project. She wanted to work in a theatre and had not appreciated being given a choice between two specialisms, neither of which she wanted and neither of which were in the qualification title. In the end she had opted for the Travel pathway but still felt disappointed:

I've enjoyed it and I've learnt a lot but not enough on the leisure side at all, it's all travel, like, the computer, it's Information Technology but it's all travel, doing travel bookings and things like that. (Portland College, Leisure & Tourism (Travel) Advanced student)

Of the four full-time tutors, all of whom had vocational experience, two remained unhappy about ever having withdrawn the original specialist BTEC and C&G courses, while the others were relatively satisfied with the general provision in the first year and the increased diversity in the second, though the further scope for even more specialisation would have been preferred on the Sports side. Careful provision of information to students about the nature of the course had remained necessary as the degree of specialisation was not as great as students might have expected and some still found the course too general in terms of their occupational objectives.

As elsewhere, the tutors, including some part-time tutors whose number varied from year to year, were given significant freedom in the provision of the course once their assignments had been verified in advance. It was noteworthy that tutors had developed some large-scale assignments to integrate content across several units as they thought fit. However the main focus of activity was at the unit level though this had been shifting to the element level as the impact of the Evidence Indicators had been felt.

In summary, the Leisure & Tourism tutors had brought allegiances to either Sports or Travel courses and to a strong vocational dimension within their preferred specialism. Therefore, when the general Leisure & Tourism course had foundered, the two sets of tutors had seized the opportunity to use the scope offered by the optional and additional units to assimilate the GNVQ course into their previous pattern of course provision.

3.4.2 Manufacturing Advanced at City School

GNVQ Manufacturing had initially been introduced at City School at Intermediate level and although it had been subsequently offered at Advanced level there had been no students interested. The course which was the focus of the GNVQ Curriculum project was the first cohort of the Advanced course, which recruited again the following year. Two of the tutors on the course had a background in industry and the third in business but none had teaching experience in manufacturing as this was a new area. The manufacturing course was contrasted to other courses in the school such as the Business course which built on established subjects. One of the tutors explained that although they had been given a programme of staff development it had not related specifically to the Manufacturing specifications, but had been more to do with assessment and core skills generally, and the course tutors, mainly located in the CDT department, had fallen back on their teaching experience: 'It's not CDT but that's the way we approach it because it's the only way that we know'.

The strong practical orientation of this CDT approach could be seen in the organisation of the course which had been planned around three large projects integrating the Performance Criteria and Elements of the eight mandatory and the four selected optional units over the two years. Much of the work on the course involved the two students working semi-independently of the tutors (who had significant other CDT-related teaching commitments) to research, design and make the artefacts which were substantial pieces of work set against external design briefs. As one of the tutors explained:

In fact the project . . . what we did was we mapped it out, the group are doing three projects over two years, they're doing a pumped water system, they're making a trailer to be towed by the mini-bus for school and they're making a desk tidy, OK. Those three projects cover the whole of the mandatory and the four optional units and what we did was we mapped out what each project covered to make sure we weren't going to have anything left over at the end where they hadn't done the work. So we know what we have to cover within each project. Now my job is . . . obviously we both teach on the pumped water system, we've done different things, but my job is to make sure that I fill in the log books and produce all the evidence for the four units that were covered on that system, I have to make sure that we've got it all in place at the end. [Name of Tutor B] makes sure that he's got all the bits of paper in place for the trailer exercise and also the desk tidy. The desk tidy seems quite a different project maybe to making a trailer and doing the pumped water system but we wanted something that was a small production line activity that we weren't covering, because you see the pumped water system isn't a production line activity, it's a one-off but it does cover a lot of things that maybe weren't being covered by other areas. (City School, Manufacturing Advanced course tutor A)

Significantly the desk tidy project was later replaced by the production of further trailers which was more in line with the practical orientation of these CDT tutors than the design of desk tidy.

The organisation of these major assignments had been carefully planned to cover all parts of the specifications, though it was not clear what happened in respect of those parts of the specifications covered by the desk tidy project. This planning included core skills for which specialist core skills tutors were involved in the writing of the assignments during staff development courses, but once planned there was little overt reference to the specifications during the work except in the final assessment stages. The course team had clearly appreciated the flexibility that GNVQ offered them though was less confident about the scope for this in the future:

Part of the beauty of GNVQ is that there is no one right way of teaching, much in the same way as Design, there is no one right answer, no one right way of doing something. Everything's a compromise, you know, the course itself, there's more than one way of achieving the means to the end. And I think that's the beauty of it because it allows schools and colleges to go about it their way but I think we're losing that because of the changes. It's becoming far more restrictive in what we do. (City School, Manufacturing Advanced course tutor B)

The same course tutor, who had experience in industry argued persuasively in favour of the manufacturing course:

as far as my point of view is concerned coming from industry, I think it's a good course because it gives the children, sorry, the children! - it gives the pupils or the students a good grounding for the industry of manufacturing itself, and in that I mean they're not just looking at one particular thing in the manufacturing sector, they are experiencing or they are looking at the whole manufacturing sector. Right? Not just the whole sector of manufacturing but also at other companies, the whole set up of a company and how a company works because it's not just one thing with a company, there's various departments and it's the inter-relationship between those departments that make a company successful or make it unsuccessful. So as far as I'm concerned I suppose I think it's a good course in one respect that it does give them a good inside view, especially when they go out into industry and they go on the visits and that, it gives them a good inside view of the world of work. (City School, Manufacturing Advanced course tutor B)

However, while there was some contact with external organisations, this was mainly in terms of the production of these artefacts and there was little contact with companies in the manufacturing sector except for Work Experience in Year 12 and this was not linked to an assignment. The course team thus professed a strong commitment to GNVQ manufacturing but had effectively assimilated the course into their pre-existing and co-existing CDT tradition.

3.4.3 Manufacturing Advanced at Morton College

The Advanced Manufacturing at Morton College was based in an area of the college with a long history of engineering courses. The college had asked the course team to introduce the course in order to cover a gap in the market of mechanical engineering. Engineering facilities were available in extensive heavy and light engineering workshops and the course team of six (later reduced to four), all of whom had an industrial or technical background, had assimilated this manufacturing course into their engineering tradition and given it a strong making emphasis though design elements were less in evidence.

There was a change of course leader after the first year and the new course leader was more open to the GNVQ approach and to manufacturing in general and had appreciated the guidance offered by the GNVQ Mark II including the Evidence Indicators. However, his industrial experience had given him the confidence to reject the element-based approach that they implied and even to move beyond the course team's original unitised course organisation to a project-led approach where the overall course was planned in terms of assignments which covered parts of units, units or went across a number of units. One example was of the design and making of a crab-clamp. As one of the tutors on the course explained:

In the past it used to be purely one assignment for one unit. But now, with the help of (Tutor B), we got together and thought well why can't we organise, why can't we design one assignment which can relate to more than one unit. If not all of it, at least a third of it, or 50% of it or whatever. As a result of that I sort of designed the relevant unit which the students have to do. I asked them to make something, design and then make something. And that was related to Production Planning and Quality Assurance and Process Operation. So in doing one assignment, you could relate it to three different units. (Morton College, Manufacturing Advanced course tutor A)

The course team had thus decided to move away from an assignment per unit basis 'to mimic maybe what happens in the real world' (Tutor B).

Students were given guidance about optional units in terms of their higher education aspirations, their own interests and the specialist resources and facilities available in the college though there were few constraints as students could choose outside the recommended units in which case the course team would seek assistance from another area of the college. The course concentrated on mandatory units in the first year and in the second year focused on optional units, work experience and industrial visits plus a Foundation NVQ additional unit in turning, milling, fitting which all students were expected to take to extend their practical engineering experience. While the students did undertake Work Experience linked to an assignment, this was made problematic by the fact that the placement was not always vocationally relevant. External links were relatively underdeveloped and the course team tended to look to other areas in the college to broaden students' experience.

This course was one of only four which involved core skills tutors in assessing the achievement of core skills in the assignment. Like the Art & Design course in the same college this was as a result of college policy. In provision terms, if a particular student was diagnosed as having difficulties in a particular core skill area, he or she might be expected to attend a voluntary workshop or even be referred by tutors for additional support. As the course leader, drawing on a metaphor from his background, put it:

If you can imagine like a car which goes for its MOT test. Just tick here, tick here, tick here, the tyre is missing, get in the workshop. The engine is backfiring, get in the workshop. If they are willing to go there, the help is there. They've got the best resources there, but if they don't go there and they keep on plodding along with these engines backfiring or with a flat tyre, till somebody else somewhere stops them . . . But they've got all the resources, they can use it. (Morton College, Manufacturing Advanced course tutor A)

While, over time, the course team became more conversant, even fluent, with GNVQ terminology and covered the Manufacturing specifications carefully by building the various aspects of the manufacturing process into these projects, there remained a strong and distinct influence of the engineering experience of the course team members and of the college engineering context both in terms of the discourse and the course provision and activities The course team thus faced with the college-led introduction of a manufacturing course had assimilated it into their concept of an engineering course.

3.4.4 Manufacturing Intermediate at Oakland School

Oakland School had a long-standing tradition of providing post-16 courses for students of all abilities and interests, including a series of pre-vocational courses. As the course leader commented:

We go back a long way, right back to 365, you know, when the old 365 course, then CPVE (Certificate of Pre-Vocational Education) and then right the way through, we've been involved in that from the word go. (Oakland School, Manufacturing Intermediate course leader)

The school had therefore piloted GNVQ Manufacturing at Foundation level to meet the needs and interests of:

students that had otherwise opted out of what school could offer. ( . . . ) They had either failed at GCSE level, or school had failed to provide them with something that appealed. (Oakland School, Manufacturing Intermediate course leader)

The success of this course had led to the introduction of Intermediate Manufacturing the following year and the Foundation course was subsequently withdrawn.

The course team comprised three tutors: the course leader who referred to a long history of working on pre-vocational and practical courses as a 'handicrafts teacher, a woodwork teacher, metalwork teacher, technical drawing teacher, plastics teacher ( . . . ) and technologist'; one who had worked for four years in the manufacturing sector and was in her first teaching post; and a third tutor who concentrated on the traditional workshop aspects of the course. The tutor in her first post was positive about GNVQ manufacturing though she had received little training in the GNVQ aspects of the course and was clear that

somebody that has never set foot in industry has written this syllabus ( . . . ) there's nothing about working to deadlines, there's nothing about high-pressure selling, customer liaison - all what I would consider to be very important aspects of industry are not included. (Oakland School, Manufacturing Intermediate course tutor A)

The course team had not however adapted the course to include these aspects in any strong way and was deliberately focusing on the core manufacturing process from both a craft skills and manufacturing perspective. For example, the students would not make a single artefact individually but would design a process and as a group would make a series of identical artefacts and analyse the result. While acknowledging the low priority given by the specifications to craft skills, the course leader did express pride in the way they developed these in students and admitted that the team tried to make design process 'very central' and adding:

There's slight differences between the GNVQ approach and the GCSE approach. At least there are on paper. There are on the syllabuses and specifications. What you get in practice is probably not different at all. (Oakland School, Manufacturing Intermediate course leader)

There were good links with a number of supportive small and medium-sized manufacturing businesses in the town and the course team were able to make strong links to the curriculum from the visits made. The course also had a pre-vocational generic skills element in the 'Certificate of Pre-Vocational Education' and 'Diploma of Vocational Education' tradition.

Students worked through the course unit by unit working with their tutors who shared the teaching. The team had adopted the sequential unitised approach for ease of organisation from the point of view of both students and tutors. While the focus of the assignments was generally at the element level, neither of the two main tutors saw any degree of prescription in the GNVQ Manufacturing specifications other than the sheer volume of paperwork. The course leader commented: 'I tend to interpret them any way I like' and the other stated:

GNVQ is not prescriptive at all for the students, you can interpret that - any teacher can interpret that in any way according to his own strengths, and the students can interpret it in any way according to their own strengths, and the specifications can be interpreted in any way. The only prescription comes in the amount of darned paperwork there is. That's the only negative point, the amount of paperwork, the amount of justification of what you've done. (Oakland School, Manufacturing Intermediate course tutor B)

Thus the course team had taken advantage of the perceived openness of the Manufacturing specifications and this Intermediate course had simply taken its place in the long succession of practical, CDT-oriented pre-vocational courses delivered in the school by the course leader and been assimilated into this way of working.

