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National Vocational Qualification

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Competence‐based qualifications in work‐related skills areas, designed to reflect the needs of employers and to offer clear progression routes. They were introduced in 1986 as part of the government's declared purpose to rationalize vocational qualifications within a coherent framework. Originally set up under the authority of the National Council for Vocational Qualifications, and falling now under the aegis of the Qualifications and Curriculum Authority (QCA), they were intended to remove barriers to access by, for example, allowing for the accreditation of prior experience and learning, providing accumulative awards consisting of elements and units which could be gained over time, and providing an outcomes‐based route to qualifications. In this way, candidates who could demonstrate the relevant competencies to a qualified assessor could be accredited with a qualification or part of a qualification without the necessity of attending a programme of study. This accessibility was part of a government drive to create a more highly qualified workforce. NVQs provide qualifications at all levels from National Qualifications Framework level 1, involving repetitive tasks carried out under supervision, to level 5, which denotes substantial managerial and executive competence corresponding to a postgraduate level of attainment. All NVQs are based on performance criteria drawn up by lead bodies made up largely of representative employers from the appropriate vocational field. The QCA endorses the qualifications, while their assessment and administration are the responsibility of a range of awarding bodies. The introduction of NVQs saw a shift in emphasis in vocational qualifications from input‐driven to assessment‐driven training. Assessors of NVQs are themselves required to possess units of an NVQ in assessment, originally known as the Assessor Award, or the ‘D’ units, because of their designation as units D32 and D33 of the Training and Development Lead Body's NVQ in work‐based assessment. As well as trainers and assessors in industry and commerce, all teachers in further education colleges who were involved in the assessment of NVQs were required to gain the assessor qualification. This was usually achieved through the compilation and presentation of a portfolio of evidence.

It was originally intended that NVQs should provide a route both to employment and to higher education. In the 1991 White Paper Education and Training for the 21st Century, it was suggested that there would be clear equivalence and progression routes between NVQs and general academic qualifications, such as the General Certificate of Secondary Education. This has not proved to be the case in any generalized sense, and the NVQ remains, on the whole, a route for those seeking specifically to enter employment rather than higher education.

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