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NVQs - national vocational qualifications

a guide to national vocational qualifications - NVQ structures, terminology, and history and origins

Due to changes in the UK national training strategies and structures the NVQ information on this webpage is under revision and liable to further amendment.

summary of changes affecting NVQs and national training structures

NVQs in the UK are now progressively being replaced with QCF (Qualifications and Credit Framework) awards, certificates and diplomas. As at 2010 this transition is in progress. Some awards persist in NVQ format while others have changed to their new formats. Responsibility for NVQs, which existed chiefly with QCA (the Qualifications and Curriculum Authority), is now more fragmented, largely overseen by QCA's replacement agency, QCDA (Qualifications and Curriculum Development Agency), and by OfQual (Office of Qualifications and Examinations Regulation) with industry sector development responsibilities cascading down to industry bodies via the UK Government Department for Business, Innovation and Skills (BIS), and the Sector Skills Councils (SSCs).

Some of the technical information on this page is historical in the way it refers to the traditional NVQ system, although much still applies as current reference material for the remaining NVQ system, especially given that NVQ qualifications awards are held by millions of UK employees, and NVQ-related processes continue in various ways among providers and employers, and will continue to do so for many years to come.

The Qualifications and Curriculum Authority (QCA) was set up under the Education Act 1997 to develop and regulate the national curriculum, assessments in schools and qualifications. In 2007 the UK Government established the independent exams regulator, Ofqual, which took responsibility for most of QCA's regulatory functions. QCA subsequently became QCDA (Qualifications and Curriculum Development Agency), although QCA remained a legal entity through to at least 2009. The change of UK Government in May 2010 inevitably raised possibilities of wider reviews and further bigger changes, which are still ongoing. (Acknowledgments to R Winsor for initial guidance in interpreting these changes.)

Here is a brief explanation of the broader changes of recent times affecting UK workplace qualifications, and especially the organisations which oversee, manage and regulate the main processes and accountabilities. The historical and largely still applicable information about NVQs follows further below in this article.

 

Qualifications and Curriculum Development Agency - QCDA

The Qualifications and Curriculum Development Agency (QCDA) effectively replaced the QCA (Qualifications and Curriculum Agency/Authority).

Qualifications and Curriculum Development Agency - QCDA is responsible for developing the curriculum (subjects/criteria for a learning qualification), improving and delivering assessments, and reviewing and reforming qualifications.

Compared to the earlier QCA, the QCDA has reduced responsibility for the detailed and specific development of qualifications, and for the regulation of qualifications, given the responsibilities of Sector Skills Councils and Ofqual respectively, described briefly below.

 

QCF - qualifications and credit framework agency

The QCF (Qualifications and Credit Framework) is the present UK framework for creating and accrediting qualifications in England, Wales and Northern Ireland.

The QCF was formed initially in 2008 after two years of tests and trials, initially operated by the then QCA (Qualifications and Curriculum Agency/Authority), and jointly implemented by the QCA (now QCDA - Qualifications and Curriculum Development Agency), the Learning and Skills Council (LSC) and Ofqual (Office of Qualifications and Examinations Regulation).

The QCF is regulated (in England) by Ofqual (Office of Qualifications and Examinations Regulation).

The meaningful words within the QCF name are qualifications and framework. The word 'credit' is somewhat misleading, and brings to mind a bank or loan agency. The reference perhaps seeks to highlight the shift towards 'credits' in recent national qualifications strategies, whereby learners may achieve smaller steps more easily than the traditional bigger 'units' traditionally associated with NVQs.

The Qualifications and Credit Framework (QCF) aims, obviously, to "...give a wider range of learners the opportunity to get the qualifications they need, in a way that suits them... QCF qualifications are designed with the help of employers so learners can be assured that they're gaining skills that employers are looking for..."

The QCF also seeks, obviously, to "...help learners achieve skills and qualifications that meet industry needs, and to enable work-based training to be nationally recognised..."

More significantly as just mentioned, compared to previous systems, the QCF aims to allow and recognise smaller steps of learning than typically have existed in qualifications, and to enable learners to build up qualifications 'bit by bit'.

The LSC (Learning Skills Council) is, until the LSC ceases and passes its responsibilities elsewhere, responsible for implementing funding, planning and performance measures to support QCF qualifications (in England), and for delivering the 'QCF Service Layer', which stores learners' achievement data from awarding organisations.

The European Qualifications Framework (EQF) was referenced in creating the QCF. The EQF links European countries' qualifications systems to each other and makes it easier to cross-reference qualifications between countries.

The following is extracted from a QCF explanatory leaflet, aimed at UK employers (although useful also to learners, teachers/trainers and employees), published in 2010, retrieved from the QCDA.gov.uk website, July 2010. My own comments are inserted in square brackets for explanation and clarification where appropriate:

"Vocational and work-related qualifications are changing to become more responsive to the specific demands of employers and learners. They will be more relevant to employers' needs and more accessible to a wider range of learners. An essential tool in this reform of vocational qualifications is the Qualifications and Credit Framework (QCF).

Qualifications and units in the QCF [aim to] reflect the skills that employers want, because employers are [invited and able to become] involved in designing them. The QCF gives you [employers] clarity, choice and confidence in the vocational qualifications system so that you can take a leading role in developing qualifications that are right for your industry.