3.4.5 Art & Design Intermediate at Appletree School

For a number of years Appletree School had offered its post-16 students interested in Art a local alternative to them leaving to travel on a difficult journey to college in the form of a BTEC First course in General Art and Design. The Intermediate GNVQ Art & Design course had been seen as a natural successor for a 'disaffected band of pupils' who needed their confidence building by a practical course:

We were the first in the county to do that (BTEC course). And it was set up originally in response to a need, a very real need to keep the kids in the LEA. There wasn't a one year stayers-on course for Art & Design anywhere for artists to go other than (name of city), and that being outside of the LEA, we didn't want to lose them so we set up the course initially for that reason and we have . . . every year we got perhaps half a dozen kids who weren't directed towards A level . . . but who wanted to continue in Art & Design study, so in that sense it was never grafted on, it actually grew out of the need for the course; and the old BTEC served us very, very well. (Appletree School, Art & Design Intermediate course leader)

The course team all had vocational experience, in fact two tutors were job-sharing and continuing with external work in the sector. As well as building on the BTEC course, the GNVQ course had been designed around the Art specialisms of tutors in the school, as the course leader noted:

looking at the department as a whole, we have specialists in the department. We have a graphics/print-maker, we have a textiles person, we have . . . I do fine art and the history of art and design and so on, and we have a 3D specialist as well. So we're very well placed for pulling out the specialisms throughout the week, and I think that's where we've come from. Again, rather than grafting on, we've actually worked on what we've got and that's how we've built the specs. (Appletree School, Art & Design Intermediate course tutor)

Tutors thus felt able to pursue their specialist areas and to allow students to develop their own work. Students therefore had significant choice in what they were permitted to do in terms of projects and optional units. The course was project-led with students working on two to three assignments at a time in an individual way with access to a studio and individual help from the tutors throughout the week. Tutors were timetabled according to the school's timetable blocks and would all be involved in working a particular project, though with one tutor taking the lead and setting his or her own project assignment in negotiation with the other tutors to cover all the elements and units but in a more integrated way than implied by the specifications.

The students on the course tended to focus on the completion of their projects rather than the relationship of their work to the GNVQ specifications as indicated by fieldwork notes:

Again struck by the lack of vocationalism evident in much of the work. The sculpture projects (like those seen at Morton College) seemed entirely fine art in their orientation, had no function other than the decorative - the brief referred to a sculpture to be placed at the entrance to a school. What was also striking was the absence of any references to PCs, Evidence Indicators, etc. I showed the 2D optional unit specs to [name of student]. Was he familiar with them? Did he refer to them when doing his project? He looked blank then said that they were kept somewhere in another room 'but they never read them'. They just concentrated on getting their projects done and hoped or expected that if they did that it would ensure that they covered the specifications, the other students confirmed this interpretation. (Fieldwork observation note)

By contrast the large amount of documentation had initially made GNVQ seem daunting to the tutors but the revisions in the GNVQ II model had been welcomed and the tutors now felt unconstrained by the GNVQ specifications in terms of the way the course was organised and delivered and also in terms of the students' individualism:

I think in any Art & Design based course there have to be these tangents at which the kids can go off at. They're not exactly built in to the thing but there must be opportunities with every project for them to take it further. Some will die a natural death but others must be allowed to run, and I think that comes down again to having a studio space where the student can go back and work on their own thing. Because if they want additional time, if they want additional help, then that's the way to do it. Art courses that fail are the most prescribed ones. I mean, I've been to other centres and seen other GNVQ courses and to be honest I've not seen one as good as this for that reason. (Appletree School, Art & Design Intermediate course tutor)

The students had in turn responded well to this strong practical and individual approach. However the vocational dimension was relatively weak. This was said to be pursued through visits to art galleries and a design centre, through analysis of art/design related jobs in three companies and through a week's vocational experience (although this was not compulsory and not always undertaken in a vocationally related company). There was though little evidence that the course had any real vocational flavour and the GNVQ specifications did not feature much in the discourse of tutors and even less in that of students. The course had clearly been assimilated into a prior pattern of course organisation and provision, that of the preceding BTEC general art and design course, with an emphasis on the tutors' existing interests and strengths.

3.4.6 Art & Design Advanced at Stanton College

As with the Appletree School course, the course team had previously offered a BTEC course in General Art and Design (GAD) and had been asked by a senior colleague to withdraw this course and pilot the Advanced GNVQ in Art & Design. Because the relevant GNVQ specifications had not been available to the team when they were planning their course and even throughout the first term of running it, they had effectively continued the previous course. As one of the tutors explained:

there were no books or anything about it then. We didn't really get much information until the Christmas after we'd started in the September, so we just continued on GAD lines. And so we carried on running from those lines and there weren't units and there weren't areas, it was a grounding in Art and Design. (Stanton College, Art & Design Advanced course leader)

Flexibility was however seen in GNVQ and was most obviously expressed in the way the course team organised the curriculum through a series of projects which students completed one by one. This continued the way of working with which tutors were familiar. These projects integrated the content of units, sometimes covering part of a unit, a whole unit or even two or more units in a single project. This pattern was felt by tutors to allow students to develop different ways of doing things but was found to be difficult to co-ordinate so individual tutors tended to take the lead on a particular project. The course team was considering changing to a unitised format though this was seen as less satisfactory. It would however mean that students leaving the course would have completed whole units.

Students would receive substantial input at the commencement of a project but were then essentially expected to develop their own project, seeking one-to-one help and practical demonstrations of techniques as and when required. Each student was timetabled for 24 hours of Art & Design with the workshop available for them to continue their work throughout the week, though not all of the eighteen students wished to take advantage of this facility.

Every four weeks or so the whole Art and Design area would pause for an assessment week during which the students' work was assessed. For those on the Advanced GNVQ Art & Design course this assessment process was observed to be undertaken in a holistic way and did not seem to involve a detailed mapping against the GNVQ specifications, though the assignment briefs were carefully planned to cover the relevant Evidence Indicators.

The flexibility of this form of organisation and provision had posed some organisational difficulties both for students and tutors and consequently the decision had been taken for nominated tutors to co-ordinate the different projects. Consideration was being given to moving to projects that did not involve cross unit work. The course team saw the advantages in this from the students' point of view in that the course could be completed unit by unit but were reluctant to lose the opportunity for students to develop their artistic skills and techniques throughout the two-year course.

Students were encouraged to follow their own interests and strengths in choosing optional units and no constraints were placed on their choices as the course team was able to cover all specialisms and these units were conceived as individual projects defined and driven by the students. No additional units were offered as all students had accepted the opportunity to take one or two additional GCE A levels in Art or Art related courses to assist with applications to Higher Education. Significantly the study for these courses was contained within the GNVQ course time.

Each of the three course team members had degrees in the Art and Design and extensive experience of teaching Foundation Art courses though none had any recent vocational experience. It was thought however that the GNVQ course specifications amounted to basic Art and Design and did not contain much vocational content. The course leader would have been much happier if changes could have been made by BTEC to the GAD course to tighten it up in respect of 2D and 3D work instead of introducing GNVQ. She did not like the high degree of specificity of requirements that they found in GNVQ:

I'd have kept BTEC. ( . . . ) I'm a great believer in 'don't fix it if it's not broken', and I think it wasn't broken, I think BTEC was all right. (Stanton College, Art & Design Advanced course leader)

As indicated above, the course team had oriented their course towards higher education entry having found the employment market in Art and Design closed to Advanced GNVQ students given the availability of many people with higher qualifications and vocational training completed. For related reasons, it had not proved possible to find students vocationally relevant work placements and the course team had looked to external briefs to develop the vocational elements of the course. The college received many such requests for work to be undertaken by students and had to be selective in what was accepted and to ensure that it fitted within the framework of the GNVQ units. Three briefs had been accepted and undertaken by the Advanced GNVQ course in question. One was to develop Christmas decorations for the local airport, another was to produce a travel shop window every six to seven weeks for which payment was received, and the third was a two-week brief to design costumes for a jamboree parade. In each case the students had been involved in a range of activities from research of the clients' requirements and possible solutions through design to production of the artefacts. While this gave a distinctive vocational flavour to these discrete elements of the course, the undertaking of such external briefs had been an established tradition in the preceding GAD course and had in fact been made more difficult under the less flexible GNVQ specifications:

(It's) harder. Because we can't accept it if it doesn't really fit and that's silly really because they need the work experience. But it's quite hard to fit it into some of the units, or we might have done the unit that it would be perfect for so therefore it would go to another group and that group might not be capable of doing it. (Stanton College, Art & Design Advanced course leader)

Nonetheless, in much of the other work completed by the students, it was difficult to discern a distinctive vocational flavour and there was an emphasis on self-expression and general artistic development beyond the GNVQ specifications.

The course team clearly felt that they were obliged to meet certain requirements for the GNVQ Advanced qualification in Art & Design but wanted to keep a flexible approach to the specifications because, as the course leader explained:

we're here for the students really, and they do need a qualification. But if it's not the right one, then it's best for us to change. (Stanton College, Art & Design Advanced course leader)

The course team thus had a strong subject culture and a distinct way of working derived from the BTEC GAD course and into which the GNVQ course had been assimilated. While the absence of clear information and guidance in the initial planning and early stages of the course may have encouraged the adaptation approach of the course team, it is questionable whether its presence would necessarily have altered the approach significantly.

3.4.7 Summary of Assimilation Responses

The course teams in this category all had either a strong curriculum or vocational tradition into which the GNVQ course had been consciously assimilated. Essentially the GNVQ course served as a vehicle for other purposes.

In the case of three of the six courses in this category, the course team sought to continue with a previous course tradition. The two Tourism and Sports pathways in the Advanced Leisure & Tourism course at Portland College was a clear example of tutors trying to manipulate the GNVQ course structure to continue with previously discontinued courses. Some of the tutors had never been happy with the college decision to replace their specialist course with the broader GNVQ and had seized the chance to revert to a more specialised course. In the Art & Design courses at Stanton College and Appletree School, the course teams were simply modelling their course on previous BTEC General Art and Design courses. In the former case the GNVQ specifications not been available until after the course started and the course team, reluctantly persuaded to change to GNVQ, were quite open about simply continuing along the lines of the BTEC GAD course. In the latter case the intention had been to find a successor to a BTEC First GAD and one that both responded to a group of disaffected pupils who needed a practical course and met tutors' existing interests and strengths.

In a parallel way the Intermediate Manufacturing course tutors at Oakland School had been looking round for a practical course that would retain disenchanted pupils post-16. The Manufacturing course had seemed to serve the purpose and, despite the course team's focus on the Evidence Indicator, was assimilated into a tradition of post-16 pre-vocational and practical courses by the CDT-oriented team. The other two courses in this category were also Manufacturing courses, Advanced courses at City School and Morton College respectively. On each course the content was integrated across units through projects which were used to maintain the course teams' strong, though different traditions. In the former case it was a CDT tradition and in the latter an engineering orientation.

The course teams in the assimilation category thus consciously attempted to reinterpret the GNVQ specifications in terms of their existing course tradition which they essentially sought to preserve through the design of a curriculum that had strong links with their prior teaching experience. While these teams in this category were meeting the assessment requirements of GNVQ, they had exploited the flexibility in the course design to assimilate GNVQ into their existing way of working.

3.5 Overall Summary of Course Team Responses

As has been seen, the different responses of the course teams were not mono-causal but rather stemmed from a combination of factors relating to the experience, context and orientations of course teams. Those in the implementation and adaptation categories tended to adopt the course structure implied by the GNVQ specifications of unit-based organisation with the course activity being centred around the Evidence Indicators rather than to develop more integrated provision and assessment. While the former group of course teams either sought to understand and implement the specifications faithfully or lacked a coherent approach relying on the specifications to provide the curriculum structure and organisation, the latter group having made an attempt to interpret what was required by the specifications typically exhibited the confidence derived from a pre-existing tradition to adapt them to their preferred way of working though they did not go as far as the course teams in the assimilation category. These teams made a conscious and systematic attempt to assimilate the GNVQ course into their existing way of working in order to maintain a course tradition, often using the flexibility inherent in the GNVQ model to design a course to meet their requirements. Thus the three types of course response interrelate and overlap and yet have clearly distinctive features. Equally a course team was rarely a static or monolithic entity and might display within it a range of different curricular responses such as on the Advanced Health & Social Care course at Highgate College where, although the overall approach was judged to be implementation, some tutors were adopting approaches resembling, at an individual tutor level, adaptation or assimilation.

Some of the course teams in each of these three categories could perhaps have been said to take a innovative approach or at least to have innovative features in their course design though there were none that could lay a strong claim here to progressive curriculum development, as any curriculum design creativity seemed oriented towards the maintenance of existing cultures. The overall discussion and interpretation of these course team responses and a consideration of the implications for the understanding of the processes of curriculum implementation and of the general nature of the GNVQ curriculum model in this respect are undertaken in the following chapters.

