Thursday, 22 July 2010

Re-Discovering NVQ Languages

Taking a break-a few members of VLC NVQ A Team...

I have always been a strong advocate for vocational/ applied languages. So when I had the opportunity to get involved in the moderation process with VLC, I jumped in.

NVQs in languages are so much more than a “BTEC in Languages”... The relatively recent introduction of BTEC courses in a wide variety of subjects has masked the fact that NVQs in languages have been around for a long time. Indeed, I qualified as an assessor in 1996-7... So why did schools take so long to see the learning opportunities it could offer their students? This is all the more puzzling for me as languages used to be compulsory and the GCSE certainly represents a thoroughly unsuitable language qualification for some students due to its lack of flexibility and roots in the “real” world.

What’s the point?

• NVQs are based in practical business language but do not get too technical-they just make students aware that some generic language can be used in a business context too.

• They are more grown-up and develop new areas of experiences. Organising a business presentation is indeed very different from discussing the items of furniture in your bedroom...

• A real audience can be found and local links can be developed. Yes, it can mean some extra work... However, an experience like a work experience abroad certainly has a long-term impact on students’ confidence and realisation of the skills needed to successfully fit in the world of work. (VLC do offer support with work experiences abroad)

• NVQs are recognized qualifications in education and industry. Level 1 and Level 2 qualifications are available, with leagues table points attached to them. It is also a flexible qualification for which students can be entered for separate skills at different levels if need be.

What about the resources?

Juliet Park and Wendy Adeniji have produced very detailed schemes of work to support the teaching and built-in assessment of NVQs at level 1 and 2. As all the teaching materials aim to prepare for standardised assessments, there is no worry that the Languages Standards might not all be met. The scheme is available in French, German and Spanish via VLC and ilanguages. VLC also offers training for teachers interested in running the scheme in their schools, also including a high level of post-training support.

What about the standards?

After getting directly involved in the moderation process, I can confirm that they are excellent!

All assessments aim to meet the UK Occupational Language Standards (formerly The National Language Standards, with the new standards being approved in May 2010 )

Whereas a student can pass a GCSE on 80% correct answers depending on the grade boundaries for the individual paper, NVQ assessments have to be 100% correct as students are given the opportunity to get feedback on their performance and act upon it. This means that in Speaking, the focus on pronunciation at both level 1 and level 2 will be one of accuracy where communication cannot be impeded at all by a very poor accent. In writing, as students are allowed to use dictionaries-like they would in real life-it also means that the expected level of spelling accuracy is very high.

What about reading and listening? The focus is on meeting the specific language standards and key details must be conveyed with a very high degree of accuracy.

With languages uptake at KS4 being an issue in most schools, more and more are using NVQs in Year 9 to ensure that student motivation is maintained and achievement recognised.

Definitely something to consider...