The QCF and the larger reform [surrounding NVQs and wider training and development in the UK] are central to the National Skills Strategy 'Skills for growth', which focuses on helping people achieve skills that match the demands of modern work and opens up new opportunities and choices for both learners and employers...

Your sector skills council (SSC) [relevant to the employer's industry] can give advice and guidance on how you [employers, and potentially large training organizations] can get involved. You can find a list of all SSCs at the Alliance of Sector Skills Councils website at www.sscalliance.org. SSCs are heavily involved in developing qualifications. They [Sector Skills Councils] decide on the qualifications that will be developed and then approve them. Through your SSC, you can voice your thoughts on what content qualifications should include, so you can be sure that learners completing QCF qualifications have the skills and knowledge that your company wants. As well as making sure your industry has the qualifications it needs, your SSC can also help you with your in-house training requirements...."

[The Sector Skills Councils and the Sector Skills Alliance which represents them are a crucial set of bodies within the recently evolved national workplace training structures and systems. The Sector Skills Alliance offers a very useful webpage giving information and contact details for the main Sector Skills Councils equating to the overseeing training bodies for workplace training according to industry sector.]

[The Qualifications and Credit Agency (QCF) guidance refers people to the webpage www.qcda.gov.uk/qcf for case studies examples and further information about the Qualifications and Credit Framework, and goes on to say:

"Employer influence is [suggested as being] the key to QCF qualifications...."

[Employers are presented with the following benefits - to employers:]

[Employers are also informed that there are different ways to be involved with the QCF, depending on training needs and existing qualifications situation, and that the relevant SSC - Sector Skills Council is the best contact point by which to achieve this.]

european qualifications framework - comparisons correlations

"The European Qualifications Framework...

The QCF has been referenced against the European Qualifications Framework (EQF).

The EQF is a tool that links European countries' qualifications systems to each other and makes it easier to cross-reference qualifications between countries.

This translation device will make it easier for you [employers] to interpret the qualifications of foreign applicants. It will also support labour market mobility in Europe by simplifying how qualifications are compared, and enable a better match between supply and demand for knowledge, skills and competence..."

Further guidance again is offered at www.qcda.gov.uk/qcf.

Extracts are © Qualifications and Curriculum Authority 2010 - effectively Crown Copyright.

 

sector skills councils

As referred to above, Sector Skills Councils now play a central role in overseeing the development and operation of workplace training qualifications.

The Alliance of Sector Skills Councils is the over-arching organisation for Sector Skills Councils.

In the Alliance's own words:

"The Sector Skills Councils Alliance is an organisation comprising all licensed UK Sector Skills Councils (SSCs), the employer-driven organisations that together articulate the voice of the employers of around 90% of the UK's workforce on skills issues. Its core purpose is to:

Sector Skills Councils are described as being:

Sector Skills Councils are structured according to industry sectors, some of which are concisely defined; others are wider-ranging:

The Alliance offers a useful webpage showing full address and contact details for the SSCs for the above industry sectors.

And also guidance of national variations, for the different countries within the UK.

 

ofqual

Ofqual is the Office of Qualifications and Examinations Regulation.

On 1st April 2010, the Apprenticeships, Skills, Children and Learning Act 2009 formally established Ofqual as a non-ministerial government department, reporting directly to Parliament and the Northern Ireland Assembly.

Ofqual regulates qualifications, examinations and assessments in England and vocational qualifications in Northern Ireland.

Ofqual's duty is to "...ensure all learners get the results they deserve and that their qualifications are correctly valued and understood, now and in the future...."

Ofqual regulates National Curriculum assessments (SATs) and reviews Early Years Foundation Stages (EYFS) assessments, GCSEs, A levels, the Diploma, NVQs and vocational qualifications.

Ofqual is not responsible for regulating university degrees, which are the responsibility of the Quality Assurance Agency.

In a little more detail, in their own words, Ofqual is responsible for maintaining standards, improving confidence and distributing information about qualifications and examinations. Ofqual regulates general and vocational qualifications in England and vocational qualifications in Northern Ireland. Ofqual gives formal recognition to bodies and organisations that deliver qualifications and assessments. Ofqual accredits these qualifications awards and monitor the activities, including the fees of the organisations involved in the qualifications delivery and assessment processes. Ofqual works closely with and has a particularly crucial relationship with the Qualifications and Curriculum Development Agency (QCDA), which create qualifications curricula and frameworks in partnership with relevant awarding organisations.

 

NVQs - overview

NVQs - National Vocational Qualifications - are a very significant part of the UK training and development landscape. Introduced first in 1986 by the specially formed National Council for Vocational Qualifications, NVQs have enabled millions of people of all ages in almost all imaginable trades and professions to achieve formal qualifications.

While offering basic entry-level qualifications in most trades and skills, many NVQ awards also represent a seriously high standard of competence, comparable to anything a top university might offer, equating to degree level and beyond.

For many people NVQs are simply a replacement for whatever previous qualification system applied for their particular skill, but for other people NVQs have provided an opportunity to gain formal qualifications that previously would have been inaccessible.

Not everyone loves NVQs. For various reasons some people, and some organisations have found them tricky to understand. The recent and ongoing changes and development affecting the NVQ system are partly in response to this, although changes are largely driven by much deeper considerations of improving workplace skills and developing UK national competitiveness in an increasingly competitive global market.