4. GNVQ CURRICULUM REALISATION

4.1 GNVQ Curriculum Implementation Reinforcement

As we have seen in Chapter One the general approach of the GNVQ model is not to define the content to be covered and the processes to be included in the form of a traditional syllabus with assessment sampling, but rather to specify the assessment requirements in such a way that they assess the whole of the content, knowledge and understanding covered by the qualification. Given this approach and the fact that GNVQs are national qualifications, it follows that the external controlling features of the assessment requirements are key elements in the implementation reinforcement of the GNVQ curriculum. Again as indicated earlier, GNVQ assessment has two forms: the unit tests associated with nearly all mandatory units and the portfolio of evidence to be matched to the assessment requirements of the mandatory, optional and core skills units. In the former case the function of the units tests is to ensure standardised coverage of common content across different courses. In the latter case two devices are used in an attempt to ensure consistent application of the assessment criteria: internal verification and external verification. Once evidence has been assessed by a tutor, another member of staff internally verifies the assessment. In order to perform this task this second member of staff needs to have gained the formal status of 'internal verifier' through the completion of a designated training course. Once the portfolio is complete and the student's work has been internally assessed and verified, it is then subject to external verification by the awarding body. While GNVQ assessment and verification processes are not a focus of this study, there is one aspect that has direct relevance, namely the impact of the unit tests and the influence of the internal and external verifiers on the design of the course assignments and the curriculum more widely. We will therefore consider the overall responses of the course teams to these assessment aspects in turn.

Despite the intended role of the units tests being to standardise content coverage, they were felt by tutors in the GNVQ Curriculum research project to have little impact on the central enterprise of the GNVQ course. They did however influence the timing of the mandatory units. On most courses the mandatory units were front loaded in preparation for the unit tests and to allow the optional units to come towards the end of the course. An additional reason for this on Advanced courses was the need for Higher Education admissions information. As a consequence the non-tested units (some mandatory units but principally optional units and additional units) as well as other course elements would come towards the end of the course. Unit tests were also seen as underlining the importance of keeping the course broad to cover the range. However, in the main, the tests were seen as a separate parallel activity that bore little relationship to the core of the GNVQ course and the course team's response was often simply a pragmatic one of revising with students the unit content likely to be assessed in the tests or of offering practice tests. There was no indication that the existence of the unit tests influenced the form of curriculum approach taken by a course though the Advanced Business course team at Appletree School which simultaneously taught GCE A level Business Studies, and which had assimilated the Advanced GNVQ course into their GCE A level way of working, had assigned a greater importance to the tests than had other courses. The course leader claimed that the unit tests were approached 'properly in the same way that we prepare an A level student for an examination'. The role of unit tests may have well have been to ensure through assessment full coverage of content in the mandatory units, but even here the response to unit tests was to see them as a separate component of the GNVQ requirements rather than as an integrated element to be taken account of during the design of the main course. In curriculum design terms the principal, but still limited, impact of the unit tests was to influence the order of the units.

In the case of internal verification, nearly all work was undertaken by members of the course team who would verify each others' assessment once completed. In four courses, both courses in two schools, it had been necessary for some or all internal verification to be undertaken by non-specialists from outside the course team for logistical reasons, principally because a course had only a single tutor who could not verify his or her own assessment. This cross-verification had thus not been seen in terms of GNVQ course development across an institution nor as a staff development activity but rather as a bureaucratic necessity.

Within the internal verification processes, three patterns of operation were discernible. In just under half the courses the internal verifiers did not go beyond the requirement to verify the assessment of the assignments. This did not of course mean that the internal verification processes had no indirect impact on assignment design on these ten courses, merely that there was no direct attempt to influence it beforehand. Clearly where an assessed piece of work was found not to have covered the different aspects required by an assignment, or where the assignment itself was deemed not to have fully covered, say, an evidence indicator, the internal verifier would be in a position to request that further assessed work be completed. One internal verifier who claimed to restrict her role to the required verification of completed assessments explained:

because I'm in this department and I'm the internal verifier for here I think I've got quite a big impact because if I'm looking through it and see that they've not covered something I've got to go back and say we've got to have a project of something, you know. (Stanton College, Art and Design internal verifier)

That some assignments were in themselves found to require insufficient coverage had led to further institutions adopting a policy of internal verifiers checking the design of assignments prior to their use in the course. In the Leisure and Tourism Intermediate course at Meadow VI College, tutors were asked by the internal verifier to submit assignments for checking in the summer preceding the course as concerns had arisen in the first year of the course regarding the limited extent to which assignment briefs permitted the achievement of Merit and Distinction grades. A further four courses had the assignments checked beforehand by an internal verifier. It was stressed in two of these cases that the checking related less to the assignment content but more to the clarity and format of the assignment brief. This 'pre-verification' of assignments was therefore largely procedural and it is perhaps significant that these five courses were located in FE sector institutions.

In the remaining six courses, the tutors felt that as they worked so closely as a team it was impossible to separate out the different functions of course tutor and internal verifier. The only distinction coming at the end when they had to assume the formal role of verifier for a colleague's assessment. Prior to that the tutors would be involved throughout the course from the planning and assignment design stage, commenting informally on the assignments as they were produced and undertaken by the students.

The impact of the internal verification processes was thus limited in many institutions to the procedural fulfilling of an external requirement. Even where cross-verification between courses was necessary or where an institutional policy defined the role of the internal verifier as including the pre-verification of assignments, the opportunity to engage in curriculum discussion and development was rarely taken. However, a policy on pre-verification did serve to reinforce any institutional or course team policies on the use of evidence indicators as the basis for assessment and thus course organisation, such as on the Leisure & Tourism Intermediate at Meadow VI College which had adopted an implementation approach. In these circumstances internal verification had a restraining effect on creative curriculum development though there was little evidence of any significant impact, constraining or developmental, with respect to the two other approaches to internal verification.

In the version of GNVQ in force at the time of the GNVQ Curriculum project collection, external verification was undertaken by a verifier from the awarding body who, during a visit to the institution, would check the accuracy of the assessment and internal verification. Later, postal moderation was introduced for some courses.

Tutors on seven courses reported that in the case of their external verifier, any comments on the course were restricted to the coverage of an assignment brief in terms of its objectives:

When we first started the external verifier moderator person, it was very lax, in reflecting on it; but it was the Aunt Sally type that you could discuss problems and get some ideas of solutions. But now, there's nothing constructive about an external verifier's role, I don't feel, not really forward thinking. It's looking to see what's happened in the assessments in the past. ( . . . ) I think it's a system problem. I understand from other areas of the college that their external verifiers have a totally different approach and continue to be helpmate . . . even though they do a ticky box thing. Whereas we've got ourselves a guy that is a ticky box person. It's probably good for the students, I suppose, just to make sure that the assessments are correct but it doesn't do much for the curriculum development. (Highgate College, Intermediate Leisure & Tourism course leader)

Three of these external verifiers who interpreted their role narrowly were non-specialists in terms of the course area and operated purely at the procedural level. A fourth external verifier, who was a specialist in the area, was said to be bureaucratic in his approach and made no comment on the Advanced Manufacturing course at City School despite the course team having developed an unusual course structure to assimilate GNVQ into their existing tradition of working. This apparent lack of interest and engagement in curricular design features was a source of frustration to the course leader who would clearly have welcomed advice and discussion on the course design. The external verifier was said to be only interested in having everything about assessment laid out in his particular format. In a further two cases the external verifier was said to be happy to give advice if specifically requested, but as with the cases above would not offer it.

In the remaining majority of the courses the role adopted by the external verifier was felt to be more open and supportive. In several cases a course leader commented on how helpful it was to be able to get feedback on course standards, assignment design and even activities. The external verifiers for two courses would go so far as ask to look at and discuss schemes of work, and another would talk to students and staff and suggest different ways of approaching the course based on his wider experience. The course tutors found this engagement supportive and did not feel that the mark had been over-stepped despite the limitation on this role of the external verifier (EV):

this is why we came to the conclusion to change the modules for the photography this year, because he had a look at that and yes he had been extremely pleased with the results we were getting with DTP and how integrated that had become for the key skills as well as you know the outcomes. ( . . . ) it wasn't judgmental, it was actually quite supportive, you know, he was able to offer good ideas. I think that's what the EV should be about. (Morton College, Art & Design course leader

Focused on the assessment role, the external verification practices were thus variable and specific to the individual external verifiers. If they ensured uniformity, this was at the level of a consistent standard of assessment, not in terms of curricular organisation though some external verifiers did through their procedures and expectations tend to reinforce the emphasis on the evidence indicator. This was the case with the Leisure & Tourism Intermediate course at Highgate College and the Business Intermediate course at Portland College, both of which had an implementation approach. Nonetheless where external verifiers were happy to comment on the course design and offer advice this was seen as being helpful and provided some limited support of curriculum development, as with the Advanced Health and Social Care course at Meadow VI College where the external verifier was supportive of the A level approach of the tutors, though even this informal support was eventually lost as awarding bodies increasingly replaced external verifier visits by postal moderation and standards meetings.

4.2 GNVQ Curriculum Design Flexibility

As we have seen, one of criticisms of Smithers (1997), that GNVQs have no syllabus, was in contrast to the claims of Jessup (1995a) who argued that the deliberate lack of prescription with respect to curriculum design would have a positive rather than negative effect. Jessup claimed that the absence of a prescriptive syllabus recognised the need for flexibility to allow teachers in schools and colleges to make the best use of their local circumstances and of student needs and interests in the design of their courses. He believed that, although the organisation of the assessment requirements by unit would frequently result in course provision with a modular structure, some courses would adopt a more integrated approach. Certainly there is no requirement in GNVQ for courses to be organised by unit or modules, indeed there is little prescription in terms of course provision except through the implied activities laid out in the evidence indicators. Thus teachers in schools and colleges are not only encouraged to assume the responsibility of devising their own course but are obliged to do so. For Burke (1995a) this approach valued the professionalism of the teacher and responded to Stenhouse's perspective on curriculum development and teacher development. However Spours (1995) blamed what he saw as great variability and confusion regarding course design and resourcing on this approach.

In terms of the GNVQ Curriculum project, there was indeed a considerable degree of variability in curricular approach and we will shortly consider the patterns of response seen in the previous chapter. First, however, we will turn to a consideration of the extent to which the GNVQ model was perceived as being prescriptive by the teachers and tutors involved in the research project.

Those course teams that fell in the implementation category often perceived prescription in the GNVQ model, or at least chose (sometimes with little alternative) to adopt the implied curriculum design. They tended to describe the GNVQ specifications as 'prescriptive' or 'very prescriptive'. However, for those in the adaptation and, to an even greater extent, the assimilation categories there was clearly much less feeling of prescription, indeed the specifications were seen as sufficiently flexible for tutors to select both which course content and activities they wished to include and to decide how to organise them. For example, the Art & Design Advanced course leader at Oakland School where the GNVQ course had been adapted to the GCE A level Art way of working explained:

I don't think any GNVQ programme (is) the same anywhere in the country, and I think it depends how people interpret things and that's one of its strengths I think, because I think people take hold of it and interpret it in different ways ( . . . ) GNVQ is not prescriptive at all for the students, you can interpret that - any teacher can interpret that in any way according to his own strengths, and the students can interpret it in any way according to their own strengths, and the specifications can be interpreted in any way. The only prescription comes in the amount of darned paperwork there is. (Oakland School, Art & Design Advanced course leader)

and the Manufacturing Intermediate course leader at Oakland School where the GNVQ course had been assimilated into an existing tradition of pre-vocational and practical courses stated of the specifications: 'I tend to interpret them any way I like', and went so far as to suggest that there was insufficient prescription in the specifications for a course to adopt them without interpretation:

And I like to think if you try and read between the lines and do what you think they want you to do, you'll fall flat on your face because it doesn't actually tell you what they want you to do; they will give you examples, and I think you have got to say 'right I am going to do this and I am going to make this fit'. (Oakland School, Manufacturing Intermediate course leader)

Indeed several of the courses in the implementation category had actively sought to try and understand what was required of them and to implement this faithfully, sometimes resulting in a course that lacked coherence often because of the lack of overall curriculum planning. Often these same tutors had appreciated the awarding bodies' increased curriculum specification and guidance, especially with respect to evidence indicators, provided in the 1995 revisions to GNVQ.

Interestingly there were wide variations in the perceived level of flexibility within the specifications, such that some teachers who saw themselves as working within a prescriptive framework were, in a self-fulfilling way, conforming to the implied curriculum model of the specifications, whereas others, often with greater confidence and experience derived from an established set of curricular principles, or from a subject perspective or existing tradition of working, were able to adapt and assimilate the specifications according to their own requirements as we have seen.

