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CEP Discussion Paper
GCSE Grades and GNVQ Outcomes: Results of a Pilot Study
P Rudd and Hilary Steedman
September 1997
Paper No' CEPDP0366:
Full Paper (pdf)

This paper reports an investigation into the importance of basic skills in literacy and numeracy in the promotion of success on intermediate vocational courses at age 16+. Two measures of attainment in literacy and numeracy are examined; GCSE passes in English and Mathematics analysed by grade awarded and the Adult Literacy and Basic Skills Unit (ALBSU) tests in communication and numeracy. The study examines the relationship between prior attainment as attested by GCSE grades and ALBSU scores and course outcome. The extent to which a consistent relationship is found between GCSE grades and ALBSU scores is also examined. The study uses a random sample of 142 students drawn from a population of all first year 16/7 year old students who enrolled at a London Further Education college in 1994. A sub-sample of students on GNVQ Intermediate and NVQ level 2 courses is examined in greater depth. Data on course outcomes was collected at three points in time, 1995, one year after enrolment and on two occasions in 1996. It was therefore possible to chart the progress of students in the sample who took more than one year to complete an Intermediate (G)NVQ. Initial analysis found that at the GCSE middle grade range (Grades C,D,E,F) there was a wide range of literacy and numeracy outcomes as measured by the ALBSU literacy and numeracy tests. GCSE Maths and English passes at these grades do not appear to guarantee threshold attainment levels in basic numeracy and literacy. No significant relationship is found between prior attainment as measured by GCSE Maths and English grades and course outcomes. The ALBSU test scores proved to be more helpful in predicting student outcomes on the Intermediate GNVQ but were still fairly weak predictors. The high proportion of leaves from the sample, probably influenced by 'pull' factors from the labour market, gives cause for concern. There is no evidence to indicate that weaker students leave Intermediate GNVQ courses early, if anything, the reverse is true. A significant proportion of Intermediate GNVQ courses early, if anything, the reverse is true. A significant proportion of Intermediate GNVQ students gained their awards after the prescribed one year study period. Commitment and motivation to succeed appear to be as - if not more - important than academic qualifications for success on Intermediate GNVQ. The study offers evidence that, for those motivated to persist with the studies, GNVQ can offer a valuable 'bridge' to further and higher education opportunities to students who have performed poorly on 'academic' GCSEs.