As a side issue from a learning and development angle, to help understand why some people embrace NVQs more happily than others, see the notes on multiple intelligence types and learning styles, also Kolb's learning styles, and the big section on personality types and models. NVQs imply (although they do not necessitate) a certain approach or methodology towards learning and accreditation, so naturally they suit some people but not others. As these qualifications and awards develop hopefully the system will broaden accessibility to all learning styles and needs.

NVQs are not just qualifications - NVQs are a system of learning and accreditation as well, which is itself open to a variety of interpretations.

Appropriate support is critical for learners who are not immediately attracted to the style of the NVQ structure and methodology.

The nature of organized and standardized qualifications will ensure that this situation persists whatever new qualifications are introduced.

Certainly in the early years the NVQ industry was largely populated by 'NVQ-type' people - strong administrators, logical thinkers, very structured, detailed and process-oriented.

This was fine for learners and trainees with strong left-side brains - strong in process and routine tasks, clear logical thinkers - but a nightmare for more touchy-feely intuitive types (right-brainers as Benziger might say), who took one look at the mountains of paperwork and reams of grids and definitions and ran for the nearest fire exit.

NVQs don't generally suit kinesthetic learners for example, particularly if delivery and assessment methods make no allowance for folk who are not naturally inclined to the structured and strongly administrative bias that NVQ accreditation typically demands. This is not to say that NVQs are no good for touchy-feely people - it means the NVQ administrators and assessors need to help people find other ways to demonstrate competence. For some people lots of detail and paperwork, which is how NVQs can appear, can be very off-putting.

"You want evidence for how many units, and each one's got how many elements?... That's thousands... And you want evidence for all those behaviours as well as skills? Are you having a laugh? I'll need a filing cabinet for it all..."

Fortunately things have improved. Delivery, and assessment and accreditation methods became more tolerant and translatable for most normal learning styles, and now NVQs have been embraced all sorts of people - by right-brainers and obviously loads of left-brainers too (actually loads of front and back brainers as well, but that's unnecessary detail at this stage - separately take time to read properly about personality types and multiple intelligence types and learning styles - which all forms the basis of learning and training itself).

Despite early misgivings, several million NVQ certificates have now been awarded since the then NCVQ (National Council for Vocational Qualifications) first introduced NVQs in 1986.

From 1997-2009 NVQs were overseen by QCA, the Qualifications and Curriculum Authority. During 2009 QCA was changed to QCDA (Qualifications and Curriculum Development Agency). QCA continued as a legal entity to at least 2009 and perhaps for a while beyond. The change of UK Government in May 2010 introduced further reviews and likely bigger future changes to the system.

This brings us on to the history of NVQs and an explanation of how the system works.

The notes below are essentially official guidance from QCA, plus my own comments, hopefully which clarify points of possible confusion and gobbledegook where required.

Unfortunately technical jargon and gobbledegook features strongly on NVQs and their replacement and related support systems. This is after all a system of accredited learning spanning about a thousand different job types, many different levels of competence from accomplished beginner to CEO or academic lecturer, managed by a great big institutional agency, interpreted and delivered through a distribution network with almost as many permutations as DNA, targeted at the effective total working population of the UK and all conceivable types of organisations and employers, and millions of college students and educational establishments too: it is inevitably very complex.

This NVQ explanation deals simply with NVQs and makes no particular reference to GNVQs (G stands for General - GNVQs are/were vocational qualifications based on NVQ principles available via schools and colleges), since GNVQs were intended for complete withdrawal by October 2007.

(Increasingly as a matter of historical reference) see also:

Full listing of NVQs and other National Qualifications Framework qualifications - January 2006 (1.3MB MSExcel file)

Correlations between NVQs and other qualifications

 

N.B. The following notes are based on QCA information before QCDA, Ofqual and SSCs, etc. Much of the technical information on this page is therefore historical in the way it refers to the traditional NVQ system. Qualifications are increasingly shifting towards QCF (Qualifications and Credit Framework) awards, certificates and diplomas. Aspects of qualifications development, design, delivery, accreditation and regulation are also changing. This section will be progressively revised accordingly. The sections at the top of this webpage about QCDA, Ofqual, the QCF, and SSCs, etc., provide brief summaries of these changes, and links to the respective bodies for more detailed information.

 

national vocational qualifications - an overview and history

NVQs are/were..

in terms of NVQs current development and delivery, etc., increasingly this explanation should be seen in the past tense, and it will be revised accordingly.

In terms of NVQs already awarded much of this explanation remains valid and relevant.

Please note that QCA has now been superseded by QCDA, Ofqual and SSCs.

 

National vocational qualifications (NVQs) are work-related, competence-based qualifications. They reflect the skills and knowledge needed to do a job effectively, and show that a candidate is competent in the area of work the NVQ framework represents.

NVQs are based on national occupational standards. These standards are statements of performance that describe what competent people in a particular occupation are expected to be able to do. They cover all the main aspects of an occupation, including current best practice, the ability to adapt to future requirements and the knowledge and understanding that underpin competent performance.

Within reason, NVQs do not have to be completed in a specified amount of time. They can be taken by full-time employees or by school and college students with a work placement or part-time job that enables them to develop the appropriate skills. There are no age limits and no special entry requirements.