With regard to the organisation of the courses, timetabling by unit was common with only four of the twenty-one teams not adopting this structure of course organisation (see overview in Table Four, p. 71), the exceptions being two Art & Design courses and two Manufacturing courses. Each of these course teams had exploited the flexibility inherent in the qualification model to assimilate the GNVQ into their previous or co-existing teaching tradition by structuring their course with large integrated projects, as in their established tradition, rather than focusing on the pre-specified units and elements.

That course organisation by unit should be the norm is to be expected given that the specifications are expressed in this form and that students are required to be assessed against these same units of content which, as we have seen, are in turn broken down into elements with Evidence Indicators. Of these seventeen courses timetabled by unit, most delivered the course by element though five did also adopt the unit as the main pattern of course provision with integration across the elements often being encouraged by a single assignment per unit. It should be noted that amongst those unitised courses principally delivered along element lines nearly all based their assignments on the Evidence Indicators, the existence of which, although only being in the form of guidance, reinforced this approach. Some element-based courses did however incorporate a small number of assignments integrating the content of two or more elements within the same unit.

In terms of the three mandatory core skills, the clear preference in all course teams was for the integrated development and assessment of core skills within the vocational area and this view was backed up by students. This is not to suggest that tutors thought that core skills development and assessment should be solely undertaken by the course team though this had been the approach taken on three courses. In the case of the two courses at Oakland School the course teams had sole responsibility for the development and assessment of core skills. The Advanced Art and Design tutors expressed a certain unease about this situation but were covering the specifications for core skills in the vocational area assignments. The Intermediate Manufacturing course team was content to cover core skills and had also built them into the vocational assignment though they too found it convenient to complete some core skills assessment early on in the course through discrete assignments. In the third case, the Advanced Leisure and Tourism course at Portland College, the course team again supplemented the assessment of core skills with some special core skills assignments though the assessment areas were mainly built into vocational area assignments.

The clear majority of courses (14 out of 21) had adopted a broadly similar approach of developing core skills within the vocational curriculum area but with specialist support external to the course team. Typically, if a student was diagnosed as having difficulties in a particular core skill area, he or she might be expected to attend a voluntary workshop or even be referred for additional support. In these cases the onus was clearly on students, whether needing specific help or not, to attend. In a few institutions in-course support was available from specialist tutors who had been time-tabled to assist within the vocational area classes.

Despite the preference expressed by tutors for the vocational integration of core skills, the remaining four courses, in two schools and two colleges, had taken a less integrated approach whereby the development of core skills was largely provided for separately in the form of specialised classes. However, this provision of supplementary teaching did not necessarily imply that the work was not vocationally related. The Intermediate Business course at Stanton College had vocationally related Communication and IT classes and the Advanced Manufacturing students at City School were expected to take their vocational assignments to core skills classes to link the work.

The integration of core skills in the vocational area also varied with respect to the extent to which assignments had been designed to take account of the development and assessment of core skills. In some cases where the assessment of core skills was wholly through vocationally focused assignments, the place of core skills in the assignment was built in from the beginning while in others the students were required at the end of the course to review their portfolio and to log the evidence for meeting each of the core skill requirements.

Of the 21 courses, 14 relied on the vocational area assignment as the sole source of evidence for the achievement of the core skills criteria, the other seven supplementing this evidence with some specially devised assignments focusing on aspects of core skills. However, there was no clear pattern between these three forms of provision and either the building of core skills into assignments or the use of supplementary discrete core skills assignments.

Thus it can be seen that there was much variance across all the courses and few consistent patterns in respect of the approach to core skills, with a mixed approach to the degree of vocational integration. This supports the findings of the national survey of GNVQ (FEU/Institute of Education/Nuffield Foundation 1994 and 1997) and also of the official reports from OFSTED (1994 and 1996) and FEFC (1994a and 1995). The impact of school or college policies and arrangements featured more highly in the core skills area than in other aspects of the GNVQ curriculum, largely because core skills are a mandatory generic feature of all courses and the individual levels of students in the different core skills vary significantly thus sometimes leading to a situation whereby the institution chose to make central provision in the form of specialist tutor support, time-tabled classes or self-access facilities in learning centres or workshops, or conversely had a policy on the integration of core skills into vocational assignments for both development and assessment purposes. The core skill of Application of Number stood out as causing particular problems in terms of vocational integration in some areas, especially on Art and Design courses, and it was clear that tutors across a range of courses were spending considerable amounts of time seeking to build this core skill into their vocational assignments and to develop the students' competence where required.

The approach taken nationally of specifying the different features of the core skills to be assessed out of context and then expecting a range of courses in different institutions to work out how best to address the problems raised may have been a productive one in terms of engaging the creative skills of some tutors and being responsive to local circumstance but it is not clear that the degree of experimentation and constant revising of approach on some courses had been to the best advantage of students. It had certainly not been appreciated by the tutors in the GNVQ Curriculum project who argued that the core skills requirements should already be fully integrated in the vocational area specification as part of the national course design process even if this did mean more central prescription. Tutors interviewed tended to conceive their courses as being essentially the vocational units with the core skills generally remaining marginal in terms of affecting decisions regarding course organisation or approach.

It was in the provision of optional units, forming one third of the vocational units undertaken by students, that course teams potentially had the opportunity to tailor the vocational elements of the GNVQ course to their own requirements or to offer students the possibility to do so. In the event there were three principal approaches followed on the 22 different courses (including the two routes on the Advanced Leisure & Tourism course at Portland College). Six course teams permitted students a choice of optional units (though on two courses the student group had to decide collectively which two optional units they would all follow), a further two course teams restricted the range of optional units from which the students could choose and on the remaining fourteen courses students were given no choice in which optional units they followed as these had been pre-selected by the course team.

For many courses, the principal reasons given for the course team's restriction or denial of student choice of optional units were staffing economy and manageability. It is however worthy of note that three of the four Art & Design course teams gave students an open choice of optional units encouraging their students to pursue their individual interests and developing specialisms. This reflected their individualised way of working with students which facilitated the diversity of optional units that could be managed within a single class.

The curricular justification for the provision of compulsory 'optional units' was, in its weakest form related to perceived student interest, difficulty of content, or because the evidence for optional units could partly be derived from earlier mandatory units thus reducing the overall burden of the course for tutors and students. More positively, some courses had chosen optional units which were based on Work Experience opportunities, a Young Enterprise scheme and a visit abroad. Here the optional units served to provide an assessment and motivational structure to integrate optional activities into the compulsory course provision. Only one Intermediate course tutor mentioned that one factor in the decision regarding the provision of optional units had been the suitability of the units chosen to prepare students for progression to the Advanced course in the same area. No Advanced course tutor raised the matter of preparation for progression to Higher Education in terms of the selection of optional units, though two Advanced courses had taken into consideration students' progression to work. However, many course teams did take the opportunity to exploit the flexibility offered by optional units to tailor their curriculum provision to take into account staffing specialisms and interests as well as the availability of specialised resources both within the institution and the surrounding area. The clearest example of this was the Intermediate Art & Design course at Morton College which was using the optional units to give a focus on the technological specialisms of the college in the areas of graphics and photography.

As we have seen, in two of the GNVQ areas studied, two related occupational areas had been brought under the umbrella of single courses: 'Health & Social Care' and 'Leisure & Tourism'. The availability of optional units in either strand of each of these two areas had offered course teams the potential of a degree of specialisation, or of offering two distinct pathways, though only the Advanced Leisure & Tourism course at Portland College and the Advanced Health & Social Care course at Highgate College took this latter opportunity. Significantly, in each case these courses had been preceded by vocational courses in the areas related to each of the strands in the GNVQ area.

The level of staffing made available by institutions to courses not only directly influenced the provision of optional units as seen above, but, to greater extent, that of additional units. Here again, additional units provided an opportunity for the tailoring of overall curriculum provision by either course teams or students. As with the specifications for the optional units, the additional GNVQ units differed according to the awarding bodies. On five courses additional GNVQ units were compulsory for students and they were voluntary on a further eight. The remaining nine courses did not offer students the possibility of taking additional units.

On three of the five courses with compulsory additional units, students were required to undertake the additional core skills units of 'Improving own learning & performance' and 'Working with others' with one course also requiring 'Personal skills' plus 'Working in the community'. These additional core skills units could often be claimed from work undertaken by students in pursuance of the mandatory and optional units. It is worthy of note that ten of the thirteen courses offering or requiring additional units were in the Further Education sector and this was said by tutors to be partly a function of the additional funding that could be gained. With regard to the other two courses with compulsory additional units, on one, the Advanced Manufacturing course at Morton College the additional units permitted tutors to extend the practical vocationally-specific dimensions of the course and on the other, the Advanced Manufacturing course at Meadow VI College, the provision of two additional units had enabled the course team to respond to the Science-focussed requirements of the chemical company sponsoring students on the course.

4.3 Local Constraints and Influences

At the institutional level as opposed to the national qualification level, there were a number of factors that impacted directly on the quality and extent of the curricular experiences of students as mediated by the institution, course team and individual tutors. These constraints and influences included the institutional context, timetabling provision, the course facilities, the institutional location and access to community resources, the students on the course, the expertise and experience of the tutors and course teams and staff development.

In terms of the institutional type, one expectation might be that the three different types of institution, further education colleges, sixth-form colleges and schools would exhibit systematic differences in approach to GNVQ. There was however little evidence of such differences though the FE and sixth-form college funding patterns encouraged the provision of additional units.

The GNVQ model, being output-led and assessment governed, not only does not specify the organisation and form of the curricular provision, or input, but consistent with this proposes no particular level of learning activity whether this be in the form of contact hours, supervised workshops or individual investigation and study. Consequently, it is hardly surprising that the number of time-tabled hours allocated to GNVQ courses by the different institutions varied considerably. Just over half of the courses were allowed between 12 and 15 hours contact time per week for the mandatory and optional units. The minimum time-tabled time for this provision was nine hours and the maximum 24 hours. However, the different funding regimes for schools and sixth-form and further education colleges were not reflected in any clear patterns in time-tabled allocation. Nor were any such patterns discernible between different course areas or levels, though the five highest allocations were for Advanced level courses.

Even on the courses where the number of time-tabled contact hours fell within the 12-15 hours bracket, there were substantial variations in practice. Some courses either were given additional time for the in-course development of core skills or had additional time-tabled classes for students whereas other courses were expected to cover the core skills units within the basic provision of contact hours. The definition of 'contact hours' was also variable. Several courses gave students additional access throughout the week to a workshop with specialist tutors on hand to assist with work. Such high-level of support stood in contrast to the Intermediate Business course at Stanton College where a college decision to cut specialist teaching contact time to four hours per week had encouraged an implementation approach for this course with a heavy reliance on worksheets and written activities.

In terms of the focus of this study, there are few conclusions to be drawn about the level of time-tabled provision other than to note that even within the 21 courses investigated there was considerable variation in the time allocated. What was clear though was that the decisions were very often out of the hands of those delivering the course and were made at the institutional level by managers in conformity to school or college policy, for example in accordance with a college decision that GNVQ Intermediate courses were to be delivered in a certain number of hours or that an Advanced GNVQ course was to fit in two GCE A level teaching blocks in a school. It is perhaps unsurprising that there was no evidence that the starting point for allocations of contact hours was the amount of time required to provide a course in a particular way. Conversely, the number and pattern of teaching hours allocated centrally did have an impact upon the form of course organisation and provision, not least in terms of the constraints of short timetable slots for staff, driven by institution-wide requirements such as tutors teaching on other courses, which limited the opportunities for integration of units and for accompanied external activities or visits.

One of the main impacts of the time allocation to the course, in terms of student contact hours, was the amount of time available to the students to cover the requirements of the specifications however the curriculum was organised. Several tutors pointed out that a high assessment workload, and the large amount of content to be covered within what was a relatively short course, especially in terms of the Intermediate courses, brought its own pressures on what could be achieved with groups of students, leading to a focus on those elements which were to be assessed. Thus a lower level of weekly time allocation to a course increased the likelihood of this constraint reinforcing the prescriptive effects of the assessment focus of the specifications.

Generally institutions left curriculum design matters to course teams though, as we have seen, five FE sector institutions did seek to influence courses directly by adopting a policy of internal verifiers checking the design of assignments prior to their use as well as once the assignment had been completed. Where this pre-verification was coupled with an institutional expectation that GNVQ courses would be based on the element indicator, it led to an implementation approach as tutors and course teams lost the flexibility in course organisation offered by the GNVQ specifications as with the Leisure and Tourism Intermediate course at Meadow VI College

While all courses in the research project did participate in or conduct a course review, usually with student input, this was rarely considered at the institutional level where any planning and review tended to address administrative issues rather than curricular matters. Even within course areas, reviews usually focused not on the curriculum itself but on the progress of individual students. This highlights the fact that although the curriculum design and planning process was clearly key to the provision of a GNVQ course, and individual tutors had given this some considerable thought, it was not normally formalised at the institutional or even the course level.

