Smith, Vikki (1997) General National Vocational Qualifications (GNVQs) : the relationship between liberal, general and vocational education; with special reference to business studies for 16-19 year olds. Doctoral thesis, University of Huddersfield.

GNVQs epitomise one strand of contemporary philosophy of education. However, a
question that arises is whether GNVQs, having built on the ethos of NVQs, abandon all
earlier educational philosophies in favour of the competence movement endorsed in the
USA. A question central to this study revolves around whether earlier, alternative
philosophies of education also have something of value to offer.

To answer this, traditional approaches to educational provision are identified and
explored in terms of their possible 'ideal types'; these ideal types being seen to be
represented by liberal, general and vocational education. To give such ideal types
relevance in modern society they are related to significant educational provision, in this
instance educational provision for 16 - 19 year olds. A curriculum criticism of A Levels,
BTEC Diplomas, RSA, NVQs and GNVQs is therefore conducted, taking into account
the historical development, philosophy, aims, the content and the teaching and learning
methods of each approach. To achieve parity of comparison the field of Business
Studies was used as an exemplar. The culmination of this stage of the research requires
that the findings of the curriculum criticism are mapped against the established ideal
types, the purpose being to identify elements that could be said to embody liberal,
general and/or vocational education. For example, GNVQs are clearly linked to the
vocational, their breadth can also be said to contribute to the general, but are they liberal
in any way? The findings indicated that the inclusion of Key Skills and the student
centred approach did offer some potential for a liberal education.

To support these findings interviews and an attitudinal survey were conducted. The
rationale for this was to explore and reveal the extent to which staff and students
concerned with GNVQ Business held the same beliefs as those generated by the desk
research; both sets of findings were in concordance. The final stage of the research
programme was concerned with the future direction of GNVQs. Interviews were
conducted with education policy makers and industry representatives. They were
concerned with what the 'ideal' post-1 6 education programme would entail in the light of
perceptions of liberal/vocational/general education. Staff and students were again
consulted by way of vedfication of the conclusions drawn.

The research concludes that liberal education was considered by many as the ideal way
forward for post-16 education. GNVQs were seen as predominantly offering general
education. From this one could infer that GNVQs are not, therefore, seen as the ideal
post-1 6 programme. However, when 'ideal' elements of post-1 6 education are discussed
some consideration of the world of work was deemed essential (though not a concern of
traditional liberal education) and the inclusion of Key Skills were deemed important, as
was a student centred approach to learning. In the light of this GNVQs have some
potential for meeting the desired/essential components of an ideal post-16 education
programme. Greater consideration, however, is required with regard to self-development
and social awareness in order to promote liberal aspects of post-16 education. A
combination of these factors within a GNVQ programme would represent a marriage of
liberal, vocational and, general education philosophies and approaches to education; an
'ideal'post-16 education programme.

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