[While NVQs technically stipulate no time limit, within reason, it is worth bearing in mind that setting time targets and limits is usually an important part of achieving goals of any sort. It's not helpful to drift aimlessly towards qualification 'one day' or 'sometime in the future', which under such vague circumstances often never actually comes. Also it's helpful to avoid potential confusion for candidate and assessment alike resulting from NVQ job 'standards' being reviewed and changed prior to completion, which they are apt to do if qualification achievement takes an inordinately long time. Best idea is to set and agree clear achievable and staged time targets.]

how NVQs are/were achieved

NVQs are achieved through assessment and training. Assessment is normally through on-the-job observation and questioning. Candidates produce evidence to prove they have the competence to meet the NVQ standards. Assessors sign off units when the candidates are ready. The assessor tests candidates’ knowledge, understanding and work-based performance to make sure they can demonstrate competence in the workplace.

When new candidates start an NVQ, the assessor will usually help them to:

At this point, candidates might take a course if that seems the best way to learn what they need. Or they might agree with their employer or supervisor to do slightly different work to gain the evidence of competence they need.

Candidates compare their performance with the standards as they learn. They look at what they have achieved, how much they still need to do and how they should go about it, until they are assessed as competent for a unit or a whole NVQ. The system is right for candidates who already have skills and want to increase them, but also for those who are starting from the beginning. As the system is so flexible, new ways of learning can be used immediately.

 

history of NVQs

reasons for nvq development

The Review of Vocational Qualifications in England and Wales (RVQ) Working Group report in April 1986 recommended the introduction of NVQs to address weaknesses in the then current systems of vocational qualifications. Amongst the weaknesses it identified were:

The solution the working group proposed was that a clear, coherent and comprehensive system of vocational qualifications should be developed that would be directly relevant to the needs of employment and the individual. These national vocational qualifications (NVQs) should be:

"a statement of competence clearly relevant to work and intended to facilitate entry into, or progression in, employment, further education and training… incorporating the assessment of -

nvq development

In 1986, following the publication of the White Paper Working together: education and training, the National Council for Vocational Qualifications (NCVQ) was set up. NCVQ developed a framework of NVQs that consisted of five levels and 11 occupational areas. In parallel, the government funded the Industry Training Organisations to develop the occupational standards on which NVQs are based, with awarding bodies developing the assessment and quality assurance arrangements to criteria set by NCVQ.

The May 1994 White Paper Competitiveness: helping business to win quoted the CBI as finding that a majority of employers were either using or expected to benefit from NVQs and that 40,000 managers were undertaking NVQs as evidence of lifetime learning. It also said that 'to ensure NVQs and SVQs remain up to date and continue to observe strict standards', the content and structure of all NVQs and SVQs would be reviewed by April 1996. Gordon Beaumont subsequently undertook this review.

the beaumont review

The review found widespread support for the concept of NVQs amongst employers with over 80% considering competence-based standards right for vocational qualifications. The Review report identified the following areas where there was room for further development:

There were concerns about how external assessment might affect access to the qualifications definitions of the roles, service and performance levels of those involved in delivering NVQs. Tensions between the DfEE responsibility for funding standards development and NCVQ/SCOTVEC's responsibility for accrediting qualifications had led to some narrow and overlapping qualifications.

the dearing review of qualifications for 16- to 19-year olds

The Dearing review in March 1996 recommended that NVQ designers consider what key skills requirements were appropriate for their NVQs.

Developments after 1996 to circa 2008:

By 1994 there were 500 NVQs covering 150 occupations, representing 80% of all jobs.

At the end of March 2001 just over 3.2 million NVQ certificates had been awarded with 60% of the total being at level 2 and 19% at level 3.

[See the QCA updated figures below for statistics up to 2003]

It is estimated that around 12% of the national workforce have attained an NVQ. However, the level of penetration is not uniform across industrial sectors, approximately 75% of certificates were awarded to those in engineering, providing business services and providing goods and services. In the three months ending 31 March 2001 nearly 1.8 million candidates were working towards an NVQ. NVQs are an essential component of the new Modern Apprenticeship schemes which could have a positive impact on take up at levels 2 and 3. It is at levels 4 and 5 where the interest in NVQs is far less, the certification figure has stayed at around 3% of the total with the majority being awarded for NVQs in management.

There have been considerable efforts made by NTO's (national training organisations) to rationalise the provision of NVQs particularly through the mechanism of mandatory and optional units in NVQ design. In September 1997 there were 976 titles which had reduced to 762 by March 2001. The development of NVQs during the last twelve years did not bring the envisaged coherence to the system of vocational qualifications, rather it added a further much needed framework of competence based qualifications. The National Qualifications Framework developed by QCA, particularly the introduction of regulated vocationally-related qualifications, should help to take forward the 1986 aim for a coherent and comprehensive system of vocational qualifications.

 

 

nvq portfolios

[The QCA explained that] These messages and principles about portfolios of evidence are for awarding bodies and external verifiers. Their purpose is to encourage approaches to the collection and presentation of portfolios of evidence of competence that minimise bureaucracy and reduce the burden of assessment without compromising quality.