While there were few identifiable patterns across institution types, policies and structures in individual institutions clearly had an impact on the courses within them. This was most often expressed in a range of constraints such as staffing levels or time allocation as discussed above. However, the impact of wider policy decisions, particularly in FE and sixth-form colleges was also felt. One striking example was the management decision at Meadow VI College to respond to reduced student recruitment to GCE A level courses by asking these tutors and course teams to change their provision to offer a GNVQ course instead. In each of the three cases in this college the proposed vocational area had only tenuous links with the course team's teaching experience and expertise, significantly contributing to the adoption of an implementation approach by the Leisure and Tourism and Manufacturing course teams and, under different circumstances, to the adaptation of the Health & Social Care course to the tutors' GCE A level orientation.

One factor that was a strong influence in some courses with regard to how the course team approached the GNVQ specifications was the availability, or otherwise, of specialised course facilities. In some cases there was a conscious decision to exploit the specialist facilities and reputation of an institution as with the Intermediate Art & Design course at Morton College which had a technological bias. In other cases the impact of access to specialist facilities was less consciously planned but had no less of an influence on the nature of the course. For example, the Manufacturing course in the same college had easy access to a extensive range of engineering facilities and workshops thereby permitting the tutors to pursue their commitment to engineering within the framework of a GNVQ manufacturing courses. Equally the tutors on the Advanced Manufacturing course at Oakland school were based in a CDT workshop and could develop their course according to their favoured course tradition. In contrast, at Meadow VI College, such facilities were not available to the Science-oriented course team who were based in the A level Science laboratories and had adopted an implementation approach. Thus, while the course teams' prior teaching and vocational experience were a strong factor in the approach adopted, these were also reinforced by the availability or non-availability of specialist facilities which, as in the above three cases, were often those used by the course teams in previous or concomitant courses.

Where a course was accorded relatively low status within an institution, such as with some Intermediate courses, the restricted access to specialist facilities, resources and staffing combined to limit the course team to a relatively narrow interpretation of the GNVQ specifications. This was clearly the case on the Business courses at Portland College and Stanton College.

While institutions could, to some extent, determine the allocation and provision of resources such as specialist facilities and staffing specialisms and levels, they had little say in the access that their location gave them to facilities in the surrounding area. Their location was both a significant influence and constraint with respect to access to vocational facilities and involvement with local businesses. As indicated above, the location of the GNVQ centres in the research project was broadly representative of the national picture and included inner city and urban schools and colleges as well as those situated in rural areas. In the latter cases, where the institution was remote from a large town, tutors complained that the few businesses were unable to respond to the requests for support, for example in terms of visits and work experience placements, and they believed that the limited access to this restricted range of vocational facilities and experiences resulted in a less enriched course. This case could be clearly seen on the Business course at Appletree School and on the Art & Design course at Oakland School. Institutions in urban areas were, however, sometimes spoilt for choice with respect to work placements, visiting speakers, visits to vocational facilities, external briefs (as with the Art & Design course at Stanton College) and general access to resources, though this was not always the case as some national businesses had adopted a rather high-handed attitude to requests by local students.

Perceived student interest and need were important factors in many tutors' thinking about curricular provision and course organisation. This influence of students on curricular provision was especially strong with respect to the Intermediate courses including five of the six Intermediate courses in the Implementation category where it was thought that students worked best with the tight structure and sense of short-term achievement given by these element-based courses. In addition three of these courses had made conscious efforts to raise student motivation and avoid them dropping out. They had sought to do this by devising a series of vocationally-related practical tasks within the course. Thus the focus in some courses on the use of the Evidence Indicators was not simply a function of course teams accepting unquestioningly what was proposed in the specifications, it also met with their approval for more principled reasons. Equally several course teams had made decisions relating to the provision of course units based on the perceived needs and interests of their students, though only in few cases did students have any direct say even in their choice of optional units.

Students on courses with concurrent units reported that they found it difficult to manage their time effectively when working on four or five assignments for different units at the same time. In contrast, an Intermediate Health & Social Care course tutor at Peterson School, where there was concurrent unitised provision, suggested that one benefit of time-tabling different members of staff for different units was that students understood better the pattern of their week.

The emphasis placed by many GNVQ tutors on the importance of meeting the needs and interests of students mirrors the findings in the work of Bates (1997) who underlined the role of teacher agency in the creative development and adaptation of GNVQ courses for these reasons. It also links to the findings of Bates' study of careers education (1989) and the work of the English Studies Centre on English, Mathematics and Science teachers' responses to the introduction of the National Curriculum (1991). As with these other studies there was, however, little indication in the research project that the students were being directly involved in decisions about the structure and content of the overall curriculum nor indeed in decisions about the optional and additional units on offer. This reinforces the findings of Rudduck (1986) where students are often seen as 'conscripts' in the curriculum design process and of Grundy (1987) who found that where a 'technical interest' is in the ascendancy the students will have little or no say in the determination of learning objectives and may only be able to influence the curriculum in a reactive way. This reactive effect on the curriculum was apparent on some courses in the GNVQ Curriculum project but was more often expressed via the tutors' assumed reaction of the students being taken into account when they planned the curricular structure and activities.

As discussed above a series of studies have concluded that teaching staff are one of the most significant factors in curriculum construction, not least because they have the key role of creating the curriculum at the local level, both the intended curriculum and the actual curriculum (see for example Fullan, 1991 and Hargreaves, 1994). We have also seen from the work of Helsby (1999; Helsby and McCulloch, 1996; Helsby and McCulloch, 1997) and of Croll (1996a and 1996b) as well as from that of Bowe, Ball and Gold (1992), that teacher agency was found to be a key feature of the development of National Curriculum courses. This has also been found to be the case in the present study on GNVQ and has been covered in detail in the previous chapter. Here we shall focus on the one influence that emerged to a greater or lesser extent in the study of all course teams, namely their prior experience of the vocational area in question.

By definition those course teams that had taken either an adaptation or an assimilation approach had a strong prior teaching tradition to which they adapted the GNVQ course or into which they assimilated it. The converse was, however, not necessarily the case as a number of the course teams in the implementation category also had a shared teaching tradition. This divergence of responses could most clearly be seen with respect to those course teams with an GCE A level teaching background. The A level Business Studies course team at Appletree School and the A level Art course team at Oakland School had both found the Advanced GNVQ courses in Business and Art & Design sufficiently close to their own concomitant A level teaching experience to adapt them to their way of working, but had not gone so far as to assimilate them into this tradition given the continuing existence of their parallel A level course. In a similar way the A level Home Economics and Biology tutors on the Advanced Health & Social care course at Meadow VI College, when faced with a college request to introduce this course at speed and with the absence of detailed guidance, had considered the GNVQ vocational area to be close enough to their A level subject areas for them to be able to adapt it to this way of working. Thus, while the two tutors did not have a common subject teaching background, they drew heavily on their shared A level tradition and identified the units of the Health & Social Care course closely with their own areas of teaching expertise, adapting the GNVQ course to their prior experience. In a parallel situation, in the same sixth form college, the established GCE A level Science team might also have been expected to adopt the adaptation approach in respect of the Advanced Manufacturing specifications. However, while elements of their GCE A level teaching approach permeated their course, the Science tutors and the Craft Design Technology tutor in the course team perceived that the distance between their teaching specialisms and the vocational area of Manufacturing was too great to permit an adaptation approach and had thus fallen back on an implementation approach to these specifications which largely fell outside their course team's teaching tradition. The same was true of the Business and Geography tutors who had come together to form the course team for the Intermediate Leisure & Tourism course in the same college.

In several institutions, an established group of tutors had taught together on a course which had been supplanted by the introduction of GNVQ. This was the case for the Intermediate Art & Design course team at Morton College where a college decision has resulted in the replacement of the BTEC National in Design, Print and Photography by GNVQ courses in Art & Design. This had resulted in the course team drawing on their existing areas of expertise in particular modules and thereby taking an adaptation approach but not, however, going so far as to attempt to assimilate the whole course into their existing way of working. The Art & Design course teams at Appletree School and Stanton College who had both been obliged to replace previous BTEC General Art and Design courses by a GNVQ Art & Design course, perhaps because of the greater proximity of the two course areas and because of the confidence derived from this, had taken a more independent approach to the specifications assimilating the GNVQ into their existing way of working. Both course teams had a strong subject culture and a distinct way of working and in the latter case the GNVQ specifications not been available when the course had been designed thus reinforcing the tendency to assimilate the course into their previous tradition. At Portland College, tutors from two previous course teams, Sports and Tourism, had been brought together to offer an Advanced Leisure & Tourism course. However, allegiances to their pre-existing course tradition and to a strong vocational dimension had persisted such that, when the opportunity arose, the tutors used the flexibility offered by the optional units to develop two distinct courses, assimilating each of them into their established course tradition. In a similar case at Highgate College, where BTEC National Diploma course teams for Health and for Social Care had been brought together to offer the single GNVQ Health & Social Care course, the new large group of tutors led by course leaders in each of the former areas, had been largely left to their own devices once the units had been allocated to them, with little overall curriculum planning over and above the organisational framework implied by the units of the GNVQ specifications. While the course team offered students Health and Social Care pathways, the bureaucratic and largely procedural nature of the organisation of this course coupled with the freedom given to individual tutors had resulted in a course in which individual tutors were following a range of different approaches. Thus this course could not be said to have adopted either an adaptation or an assimilation approach, though there were aspects of both approaches discernible, but was judged to fall broadly within the implementation category.

In each of the above cases where an assimilation approach had been taken, this response was operating both at the level of course content and of general approach to course activities. None of the three Manufacturing courses with an assimilation approach, at Morton College, City School and Oakland School, had directly replaced an existing course in the same area, however, when the opportunity to offer GNVQ had become available, the response of these established course teams had been to approach the Manufacturing course with a degree of enthusiasm seeing the opportunity for assimilating the GNVQ course into their existing tradition of working. In the former case the response had been to assimilate it into an engineering tradition and in the latter two cases it was assimilated into a skills-oriented craft tradition which in the last case continued a long-established tradition of providing pre-vocational courses in the sixth-form.

As we have seen with the Intermediate Leisure & Tourism and the Manufacturing courses at Meadow VI College, few of the course teams taking an implementation approach had either significant relevant expertise or teaching experience in the vocational area of the GNVQ course nor did they have experience in a related teaching area to draw upon. This was the case with the Intermediate Health & Social Care course at Peterson School where the main experience of the vocational sector came from one of the five tutors who had previously been a school nurse. Like the Health & Social Care course at Highgate College this group of tutors, all with other diverse teaching commitments, came together for the provision of this course, were allocated their units and were then left to proceed as they wished. Equally the course team of the Advanced Leisure & Tourism at Peterson School had very limited specialist expertise in the vocational sectors and the single tutor on the Health & Social Care course at United College had neither a work nor a teaching background in the vocational area. The tutors on the Intermediate Business course at Stanton College did have some vocational experience but this was somewhat remote and the implementation approach of this latter course had been reinforced by the low status accorded to the course by the college in terms of timetable allocation. A similar situation had developed with the Intermediate Business course at Portland College where although the tutors had a teaching background in business the course had suffered from staffing changes, excessive responsibility given to student teachers and the subsequent replacement of the entire course team. On the Advanced Business course at United College, while the tutors did have a business background, the lack of overall course co-ordination coupled with a college expectation of the use of evidence indicators had led to heavy reliance on the specification and an implementation approach.

From its work in school sixth-forms OFSTED found that where a vocational area related directly to an established subject in schools, such as with Art & Design, Business, and Science, the staffing situation was 'satisfactory' but that where vocational areas were new to schools this was less likely to be the case, and reported that:

'there were examples of significant weaknesses; in most of these cases, teachers were teaching outside their initial specialisation, the majority being geographers and physical education specialists. Most had relatively little recent and relevant experience of the vocational area.' (OFSTED, 1997, p. 39)

However, as discussed in the previous chapter, the lack of vocational experience or related teaching background did not mean that a GNVQ course which took an implementation approach was necessarily restricted in its approach to the vocational area. Indeed some tutors were all too aware of their lack of vocational experience and had consciously sought to compensate for this through vocationally-related activities such as visits, work experience linked to assignments, practical projects and the use of invited speakers working in the sector. This was so of the Health & Social Care course at United College and of the Intermediate Leisure & Tourism courses at Highgate College and Meadow VI College, though in the former case only the course leader had no vocational experience. In a similar way the single tutor with a business background on the Intermediate Business course at City School had sought to cover a range of vocationally-related practical activities, these were however strongly influenced by her view of the requirements of business to which she had adapted her course.

