General National Vocational Qualifications (GNVQs) : the relationship between liberal, general and vocational education, with special reference to business studies for 16-19 year olds
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.