[In using the sub-heading 'NVQ Portfolios' above, QCA is actually describing the crucial 'assessment of competence' area, which since NVQs first appeared, has by default implied a very big folder full of papers, examples, statements, all sorts of paperwork as might provide evidence of a candidate's competence, against each given element of skill, behaviour or underpinning knowledge, within the 'standards' that apply to the NVQ level and particular NVQ type or title. In this sense, this section deals with evidence of competence - not just 'portfolios'.]

[In addition, the fact that the QCA sees the importance of providing these guidelines to NVQ awarding bodies and external verifiers - two uppermost layers in the NVQ system - and internal verifiers and assessors - confirms the unavoidable tendency of NVQs to be administratively burdensome - heavy on paperwork in other words. The notes in this sub-section provide useful guidance to those involved in organising and providing NVQs, and also provide helpful insights to prospective NVQ candidates about what to expect and ask for in terms of set-up and support, notably in the area of providing evidence of competence, which remains the most challenging aspect of the NVQ system: if evidence of competence (method thereof) is designed and supported well and appropriately, then candidates have an enjoyable ride; on the other hand, if provision of evidence is not considered properly by NVQ delivery people, then candidates are commonly left to drown in a sea of paperwork and confusing detail, because that's the default - mountains of paperwork. As stated in the introduction to all this, NVQs are inherently detailed and administratively demanding, and these processes will not suit people who are not strong in the process/detail/routine behavioural and skills areas. As with any training delivery it is very important to understand first (measure if necessary using appropriate instruments - it's not difficult) the candidates' naturally preferred learning styles (see Kolb's learning styles, Howard Gardner's Multiple Intelligence theory and free test, the VAK learning styles theory and free test, and the section on personality types) and then to design the training and assessment methods accordingly, to suit the people's styles and preferences. Naturally detailed and process-oriented people will often take to NVQs very readily; whereas for example naturally intuitive, creative conceptual personalities will need a lot of help in designing how best to provide evidence of competence.]

external verification

['Key messages' from QAC are:]

Awarding bodies and external verifiers are placing [let's say instead 'often tend to place'] too much emphasis on paper portfolios at the expense of other evidence.

A range of methods should be used to assess NVQs, driven by candidates' normal activities in the workplace. External verifiers must be prepared to sample various types of assessment decisions, including those made at the place where the evidence is located, instead of relying too heavily on portfolio based decisions.

[What QCA means here really is that assessors and verifiers need to use their imagination in devising methods for evidencing (proving or demonstrating) competence. Don't leave it to the poor candidate to struggle with the assumption that a filing-cabinetful of signed witness statements and workplace examples are the only way to prove competence. Observation, results, customer feedback, video, audio, and anything else that proves competence in the relevant areas is potentially admissable (allowable), as QCA goes on to explain here.]

principles [of nvq verification and therefore also of assessment of competence]

Awarding bodies should review their assessment guidance to ensure that centres are advised of the full range of assessment techniques and methods of presenting evidence that are acceptable in the occupational sector(s) under consideration. The review should aim to reduce reliance on paper portfolios and associated paperwork, while ensuring that centres keep up to date, auditable records of assessment and internal verification. Guidance should take into account the nature of the occupational competences associated with specific NVQs, as well as other issues such as confidentiality, which will influence the way assessment is conducted.

External verifiers should encourage centres to adopt a range of approaches to assessment, consistent with awarding body guidance, and consider alternatives to paper-based portfolios for the presentation of evidence. Sources of evidence can include:

[Hallelujah!.... this is good stuff, and there's more..]

It is not necessary to keep copies of all the evidence produced in one place, ie., in a portfolio.

Evidence of competence, where it is in paper or other material form, can be kept where it is naturally located, eg., in the filing cabinet, desk or workshop. If this approach is adopted, a record of assessment must be kept which shows the evidence produced, the assessment decision, and where the evidence is located.

internal verification

[QCA's 'key messages' are:]

Verification has tended to concentrate on paperwork and the process of assessment; to improve quality, verification must focus more on assessors' judgements.

Verifiers must be able to interrogate assessors' judgements by focusing on those critical features that distinguish between competent and not yet competent candidates.

principles [of internal verification and again also of assessment]

External and internal verifiers should focus on the accuracy and consistency of assessors' judgements against the requirements of the national standards. Internal verifiers must ensure that accurate, auditable records of assessment are maintained. For each assessment decision, the following information is required:

This information should be endorsed with the candidate's and assessor's signatures and dates. Records of assessment must be audited by the external verifier and must be held by the centre until the awarding body authorises their release.

N.B. The following notes are based on QCA information before QCDA, Ofqual and SSCs, etc. Much of the technical information on this page is therefore historical in the way it refers to the traditional NVQ system. Qualifications are increasingly shifting towards QCF (Qualifications and Credit Framework) awards, certificates and diplomas. Aspects of qualifications development, design, delivery, accreditation and regulation are also changing. This section will be progressively revised accordingly. The sections at the top of this webpage about QCDA, Ofqual, the QCF, and SSCs, etc., provide brief summaries of these changes, and links to the respective bodies for more detailed information.