As we have seen, the greater the confidence of tutors derived from a shared culture and set of curricular principles, the more likely it was that they would impose their tradition on the GNVQ course. These findings support those of Quicke and Winter (1996) whose study of the responses of a small number of teachers to the National Curriculum indicated the strength of teachers' subject backgrounds and also of Roberts (1997) whose research into the responses of Geography teachers in three departments to the introduction of the National Curriculum indicated the important influence of 'continuities of professional action' (p. 111). It also links to the findings of Goodson (1988a; Goodson and Marsh 1996) on the strong influence of the subject codification of knowledge as underlined earlier by Bernstein (1971). More significantly the findings of the present study point not just to the importance of the individual teacher's discipline background but to the wider impact on a new course of the course team's overall prior teaching experience, whether subject-based, located in a vocational area or rooted in a broad teaching tradition. This links to the early responses of teachers to the pilot phase of GNVQ as indicated by Harrop (1995) and to the early stages of the introduction of GNVQ as investigated by Lancaster University (Helsby et al., 1998). In both cases tutors faced with limited guidance and staff development were found to be falling back on their experience of previous courses in the planning of GNVQ. In the former case the result was seen to be a general disregard of the specifications and in the latter an over-detailed reliance on the specifications leading to an 'atomisation' of the curriculum. The findings of the present study suggest that the two experiences are not different stages in the implementation of a new curriculum but are differing course team responses. Equally the findings indicate that the expectations expressed by Helsby et al. that the impact of this prior experience might dissipate as time passed and courses became established and more guidance became available were perhaps a little optimistic. Indeed in the GNVQ Curriculum research project once a course team had established a curricular structure and approach for a course, this tended to persist, and in one notable case, the Leisure & Tourism course at Portland, the course team had retreated back into a former model of teaching.

In the light of such findings, the importance of staff development programmes in the implementation of new curricula is high, as Bates (1998a) has indicated. However, amongst the course teams in the research project there was little evidence of any systematic forms of staff development other than the completion of the units required by tutors to permit them to act as internal verifiers. These units were focussed on assessment principles and procedures rather than on curriculum development, and were generally seen by staff as being a procedural requirement. As one tutor commented:

'(They were) most useful at the time but it didn't make any difference to how I delivered GNVQ and I don't think it has for anybody else. They've seen it as a necessary evil, they haven't seen it as a staff development.' (Oakland School, Art & Design Advanced course leader)

The need for induction and staff development was particularly important when staff were new to GNVQ and the vocational area. For the different courses in the research project such a need occurred for various reasons: when a course was being introduced; when a new full-time member of staff was appointed or joined the course team; when part-time help was bought in to respond to last minute student recruitment. One poignant example was given by tutors on the Advanced Health & Social Care course at Meadow VI College, tutors who themselves had followed an adaptation approach mainly because they had been unable to gain access to staff development or advice and had fallen back on to their own A level specialisms. This course team would typically be allocated additional help on an annual basis from another A level teacher, a sociologist or a psychologist depending on who was available within the college. When asked what form of induction was given to such tutors, they explained:

Tutor A: Well we train them - we just train them, train them. Take them on board and learn the ropes.

Interviewer: Yes, how though?

Tutor A: Well we just have little training sessions with them and talk them through the process and . . .

Tutor B: . . . tell them not to worry.

Tutor A: . . . that they'll understand it in time, and you know, we'll help.

(Meadow VI College, Health & Social Care Advanced course tutors)

This approach was typical of the kind of preparation tutors new to GNVQ received when joining an existing course but was somewhat more extensive and tailored than the staff on this same course had themselves received when they first had to design their GNVQ course. Apart from in-course induction of this type, there were isolated pockets of in-house and external training and attendance at FEDA network sessions, some individual instances of work placements of a week or so being undertaken by tutors and substantial documentation available from awarding bodies and NCVQ but the provision of staff development (except in the area of internal verification) did not form part of the GNVQ implementation model in the early stages though the role of FEDA was developed later. The lack of systematic professional development or in-service training experienced by tutors in the centres discussed in this study mirrors the findings of the Lancaster University study into GNVQ (Helsby et al, 1998). However, this general disregard of curricular processes is in line with the GNVQ approach of focusing on the assessment of the qualification and of using this to ensure the specifications are met rather than paying any particular attention to the form that the GNVQ courses take or to how the curriculum is enacted.

4.4 Summary

Although there are clear links between the different features of GNVQ and the course realisation in terms of curriculum design and provision, none of the features of GNVQ would in itself appear prescriptive enough to determine a particular course format, much less the overall approach of the course team, be it implementation, adaptation or assimilation. As we have seen, the impact of each of the central assessment features of unit tests, internal verification and external verification was relatively limited in terms of curriculum planning, with tutors typically seeing these activities as separate processes that needed to be undertaken to meet the procedural requirements of the specifications. Thus, while the main assessment features of GNVQ did serve to reinforce curriculum implementation, this was not at the level of the particular format of course design nor of the provision, but more generally in terms of the coverage of the required qualification content at the specified standard.

Equally, although the GNVQ specifications are laid out in a format of units and elements with evidence indicators, the implied, but not required, curriculum organisation was not universally adopted by course teams, though the vast majority did adopt a unit structure for their course and most of these did base their curriculum provision around the element and evidence indicators. This clear pattern of conformity with the curricular structure of the specifications was determined in some individual cases where an institutional policy on the use of the Evidence Indicators was reinforced by a system of pre-verification. Generally though a course team's response to the specifications in the design and provision of their course, including their approach to core skills, optional and additional units was influenced by a range of interrelated and sometimes complex factors.

Of the factors discussed in this chapter, the most influential ones would appear to be the institutional location and context which impacted directly on the access to vocational resources in the surrounding community and area and the availability or otherwise of specialist course facilities. Institutional policies such as pre-verification or the approach to core skills and institutional arrangements such as the pattern and level of staffing and resourcing were also significant, though generally institutions did not to seek to intervene directly in the curricular provision which was left to the course team to plan and deliver once a decision had been made to introduce the course. Tutors' perceptions of their students' motivation, interests and needs also featured highly in the planning of some courses, particularly Intermediate courses, though only rarely were students accorded a direct say in the content of a course including in the choice of optional units.

The most significant influence in terms of the approach to the course was, however, the tutors, given their role both in the planning of the intended curriculum and in their contribution to the actual curriculum, and in particular the course team's prior teaching experience and expertise in the vocational area. The impact of this prior, and sometimes concomitant, teaching and vocational experience was a strong one that could shape the course team's whole approach to GNVQ. As we have seen, this seemed most likely to happen when an established course team came new to GNVQ and perceived the GNVQ area as being in a parallel or related area to their own teaching expertise. The response here varied between one of adapting the new course to their established way of working or of wholesale assimilation into that vocational or subject-based tradition, even to the extent of attempting to keep the previous course alive and still allow students to meet the GNVQ specifications. However, where the GNVQ area seemed to be distinct from an established course team's prior experience, or where the course team was composed of tutors who had no common teaching background or experience of working together, an implementation approach would typically result, though a variety of contextual factors also came into play here as discussed above. Where a course team had only limited experience and expertise in the vocational area, often compounded by a lack of staff development, the resultant low level of confidence tended to increase the tutors' perception that the GNVQ specifications were prescriptive and led to an implementation approach. Conversely where a course team felt confident in the area, the specifications were not perceived as prescriptive but rather as flexible, in line with Jessup's original expectation of the tailoring of specifications to the course context. It was this curriculum flexibility that these course teams chose to exploit, if local circumstances permitted, in adapting or assimilating the course in a retrospective way to their existing course tradition, a decision often reinforced by the continuing existence of specialist facilities in the original course area.

The findings discussed above largely confirm those of Bowe, Ball and Gold (1992) with respect to their work in four secondary schools on the introduction of National Curriculum programmes in English, Mathematics and Science. Here the analysis placed teacher and departmental responses into 'technical' and 'professional' categories. Categories which are not dissimilar to 'implementation' for the former and 'adaptation' and 'assimilation' for the latter, though less differentiated. However, whilst the analysis of the research into the National Curriculum core subjects indicated that where commitment to an existing subject is high, a professional response is more likely to result, there is clear evidence in this present study that this response only pertains if the course team in question perceives the distance between the new and the existing area to be sufficiently close to permit adaptation or assimilation.

5. GNVQ AND Curriculum innovation

In the development of General National Vocational Qualifications for the pilot in 1992-93 and their national introduction the following year, the influence of Jessup as Director of Research and Development and subsequently Chief Executive at NCVQ was clearly a significant one. Adapted from the NVQ mastery model of qualification specification, GNVQs provided a framework for the assessment of the qualification that specified all the assessment objectives to be achieved. Unlike the assessment sampling typically used for academic qualifications, this 'comprehensive assessment' was seen by Jessup to ensure full coverage of the qualification's requirements and to guarantee the achievement of the appropriate national standards in all aspects. While the vocational area specifications of the original version of GNVQ were set out in detail and organised by unit, element and performance criteria with accompanying range statements, the course structure and content were left entirely to the providing institutions to devise. Indeed Jessup claimed that 'Teachers are thus encouraged to design courses (and given the freedom to do so) which make best use of the resources available to them, taking into account the needs and interests of the students they recruit' (Jessup, 1995a, p. 9). Hence in theory considerable scope was available to institutions to develop courses that matched their local contexts, with curriculum guidance being restricted to suggestions of the forms of evidence that students might submit for assessment termed 'Evidence Indicators'.

However, in the light of considerable public criticism of GNVQ with respect to the overall policy, the detailed model of specification, excessive bureaucratic demands, over-reliance on tutor assessment and perceived lack of tutor support, Tim Boswell as Minister for Further and Higher Education asked NCVQ to look again at the format and assessment of GNVQs. This work led to the revised version of GNVQ, introduced in 1995, which sought to clarify the specification and assessment of the qualification though it did not respond to wider policy concerns. This second version, the focus of this study, was worded in a more student-friendly fashion with clearer guidance for tutors, including more detailed Evidence Indicators which, if adopted by the course and successfully completed by the student, replaced the necessity to cover all the performance criteria required under GNVQ Mark I. Nonetheless, although the outline of the curriculum to be followed by courses was now implied in the form of expanded Evidence Indicators which replaced the specification of the performance criteria and elements, these were not compulsory and institutions retained the flexibility inherent in the GNVQ model. Fundamentally, while procedural changes had been introduced, the model remained largely unchanged. As seen, the criticisms of GNVQ continued unabated, ultimately leading to the Capey Review and the subsequent changes to GNVQ following the Dearing Report and the consultations of Curriculum 2000. This GNVQ Mark III, now termed the Advanced Vocational Certificate of Education (AVCE) and referred to as 'vocational A levels', was introduced from September 2000 and encompassed more far-reaching changes as will be seen later in this chapter.

The investigation of the construction of the post-16 GNVQ curriculum at Intermediate and Advanced levels has been undertaken through an analysis of case study data covering twenty-one Intermediate and Advanced GNVQ Mark II courses in the five pilot vocational areas across ten institutions. One of the advantages of this data base is its simultaneous depth and width, the case study approach being sufficiently detailed to permit in-depth consideration of individual cases whilst the range of courses allows an analysis of general patterns.

As seen in the review of the published research on GNVQ, there are instances of detailed but unconnected autobiographical accounts and individualised case studies of GNVQ courses which contrast with wide-ranging policy analyses and theoretical discussions. At the same time there is a large body of official publications on GNVQ from governmental and quasi-governmental sources including inspection agencies, and also a number of quantitative studies. However, a reading of the literature on curriculum implementation indicates the importance of situating curriculum study at the meso-level of the school or college (Ball, 1990; Goodson, 1988a), in particular at the level of teachers (Huberman, 1988; Hargreaves, 1994; Bloomer, 1997, Yeomans, 1997) and of course teams (Fullan, 1991; Hall, 1995), as well as underlining the fact that such work has rarely been undertaken (Bates, 1998a). Furthermore a number of researchers have called for the systematic analysis of patterns of response to curriculum change (Bates, 1998a; Goodson, 1988a; Cornbleth, 1990). It is to this call that the present study has attempted to respond by considering the responses of course teams to the introduction of GNVQ, seeing the concept of a course team as a fruitful one situated at an important level, to gain leverage on the understanding of the processes of curriculum realisation through the analysis of patterns of difference and similarity.

