NVQs in Building Conservation Management, Control and Consultancy

Robin Rolfe

National vocational qualifications (NVQs) and Scottish vocational qualifications (SVQs) are based on a set of national standards which specify the kind of competence needed in particular occupations - that is to say, what people in those occupations actually have to do. The framework incorporates five levels to cover their provision from the most basic to those representing advanced professional and managerial roles.

Standards of competence developed by the Construction Industry Council (CIC), which represents the key organisations in the construction industry, include three NVQs specifically for the main professionals involved in the conservation of historic buildings:

Building Site Management (conservation) Level 4
Conservation Control Level 4
Conservation Consultancy Level 5

Conservation Control is aimed mainly at conservation officers in local authorities, and Conservation Consultancy is aimed at those who are already members of professional institutions who wish to demonstrate their additional competence in conservation.

These three NVQs offer a way to become qualified by demonstrating competence through assessment of a portfolio of work. The NVQs themselves, by providing a breakdown of the competencies needed, amount to a model against which experience and capabilities can be evaluated, in order to make good any shortcomings.


A completed NVQ portfolio is tangible evidence of competence in the roles defined by these national standards.

Many people have built up a level of competence sufficient to effectively carry out their work but have no qualification to prove this.

Professional and academic qualifications do not prove competence. It is generally accepted that while getting a degree might demonstrate abilities to gather, select and present information, this qualification does not demonstrate the many more specific competencies needed to practice in different professional areas.

Similarly membership of professional institutions can be gained through professional practice exams which are not sufficiently systematic or comprehensive to prove competence in the different roles involved. Initiatives are being taken in the building industry in general and the professions to improve levels of competence and to provide registers to demonstrate that this has been done.

The building industry is currently concerned to achieve a greater degree of qualification for its practitioners. ConstructionSkills, using the lower level NVQs is an example of this initiative. Another example is the development of professional accreditation schemes to enable the demonstration of competence in building conservation. Active consideration is being given to the use of NVQs/SVQs and the National Occupational Standards which underpin them, in the qualifying requirements for both building conservation and professional qualification in general.

The benefits of achieving an NVQ include not only the recognition provided by the qualification but also the confidence and effectiveness gained in assembling and developing the evidence that demonstrates that competence has been achieved.


The areas in which competence needs to be demonstrated are listed under the following headings:

Units - the areas of work activity (eg team management)
Elements - the work functions within each of these areas of work activity (eg planning work activities and agreeing objectives and work plans with teams).

These 'elements' are then considered in terms of their 'range' - the range of range of situations in which the activities can occur - and against specific 'performance criteria'.

Finally, evidence is needed to show that sufficient experience, understanding, and knowledge has been attained in each of the above units and elements. The evidence required is outlined in the following table.

The Evidence Needed to Prove Competence
1 Performance Evidence
  Product evidence Tangible things like drawings, reports and letters for example
  Process evidence How effectively these were done, judged through observation by the assessor, witness testimony, and interviews
2 Knowledge Evidence


The type of knowledge used in the activities involved
  Facts and data Knowledge without which the job cannot be done


The types of competence requiring assessment at levels 4 and 5 will include a greater range than those listed above. These might include, for example, the ability to innovate and cope with non-routine activities, plan work, supervise others and make balanced judgements, as well as requiring a greater depth and breadth of competence and ability to make balanced judgements than the lower level NVQs require.

Sufficient evidence must be provided to enable assessors to make judgements about competence in all the relevant areas of work. Assessors look for appropriateness and consistency and will stop probing and move on to another area when satisfied. So where evidence shows competence and consistency, relatively little will suffice, whereas any evidence of less than competent or inconsistent practice will cause assessors to probe further.


There are many methods of assessment, varied according to the type of activities concerned.

Workplace visits are favoured because seeing how people work yields insights into their understanding and knowledge. However, these tend to work better for someone working in a workshop, for example, than for someone sitting at a desk. Such visits need to be arranged in advance so that only activities which do demonstrate levels of competence are observed.

Portfolio reviews can be done either in candidates' presence or absence.

Interviews are documented to allow comparisons to be made between different assessors, in order to maintain consistency of standards.

Written exams or evidence of prior qualifications will be used where appropriate to reduce the costs of assessment.


Contact the Conference on Training in Architectural Conservation (COTAC) for advice on selection of the NVQ to be undertaken and on registering with the assessment centre. Having enrolled in a scheme, the steps are as follows:

1. Review current competencies and evidence with assessor.

2. Plan, with advice from assessor, a programme for collection and assembly of evidence, and when and how it should be assessed.

3. Prepare portfolio. This will contain relevant and authenticated documents as evidence of your competence, cross-referenced to the elements and units in the NVQ to which they apply.

4. Assessment - usually done through a series of visits by and/or to the assessor. The number of visits required will depend on the experience you are able to demonstrate. The assessor's decisions and processes of assessment are checked and verified by an Internal Verifier nominated by the Assessment Centre.

5. Certification - the Assessment Centre advises the Awarding Body who, if you are successful, issues you with your certificate.



This article is reproduced from The Building Conservation Directory, 2004


For more information and advice about registering for an NVQ/SVQ contact ROBIN ROLFE at the Conference on Training in Architectural Conservation (COTAC), c/o The Building Crafts College, Kennard Road, London E15 1AH Tel 020 8221 1150 or 01883 716537

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