 

assessors and candidates

[QCA's 'Key messages':]

The term 'collecting evidence' may have been interpreted too literally in the past [this is a small but vital point] and this has led to the [false and unhelpful] notion of the portfolio as a means [the only means] of collecting evidence. The primary role of assessors is to make accurate decisions about the competence of candidates against the national standards, and they must be able to justify their decisions.

principles [of assessment - for assessors of competence]

Assessors must be able to make sound and consistent judgements about the acceptability of evidence. Centres have a responsibility for ensuring the competence of the assessors they employ, so that trust can be placed in the assessment decisions of assessors without the need to insist on paper evidence to back up every assessment decision. When planning assessment, assessors should make use of a combination of assessment methods.

Candidates should be encouraged to cross-reference and avoid an element by element approach to collecting evidence, whether or not a paper portfolio is used for presenting evidence.

'Evidence rich' activities, 'project' or 'event' approaches to collecting evidence can contribute to a reduction in the overall amount of evidence collected.

The presentation of evidence should not be confined to paper-based portfolios, but assessors must keep auditable assessment records.

Candidates need to understand what constitutes actual evidence of competence. Where paper-based material is presented for assessment, candidates should avoid the inclusion of reference documents, training materials and other evidence that does not demonstrate competence.

Proper assessment planning can help candidates to relate their activities to the requirements of the NVQ.

[I'd add to this once more the need to identify and understand candidates' learning styles before designing and agreeing evidence methods with candidates. If you are an assessor please consider this. If you are a candidate I'd urge you to discover or confirm your own preferred learning and personality style and then discuss with your assessor what types of evidence and assessment methods are available that will best suit your style and preferences.]

 

 

the nvq system - who does/did what

This section is for mainly for historical reference, and provides background and reasons for how the system evolved to its current structure. At the top level of organisional and regulatory bodies, these details are now effectively superseded by the information at the top of this webpage about QCDA, Ofqual, the QCF, and SSCs, etc., where changes are summarised briefly, and links are given to the respective bodies for more detailed information.

A number of organisations are/were involved in the process of developing, delivering, awarding and preserving the quality of NVQs:

QCA will [has responsibility to] ensure that NVQ qualifications meet particular criteria and are broadly comparable across different sectors. QCA accredits (formally recognises) proposals for NVQ awards developed by sector bodies and awarding bodies, and quality assures and audits the activity of awarding bodies. For more about accreditation, see accreditation of qualifications.

Sector bodies

The new [as was new] sector skills councils (SSC's), overseen by the Sector Skills Development Agency (SSDA), will [has responsibility to] identify, define and update employment-based standards of competence for agreed occupations. These are approved against criteria by a group made up of the regulatory authorities and the UK administrations. National occupational standards form the basis for NVQs. NVQs are accredited against NVQ criteria by QCA.

Awarding bodies

Awarding bodies have a dual role. With sector bodies, they are jointly responsible for the assessment methods of NVQs based on the assessment strategy of the Sector bodies, and they are also responsible for the implementation of individual NVQs. They approve centres who wish to offer assessment for NVQs. Awarding bodies monitor the assessment process and award NVQs and unit certificates. They undertake external verification to ensure that candidates are being assessed fairly and consistently across all centres.

Training providers and further education colleges

Many candidates pursuing the NVQ route to qualifications will gain their qualification at work or through a programme provided by a further education college or some other training provider. To find out who is offering NVQs in your region, [QCA recommends that you] contact your:

Scottish Qualifications Authority (SQA)

In Scotland, where the system of vocational education and training differs from that of the rest of Britain, the Scottish Qualifications Authority (SQA) accredits all Scottish Vocational Qualifications (SVQs). Contact details: Scottish Qualifications Authority (SQA), Hanover House, 24 Douglas Street Glasgow. G2 7NQ Tel: 0141 248 7900. Web: sqa.org.uk

accreditation of qualifications

Why are qualifications regulated? Qualifications are regulated because the public - learners, employers and others who use qualifications - wants qualifications that are appropriate, of high quality, valued and respected by others in the community and understood by those who take them and use them. The public wants standards to be maintained across awarding bodies over time, awarding bodies to be competent and a right of appeal if something goes wrong. Only qualifications that satisfy these conditions are accredited and accepted into the National Qualifications Framework (NQF). QCA carries out accreditation jointly with its regulatory partners in Wales (ACCAC) and Northern Ireland (CCEA) and manages the process for them. There are now (as at 12 May 2004) 114 awarding bodies offering 4,000 qualifications. These include vocational qualifications that are based on national occupational standards as well as qualifications such as GCSE's, A levels and national vocational qualifications.

NVQ certificates: update

The total number of NVQ certificates awarded to 31 March 2003 was 4,033,465 (an increase of 11 per cent on the total awarded to 31 March 2002). The number of NVQ certificates awarded in the 12 months to 31 March 2003 was 386,256 (an increase of 7 per cent on the 12 months ended 31 March 2002). There were increases in the growth of three NVQ levels in the 12 months to 31 March 2002 compared to the preceding 12 months, ranging from 4 per cent for level 4 to 11 per cent for level 3. Level 5 showed a decrease of 10 per cent. The fastest growing framework areas were constructing, providing health and social and protective services, where the numbers of NVQ certificates awarded in the year ended March 2003 were 14 per cent and 25 per cent higher respectively than the number awarded in the 12 months to March 2002. Of the remaining nine framework areas, four showed an increase in growth on an annual basis. There were 758 NVQ titles current in the framework at the end of March 2003. This information will be updated with details to 30 June 2003 in September 2003.