Although GNVQ specifies in detail its assessment requirements, the flexibility permitted to institutions in terms of curriculum design and course provision offers potential for a range of diverse responses according to individual circumstances and course teams' curricular orientations. This flexibility towards the format and shape of course organisation, including core skills, optional and additional units, approach to unit content and assignment design is in line with the original conception of the model which is based on a concept of comprehensive assessment to guarantee curriculum coverage and standards of attainment whilst permitting the tailoring of courses to the local context. The analysis of the impact of the GNVQ model in the cases in the research project has revealed that the influence of the different aspects of the GNVQ model and assessment requirements has been only a limited one with respect to course organisation and provision. This is not to suggest that the majority of the course teams disregarded the implied curricular organisation of the GNVQ specifications, but rather that other factors, external to the qualification, were more influential. Indeed, where these factors were influencing a course team towards a flexible approach to curriculum design, GNVQ was significantly modified. In contrast, where course teams had a restrained interpretation of the specifications, following the implied model closely, this was not as a result of excessive curriculum prescription in GNVQ but had much more to do with local factors encouraging or impelling them towards an implementation approach.

Of these factors influencing the realisation of the GNVQ curriculum in the centres in the GNVQ Curriculum research project, one of the most significant was the course team's prior and concomitant teaching experience and culture together with tutors' expertise in and experience of the vocational area reinforced by the degree and type of access to specialised resources within the institution and the surrounding community. As seen above, these varying experiences and local contexts led to a range of approaches by course teams which my analysis has broadly categorised into 'implementation', 'adaptation' and 'assimilation'. As indicated earlier, these types of course team responses are all part of a continuum and the categorisation is essentially a judgmental one based on a wide array of evidence. It is worthy of note that the reasons for the different stances of the course teams were not necessarily diverse ones. Indeed in some cases the key factor was an established course team's perception of the proximity of the GNVQ area to their traditional course area. Where the new vocational area seemed sufficiently close to their prior or sometimes concomitant course area, the team's response was often one of exploiting the flexibility inherent in GNVQ to adapt it to their established way of working, or even of seeking to assimilate GNVQ into the existing course tradition while meeting the specifications' minimum requirements. Where the course team lacked relevant vocational experience and expertise, or was formed of a group of tutors from disparate curriculum areas, or simply judged the GNVQ area too distant from its own area of specialism, an implementation response was likely to result, though in each case the approach was influenced by contextual factors such as the availability or non-availability of specialised facilities in both the existing and new areas. It might have been anticipated that some course teams would adopt a further approach of 'innovation', however any apparent curriculum design creativity seemed directed towards the maintenance of the course team's existing tradition. Thus, overall, the response of course teams was more influenced by their course culture as well as by local influences and constraints than by the GNVQ model.

In considering the model of GNVQ curriculum implementation and applying Schon's categorisation of the various models of societal change to curriculum dissemination in GNVQ, it can clearly be seen that the model adopted falls under the label 'centre-periphery' (Schon, 1971), meeting the essential criteria put forward, namely that the programme has been formulated and drawn up before dissemination from the centre (NCVQ with the awarding bodies) to the end-users and that the process of dissemination is a directive one managed from the centre. While other curriculum programmes, such as Schools Council projects, may have been organised along the lines of a 'proliferation of centres' model (Stenhouse, 1975), the GNVQ implementation programme does not seek to involve existing secondary centres such as LEAs or universities nor to create new ones. The existence of three awarding bodies and the development of the role of FEDA for GNVQ support do not conform to the concept of primary centres of dissemination envisaged by Schon.

As indicated above, some flexibility in course organisation and provision as well as in local content and assignment design is accorded to GNVQ centres. However, the centrally controlled assessment features of the qualification dictate the parameters of the curriculum through their comprehensive assessment approach to content coverage. This central control does not rely on legislation but on external evaluation by awarding bodies, on inspection by OFSTED and FEFC, on financial control as well as on advice, guidance and more formal requirements from awarding bodies and NCVQ/QCA. Additionally, various practical guides which tend to be non-critical and support the faithful introduction of GNVQ have been published by the awarding bodies, NCVQ and FEDA as part of the GNVQ support programme, as well as by other interested national organisations (e.g. UBI: Stagg, 1994) and by commercial publishers (e.g. Searle, 1996; Cotton and Robbins, 1996).

In terms of the typology put forward by Bennis, Benne and Chin (1969), the innovation strategy adopted for GNVQ, like that of the National Curriculum, has thus been quite self-consciously 'power-coercive'. There has been little attempt to adopt an empirical-rational strategy involving a persuasive argument with demonstration of potential advantages, much less a normative-re-educative one that seeks to persuade the tutors to make adjustments in their attitudes and values and teaching skills. However, as Bolam (1975) has pointed out, these categories are rarely found as separate and pure entities, and may be combined, for example, at a national policy level, or modified at a school or college level. This has been borne out by the findings of the present study, with central prescription and control as well as tutor involvement in policy also being important concepts at the institutional level. For example, some institutions engaged with tutors and course teams in a discussion of the potential benefits of introducing GNVQ, though few of these had aspects of a normative-re-educative strategy, whereas other institutions simply expected tutors to cease teaching their present course and to offer a GNVQ vocational area. Equally, some institutions adopted a policy of pre-verification and one of the use of Evidence Indicators which, when combined, had strong elements of control with regard to the form of curriculum organisation and format of provision. Generally though, the course teams in the research project were left to devise and deliver their own courses once the vocational area and the composition of the course team had been decided centrally.

While there has been an increasing trend in curriculum theorising away from technological approaches to curriculum implementation towards the contextualised construction of curriculum, curriculum initiatives promulgated by central government have not always followed this line of development. Indeed in the UK, recent major programmes have focussed on aspects of national consistency rather than on central support for local curricular initiatives. Assessment and prescription of content have been key in the attempts to ensure the implementation in a technical way of the National Curriculum, although the organisation of the curriculum and the form of provision were initially left to schools and individual teachers (though even these aspects have been increasingly subject to prescription, see for example the recent Literacy and Numeracy initiatives in primary and secondary education). In GNVQ, the role of assessment has been even more central to the curriculum. While the purpose of assessment in 14-19 education and training has a number of possible functions (Oates puts forward seven: 1997, p. 140), one of the key functions in terms of the GNVQ qualification may be termed 'implementation reinforcement' (incidentally not one of the seven put forward by Oates, unless this can be seen as a sub-set of 'teacher performance'). The 'comprehensive assessment' model of GNVQ (Jessup, 1995a) discussed above takes on a key role of guardian of the 'fidelity' of implementation, though here the concept of fidelity relates not to the curricular processes but to the achievement of the qualification's curricular content of pre-specified knowledge, skills and understanding.

The instigators of GNVQ such as Jessup were thus not principally seeking to achieve the 'implementation' of a new 'curriculum' but rather the introduction of a new approach to specifying curricular coverage and assuring the standards of a qualification. While scope is given to the tutors and course teams to develop their own forms of curriculum organisation and provision, even to be curriculum developers in terms of designing a curriculum to permit their students to meet the assessment demands, in Habermassian terms the assessment regime would seem to reinforce the technical and control aspects at the expense of the emancipatory. However, while this model of qualification does not dictate the content and processes to be included but controls the coverage and standards of the specified content through an output assessment, the need for students to meet the assessment requirements of the specifications will normally be developed within a curriculum in schools and colleges and this curriculum will naturally be influenced by the assessment requirements of the qualification.

As discussed above the assessment features of GNVQ were mainly seen by tutors as discrete procedural requirements and were not sufficiently prescriptive to dictate curriculum organisation and provision in a uniform way, with local factors being far more significant in influencing whether a course team adopted the curricular format implied by the organisation of the GNVQ specifications. Indeed, this model of the GNVQ curriculum places a clear onus on the tutors who design not only the assignments, which dictate the curriculum both in its form and organisation and in its contextual content and approach, but also mark the assignments with internal and external verification. These concomitant tutor roles of curriculum designer, assignment designer and assessor also place a heavy reliance on the effectiveness of the verification system to ensure the coverage and standards of the qualification. Effectively, setting aside the pass/fail unit tests, the Mark II version of GNVQ is one of 100% coursework, a model already rejected for GCE Advanced Level where subject criteria published by QCA limit the normal maximum for internally assessed work to 30% of the total mark, though this can be higher in practical subjects and rises to 60% for Art (ACCAC, CCEA and AQA, 2000). While not publicly expressed, there is clearly some unease in official circles about the reliance on course tutors not only to assess the work but to devise the assignments. This can be seen in the tone of the criticisms expressed by OFSTED (1996 and 1997) as discussed in Chapter Two and is reflected in the DFEE's justification for the revisions leading to GNVQ Mark III:

'The aim of the new assessment model is to make the qualification both more rigourous and more manageable for teachers, as well as clarifying the skills, knowledge and understanding required by students to achieve the qualification.' (DFEE, 1999. p. 2 )

The dual concerns about the central role of tutors in the qualification's assessment: an excessive bureaucratic burden on tutors and an over-reliance on internal assessment, have led to the main changes in this third version of GNVQ in which the role of the tutor in curriculum design has been reduced and the external assessment of the qualification has been significantly increased.

These latest GNVQ revisions, part of the Curriculum 2000 reforms, are effective from entry in September 2000 for Advanced Level and from entry in September 2002 for Intermediate level (DFEE, 2000). In the meantime the existing version of GNVQ (Mark II) courses have been retained. Originally heralded in the 'Qualifying for Success' consultation paper (DFEE/Welsh Office/DENI, 1997), the new post-16 curriculum framework brings GCE A levels and GNVQ into a more coherent qualifications system. As indicated above, GNVQ is recast as the AVCE and repackaged as a suite of three qualifications, respectively comprising 3 units (to match the size, though not level, of the new GCE Advanced Supplementary qualification), 6 units (to match the new GCE A level) and 12 units (a double award remaining equivalent to 2 A levels). GNVQ Mark III at Advanced level is to be known commonly as 'vocational A levels' and at Intermediate level as 'vocational GCSEs'. In response to concerns raised about the management, provision and assessment of key skills in a joint OFSTED and FEFC report on a pilot of the revised GNVQ assessment model (OFSTED/FEFC Inspectorate, 1999), the government has taken steps to certificate key skills units separately from the GNVQ qualification which now only comprises vocational units (DFEE, 1999), though context-specific opportunities for the development and assessment of key skills are signposted in the specifications. With respect to the five vocational areas covered in the GNVQ Curriculum project, there have been some changes in the pattern of offerings. Business and Health & Social Care continue to be offered as do Art & Design and Manufacturing, though the latter two areas are not be available as 3 unit courses. Leisure & Tourism has been replaced at Advanced level by two courses: Leisure & Recreation and Travel & Tourism, neither of which are offered as a 3 unit course. This splitting of Advanced Leisure & Tourism into its two vocational areas was prefigured in the Leisure & Tourism course at Portland College. At the same time, while optional units can be chosen at will (as with the Mark II version), a number of suggested pathways with relevant units are proposed.

Essentially the changes entail a significant departure from the original model of GNVQ and a clear shift towards the GCE A level model of assessment, with increased focus on external assessment. Units cease to be expressed by elements and are written to address the student with unit assessment criteria aligned to the GCE A level and GCSE grading scales. Each unit is thus to be graded, though significantly there is no longer a requirement to pass all units as it is the average level of achievement across the qualification that is graded. One third of the units are now externally assessed with the remaining units assessed as currently by portfolio with no unit tests to check the range. While the term 'Evidence Indicator' is no longer used, this concept remains and has been elevated to a formal assessment requirement. In other words, students are required to produce specified pieces of work or complete certain tasks for a unit and in many units can no longer map evidence to the performance criteria from a range of projects or assignments. This represents a significant prescription of the curriculum. Beyond this, a full range of detailed suggestions for curriculum content and provision are given for tutors' guidance. GNVQ has thus increased the degree of central control in its assessment model which now serves to reinforce curriculum implementation not only at the level of the coverage of the specifications and the standard achieved but in terms of curriculum organisation and provision. The concept of comprehensive assessment has also been significantly weakened given the possibility of including a failed unit in an average of marks to pass the qualification, though a model of assessment sampling has not been adopted.