N.B. The following notes are based on QCA information before QCDA, Ofqual and SSCs, etc. Much of the technical information on this page is therefore historical in the way it refers to the traditional NVQ system. Qualifications are increasingly shifting towards QCF (Qualifications and Credit Framework) awards, certificates and diplomas. Aspects of qualifications development, design, delivery, accreditation and regulation are also changing. This section will be progressively revised accordingly. The sections at the top of this webpage about QCDA, Ofqual, the QCF, and SSCs, etc., provide brief summaries of these changes, and links to the respective bodies for more detailed information.

 

purpose of the framework [including NVQs], areas, levels and listings

The primary purpose of the national qualifications framework (NQF) is to create a coherent classification for NVQs and to facilitate transfer and progression, both within areas of competence and between them.

The areas of competence within the NVQ framework result from an analysis of work roles and provide the initial organising structure for competence-based qualifications. Further refinements to the system are being made as the qualifications are developed and routes for progression/transfer are identified.

NVQs are accredited [for use and delivery by relevant bodies] for a maximum of five years and sometimes for three and, as a result, new and revised NVQs are constantly becoming available.

 

 

nqf areas [national qualifications framework 'vertical sectors' or 'industry sectors', by which NVQs are categorised]

 

 

nqf levels [applying to NVQs]

The following definitions of NVQ levels provide a general guide and are not intended to be prescriptive. [See the qualifications comparisons table below for correlations and comparisons between NVQs and other qualifications including diplomas and degrees, etc.]

Level 1 Competence which involves the application of knowledge and skills in the performance of a range of varied work activities, most of which may be routine or predictable.

Level 2 Competence which involves the application of knowledge and skills in a significant range of varied work activities, performed in a variety of contexts. Some of the activities are complex or non-routine, and there is some individual responsibility and autonomy. Collaboration with others, perhaps through membership of a work group or team, may often be a requirement.

Level 3 Competence which involves the application of knowledge and skills in a broad range of varied work activities performed in a wide variety of contexts, most of which are complex and non-routine. There is considerable responsibility and autonomy, and control or guidance of others is often required.

Level 4 Competence which involves the application of knowledge and skills in a broad range of complex, technical or professional work activities performed in a wide variety of contexts and with a substantial degree of personal responsibility and autonomy. Responsibility for the work of others and the allocation of resources is often present.

Level 5 Competence which involves the application of skills and a significant range of fundamental principles across a wide and often unpredictable variety of contexts. Very substantial personal autonomy and often significant responsibility for the work of others and for the allocation of substantial resources feature strongly, as do personal accountabilities for analysis and diagnosis, design, planning, execution and evaluation.

 

listings of NVQs

Available NVQs are listed by area of competence and show:

Some individual NVQ entries may show an expiry date that has passed. These are likely to be reaccredited, but had not been reaccredited at the time of posting this information. More information about particular NVQs is available from the awarding body or bodies listed with each entry.

Here is the list of qualifications [including NVQs] and awarding bodies, (1.3MB Excel file, January 2006).

Up-to-date listing of qualifications accredited by QCA can be found at www.dfes.gov.uk/section96 or www.dfes.gov.uk/section97 (text download).

© Main content on this webpage is chiefly QCA Crown Copyright. Contextual material, points of clarification and comments are © Alan Chapman, and may not be reproduced without permission.

 

N.B. The following notes are based on QCA information before QCDA, Ofqual and SSCs, etc. Much of the technical information on this page is therefore historical in the way it refers to the traditional NVQ system. Qualifications are increasingly shifting towards QCF (Qualifications and Credit Framework) awards, certificates and diplomas. Aspects of qualifications development, design, delivery, accreditation and regulation are also changing. This section will be progressively revised accordingly. The sections at the top of this webpage about QCDA, Ofqual, the QCF, and SSCs, etc., provide brief summaries of these changes, and links to the respective bodies for more detailed information.

 

comparisons and correlations between NVQs and other qualifications

national qualifications framework (NQF) levels

Each accredited qualification has an NQF level. If qualifications share the same level this means that they are broadly similar in terms of the demand they place on the learner. However, qualifications at the same level can still be very different in terms of content and duration.

The following table shows a selection of individual qualifications and how they appear in the current NQF.

It also highlights how these more precise levels broadly compare to the Framework for Higher Education Qualification (FHEQ) levels.

QCA uses examples of qualifications in the table below that were previously at levels 4 to 5 but now have more precise levels.

qualifications comparisons and correlations

National Qualifications Framework (NQF) Framework for Higher Education Qualifications (FHEQ)
 

Previous levels and examples

 

Current  (2006) levels and examples

Levels and examples

Level 5

Level 5 NVQ in (for example) Construction

Level 5 Diploma in (for example) Translation

Level 8

Specialist awards

D (doctoral)

Doctorates

Level 7

Level 7 Diploma in (eg) Translation

M (masters)

Masters degrees, postgraduate certificates and diplomas

Level 4

Level 4 National Diploma in (eg) Professional Production Skills

Level 4 BTEC Higher National Diploma in (eg) 3D Design

Level 4 Certificate in (eg) Early Years Practice

Level 6

Level 6 National Diploma in Professional Production Skills

H (honours)

Bachelor degrees, graduate certificates and diplomas

Level 5

Level 5 BTEC Higher National Diploma in 3D Design

I (intermediate) 

Diplomas of higher education and further education, foundation degrees and higher national diplomas

Level 4

Level 4 Certificate in Early Years Practice

C (certificate)

Certificates of higher education

Level 3

Level 3 Certificate in (eg) Small Animal Care

Level 3 NVQ in (eg) Aeronautical Engineering

A levels

 

Level 2

Level 2 Diploma for (eg) Beauty Specialists

Level 2 NVQ in (eg) Agricultural Crop Production

GCSEs Grades A* - C (see note below)

Level 1

Level 1 Certificate in (eg) Motor Vehicle Studies

Level 1 NVQ in (eg) Bakery

GCSEs Grades D-G

Entry level 

Entry Level Certificate in (eg) Adult Literacy

 

* Revised levels are not currently being implemented for NVQs and a small number of related qualifications.

For current information and to identify modules and details of individual qualifications please refer to the openQUALS website.

The Framework for Higher Education Qualifications (FHEQ), for England, Wales and Northern Ireland, was published by the Quality Assurance Agency (QAA) in January 2001. This framework applies to degrees, diplomas, certificates and other academic awards (other than honorary degrees and higher doctorates) granted by a university or higher education institute. Broad comparisons with NQF levels can be seen in the table above. For further details, visit the QAA website.

Here is the list of qualifications [including NVQs] and awarding bodies, (1.3MB Excel file, January 2006). Up-to-date listing of qualifications accredited by QCA can be found at www.dfes.gov.uk/section96 or www.dfes.gov.uk/section97 (text download).

© Main content on this webpage is chiefly QCA Crown Copyright. Contextual material, points of clarification and comments are © Alan Chapman, and may not be reproduced without permission.

 

NVQ correlations - additional view

This concise chart diagram provides a useful view of NVQs compared to other qualifications.

This neat little graphic is from the DCSF (Dept for Children, Schools and Families) UK Government website, retrieved July 2010.

Government websites, and the information they offer, are subject to lots of change after a new government takes office, which happened in the UK in May 2010. This diagram is shown here because of its historical and continuing relevance to NVQs, and in case it disappears from the Government website.

The image is subject to Crown Copyright, via the dcsf.gov.uk website.

   UK-qualifications-framework2010

 

N.B. The following notes are based on QCA information before QCDA, Ofqual and SSCs, etc. Much of the technical information on this page is therefore historical in the way it refers to the traditional NVQ system. Qualifications are increasingly shifting towards QCF (Qualifications and Credit Framework) awards, certificates and diplomas. Aspects of qualifications development, design, delivery, accreditation and regulation are also changing. This section will be progressively revised accordingly. The sections at the top of this webpage about QCDA, Ofqual, the QCF, and SSCs, etc., provide brief summaries of these changes, and links to the respective bodies for more detailed information.

 

nvq comments

As with understanding any complex subject, it is useful to know what other people with real experience of NVQs think about them.

Accordingly comments about NVQs will appear here when I receive them.

My thanks to P Dea (Apr 2009) for these observations:

"In the early days of NVQs they were treated the same as an City & Guilds qualification. Then it all changed to work based evidence as an NVQ is a proof of competency ('If you can't do it you can't get it'). This created problems for colleges who (in construction) rarely sent out assessors to assess candidates and solely relied on candidates bringing evidence to them. Unfortunately this meant large portfolios full of paper which were not a proof of competency. An NVQ can be simplified but unfortunately all awarding bodies have their own interpretation of the NVQ code of practice. My area is construction, I manage internally, verify, and assess construction candidates. Our company/assessors collate the candidates' portfolios of evidence, not the candidate. All of our assessors are fully trusted to make a decision of competence and are, for example, not expected to see a candidate answer a phone twenty times to deem the person competent, since surely the initial telephone conversation to book the assessment with the candidate is evidence of competency. In construction, and no doubt this will follow for all areas of industry, for insurance purposes you will soon only be allowed to undertake the job you are qualified to do. Construction, design and management regulations require that employers have a fully competent workforce. An NVQ is a competency based qualification. A City & Guilds, HNC, HND or a Degree are training programmes only and do not prove competency. These qualifications can be awarded on a percentage pass, however an NVQ is the only qualification in the UK to my knowledge which requires a 100% pass-rate for the qualification to be awarded. I personally undertook an apprenticeship back in the early 1980s and progressed after this to an HNC. I now have far more respect for an NVQ than any other qualification." (Thanks P Dea - Apr 2009)

Please send your comments and views about NVQs.

Real experiences can be very helpfuol to learners attempting to understand and decide about NVQs. If you can offer some advice or experience, please send your views - they'll be useful addition to this guide.

Thank you.

N.B. The NVQ notes are based on QCA information before QCDA, Ofqual and SSCs, etc. Much of the technical information on this page is therefore historical in the way it refers to the traditional NVQ system. Qualifications are increasingly shifting towards QCF (Qualifications and Credit Framework) awards, certificates and diplomas. Aspects of qualifications development, design, delivery, accreditation and regulation are also changing. This section will be progressively revised accordingly. The sections at the top of this webpage about QCDA, Ofqual, the QCF, and SSCs, etc., provide brief summaries of these changes, and links to the respective bodies for more detailed information.

 



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