In the revisions to GNVQ from Mark I to Mark II and then to Mark III, a shift can be seen away from a model which permits and indeed encourages tutors to devise their own curriculum, tailoring it to local circumstances, towards a much more tightly prescribed curriculum, albeit one in which the contexts of the assignments can still be determined locally. The continuum along which the GNVQ model of curriculum implementation has moved is that identified in North American curriculum literature as the adaptation-fidelity axis. GNVQ Mark I afforded scope to curriculum designers at the institutional level to adapt the specifications to local contexts. Indeed, as seen above, Jessup and Burke (1995a) saw this as one of the strengths of the GNVQ approach, for, whilst requiring the development of a course within a qualification framework, it permitted responsiveness to the local context. This implementation model was not, however, as flexible as McLaughlin's concept of 'mutual adaptation' where learners and teachers work together to develop curriculum objectives and products. Nonetheless, even GNVQ Mark II can be situated towards the adaptation end of the adaptation-fidelity continuum. This is not to suggest that course teams would necessarily adapt the GNVQ specifications in a significant way. Indeed, it has been seen that several course teams adopted an implementation approach, often perceiving a high degree of prescription in GNVQ, whereas others did adapt the specifications, typically though to their previous course culture, or even assimilated them into an existing course tradition. Thus in GNVQ, for a range of local factors and in the absence of systematic staff development, the flexibility in the 'adaptation' model of GNVQ was exploited by many course teams to 'adapt back' rather than for progressive curriculum development.

The recent substantial shift in model from GNVQ Mark II to Mark III has brought GNVQ nearer a fidelity model of curriculum implementation in which the innovation is structured in such a way as to prescribe for teachers a particular format for course organisation and provision. In GNVQ, the curriculum implementation reinforcement role of the assessment model has thus shifted from one of ensuring the coverage and standards of the qualification to an additional one of specifying curricular organisation and approaches. The impact of the latest changes to GNVQ with the significant shift in assessment model offers a productive area for further research in terms of course team responses to a more tightly prescribed qualification. However, significantly for the understanding of curriculum innovation, several course teams in the GNVQ Curriculum research project perceived, for a range of reasons, even the GNVQ Mark II model to be prescriptive, sometimes highly prescriptive, and adopted an implementation approach.

Whether it is a matter of an adaptation or a fidelity approach to curriculum implementation, one important factor appears to be the perception of tutors in terms of how they understand and construe what they are being asked to provide. The findings of this study would indicate that an established course team in a given subject or vocational area interprets a GNVQ area in terms of their conception of their existing curricular area and subsequently modifies the new curriculum in the light of this. This modification, which may take the form of adaptation or assimilation for a range of reasons, might be sub-conscious or conscious. In other words, a course team in an area with a designation and curriculum coverage similar to the GNVQ area, such as with Art & Design or Business, or in a closely related teaching area, may simply bring their own sub-conscious practice to the new course. Equally, a course team faced with the need to introduce a new course in an overlapping or adjacent area may consciously consider whether it is sufficiently close to permit modification of the new course to their existing conception or too remote from their experience and expertise and thus adopt an implementation approach.

A conceptual model for analysis can be developed by drawing parallels from the field of linguistics where the concepts of 'semantic field' and 'sub-stratum' may be helpful in the understanding and development of the analysis outlined above. In terms of curriculum, a semantic field may be said to equate to the area of content of skills, knowledge and understanding included within a tutor's or course team's concept of a subject or other curricular area. For example, the 'curricular field', as I shall term this concept, of 'Art' will differ from individual to individual and, collectively, from course team to course team as well as over time. What some see as the subject of Art will include design elements that others might exclude but include in their conception of the curricular field of Design & Technology. Curricular fields are thus bounded by the individual's curricular fields of adjacent subjects or vocational areas, conceptions which will be influenced by a range of contemporary and historical factors, both internal and external to the institution in which they work, including perceptions of wider, societal structures as Blenkin has suggested (Blenkin, Edwards, and Kelly, 1992). In curricular terms this analytical model has links to Goodson's work on the development of subject identity and also to Bernstein's classification of knowledge although here the primary interest is in the individual or course team's conception of the curricular field.

The significance of this analytical model becomes apparent when considering the process of curriculum change and linking this to the concept of substrata. Substrata and superstrata are concepts used to analyse and explain linguistic change over time, whether it be phonetic, semantic or orthographic change. For example, the different 'substrata' languages spoken by the indigenous peoples of the Roman Empire and their associated concepts affected how they spoke their conquerors' language of Latin and the semantic fields that they ascribed to Latin terms. The languages of subsequent invaders, or 'superstrata' languages, superimposed new linguistic forms which, in combination with the effects of the substrata languages, resulted in a wide range of related but distinct Romance languages such as Spanish, Romanian and Occitan. In this analysis, the 'sub-curricular field', as I shall term the curricular substrata, is parallel to the notion of curricular antecedents discussed in recent years by, for example, Goodson (1988a), though here the term is used to denote the individual or collective conception of the preceding curricular field. In GNVQ the concept of superstrata relates to the subsequent revisions to the qualification imposed on existing courses, though these are outside the scope of the present study.

We have seen above that the sub-curricular field of an established course team had a strong impact on the conception of the curricular field of the new GNVQ course and consequently on how the course team designed and delivered it. Equally, where a course team perceived the GNVQ area to have insufficient overlap with its existing course area, the course team did not build strongly on this sub-curricular field but tended to adopt an implementation approach. This was the case with the Manufacturing and Leisure & Tourism courses at Meadow VI College. In further cases, as with the Advanced Business course at Appletree School, the provision of a concomitant GCE A level Business Studies course by the same course team directly affected their curricular field of GNVQ Business as they wished to establish a distinction. Thus it can be seen that curricular fields are influenced by both pre-existing and co-existing curricular fields as well as being governed by the assessment requirements and curricular model of any qualification to which the course leads. It has also been seen that, where flexibility in course design was accorded to an established course team in respect of a GNVQ course in a new vocational area (coupled with the non-availability of a GNVQ vocational area matching the team's specialism), a range of curricular fields operationalised into diverse courses can result. This was the case with the various GNVQ Manufacturing courses in the research project. These observations point to the potential of the analytical concept of curricular fields, with associated substrata and superstrata, as a productive focus for research into curriculum change. Equally, in future research, it will be important to test whether, and if so the extent to which, the concept of course team and the three-fold categorisation of responses are applicable more widely to other forms of curricula and in other policy and institutional contexts. As indicated above, the categories, as with all categorisation, conceal subtle and significant differences. Categorising the course team responses was by no means a simple process though it inevitably led to a clear-cut decision. It was ultimately a judgement, one which was finely balanced in some cases and that others might have made differently. Indeed it could well be argued that a focus on the reasons for divergent responses is as productive as a categorisation of those responses. The contention is, however, that the course team is an important and fruitful level at which to investigate curriculum change and that the categories provide a useful way of conceptualising, describing and exploring responses to curriculum change attempts such as those represented by the introduction of national curricula.

In terms of the 'course team' dimension, the term is used here to describe the grouping of tutors who design, provide and assess the course in question. This label is not intended to imply that the team is either a stable or a homogeneous unit nor even that the tutors have a shared set of aims, values or practices. A number of areas suggest themselves for further work. These include a more detailed examination of the nature of a course team through research that sets out to investigate the strength and nature of this concept across a range of types of institution and to explore its usefulness to curriculum researchers, practitioners and policy makers. Research could also usefully be conducted to investigate Yeomans' 'policy refraction' concept, as discussed above (see Yeomans, 1997), in the context of a national qualification and to focus on the level of course team within this multi-level model of analysis. Of particular interest in this would be the relationship between the course team's dynamics and the wider institutional, societal and subject forces as well as the orientations of individual teachers within the team.

In conclusion, it has been seen in this study and in other studies of GNVQ (Bloomer, 1997; Harrop, 1995; Helsby et al, 1998) that the influence of sub-curricular fields is a key one. In its model of curriculum implementation, GNVQ permitted, even encouraged, such influences to come into play given the focus on the curriculum reinforcement role of assessment at the level of coverage and standards but not in terms of course organisation and provision. This broad adaptation model has now moved significantly towards a fidelity model with much greater course prescription which begs the question as to which is the more effective model in terms of achieving the aims of a national qualification. While an empirical study of different curriculum implementation models and the associated course team responses is beyond the scope of this book, one can speculate that to move too far towards a fidelity model is, as Rudduck (1986) has suggested, to deny the professional experience and expertise of tutors and risk a lack of commitment to a curriculum innovation. A. V. Kelly has gone further in proposing an empirical-rational strategy, stating that curriculum change needs to involve teachers not only in the development of the new curriculum but to engage them with the rationale for change. Taylor et al. (1997) also reject a dislocation between policy and implementation arguing that this can lead to a badly implemented curriculum programme borne out of a lack of understanding by teachers of what is required. Beyond this, Bates and Dutson (1995) indicate with respect to NVQs, that any attempt to design a curriculum policy and model externally without the full involvement of those concerned in its provision, does make the qualification more subject to 'creative invention'. The general thrust of these arguments is summarised cogently by Bloomer:

'curriculum development can no longer proceed on the assumption that prescriptions count for all and that teachers and students are little more than technicians and consumers in the process; rather, curricula must be planned in full recognition of the essential contributions which teachers and students make to their final constructions. They must be planned around those contributions.' (original emphasis) (Bloomer, 1997, p. 188)

Responding to criticisms of the lack of engagement with teachers in planning and taking forward curriculum change, Hord (1995) proposes six strategies: developing and communicating a shared vision; planning and providing resources; investing in continuous staff development; assessing progress; providing ongoing assistance; creating an atmosphere of change. These strategies emphasise the central role of teachers and course teams and the importance of staff development. Whilst agreeing with the importance of these strategies, it has been seen in the present study that careful account at the institutional level also needs to be taken of the composition of course teams, in particular of their experience and expertise in relationship to the proposed curriculum innovation. It may well be that, in theory, the model of comprehensive assessment as exhibited in GNVQ Mark II had a suitable balance of curriculum reinforcement and local flexibility. Where this model may have fallen short was in the circumstances and speed of its implementation rather than in the form it took which was not-overly prescriptive at the course design level. Had prospective providers of the courses been more fully engaged in the policy process and development of the qualification and had strategies such as those proposed by Hord been adopted and time given to the careful introduction of the qualification, then perhaps the critical commentary leading to the latest revision of GNVQ in the form of the AVCE might have been more positive.

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ISBN 1 901981 12 6
JJS Higham 2002

The Post-14 Research Group

Post-14 education and training has been the site of intense policy debate and change for over two decades both in Britain and throughout the world. These changes have led to substantial re-organisation of forms of governance, organisation, curricula and pedagogy and have had major implications for the lives of young people, mature students and adult learners.

The Post-14 Research Group, a unit of the University of Leeds School of Education, has interests in the analysis of these changes across: secondary education, further and higher education; workplace and lifelong learning; and youth training. Methodological approaches draw upon: curriculum study; policy analysis and evaluation; historical and sociological research; and youth ethnography. Research has been supported by extensive ESRC and Government funding, together with grants from a variety of educational foundations, regional bodies and local education authorities.

External and internal seminar series act as a focus for discussion both within the School and region and this Occasional Publications series publishes recent research by group members:

No. 1 D. J. Yeomans, Constructing Vocational Education: from TVEI to GNVQ (1996)

No. 2 J. J. S. Higham, Breadth in the Post-16 Academic Curriculum (1996)

No. 3 I. M. H. Bates, The Competence and Outcomes Movement: the landscape of research (1997)

No. 4 J.J.S. Higham, GCE A Levels in the School Curriculum (1997)

No. 5 P. R. Sharp, The Development of the Vocational Curriculum for 16-19 Year-Olds in Colleges and Schools, 1979-1995 (1997)

No. 6 J. J. S. Higham, The Post-16 Core Curriculum (1997)

No. 7 I.M.H. Bates, Problematizing 'Empowerment' in Education and Work: an Exploration of the GNVQ (1998)

No. 8 M. Priestley and J. J. S. Higham, New Zealand's Curriculum and Assessment Revolution (1999)

No. 9 J. J. S. Higham, P. R. Sharp and D. Machin,
The Monitoring of Academic Progress 16-19 (2000)

No. 10 P. R. Sharp, J. J. S. Higham, D. J. Yeomans and D. M. Daniel, Working Together: the independent/state school partnerships scheme (2001)

No. 11 J. J. S. Higham, Curriculum Change: General National Vocational Qualifications (2002)

Paper copies of the above publications are available from the address below at a cost of 5 including postage and packing. Please make cheques payable to 'The University of Leeds'.

The Secretary
The Post-14 Research Group
School of Education
University of Leeds
Leeds LS2 9JT
Tel: 0113 343 4659
Fax: 0113 343 4541
post-14@education.leeds.ac.uk
http://education.leeds.ac.uk/devt/research/post-14.htm

This document was added to the Education-line database on 21 October 2002