7th November 1997, 12:00am



News of a fascinating new vocational qualification doing the rounds at the Government's newest superquango reaches Carborundum's ever-pricked ears. Catering For A Number Of People (element: providing hot beverages) is, how shall we say, comprehensive in its requirements of trainees.

Their mission: to carry out three simple tasks - prepare hot beverages, make hot beverages, serve hot beverages.

Rigour? Vigour? It's got the lot. Subjects covered include a) means of boiling water (kettle, filter coffee machine, etc); b) beverage ingredients (tea, coffee, sugar, milk, etc) and c) serving medium (cups, mugs, flask). Types of hot beverage, the document adds helpfully, include tea (with milk or lemon) coffee (white, black or cappuccino) and hot chocolate.

Candidates must also demonstrate knowledge and understanding of different types of tea, coffee and sugar, laid down procedures for serving, the use of teapots and espresso machines, and differing types of cups.

In order to gain said unit, candidates have to demonstrate the use of a-c, and make two types of hot beverage. "Please note, evidence must be demonstrated that the candidate has made hot beverages for at least a group of six people, " thunders the document.

It adds, helpfully: "Types of evidence that could be generated from the candidate include taste (subjective - ie, froth on the cappuccino, etc, testimonies from satisfied customers; and oral questioning on knowledge and understanding, if not demonstrated through performance).

Qualifications and Curriculum Authority supremo Dr Nicholas Tate is said to be most taken with this document, to the extent that he is allegedly requiring all members of staff in his office to complete the course. And Carborundum's happy confidence that the whole thing just had to be a spoof was sadly shaken by expert colleagues on the college desk who believe that it is probably entirely genuine.

So, MPs have been deliberating on how to get more bright-eyed, high-flying A-level students to take teacher-training courses instead of pursuing lucrative and socially acceptable careers as vets, doctors and lawyers. Strangely enough, the select committee appears not to have considered the fact that the aforementioned careers have traditionally not attracted the opprobrium ritually heaped on teachers during the past decade.

And, even more strangely, the question of filthy lucre also appears not to have arisen: vets for instance, as well as getting the chance to star on primetime TV with cuddly Rolf Harris, are also widely perceived as taking home barrowloads of dosh every week. Sir and Miss, on the other hand, are expected to have a vocation.

Carborundum learns from a globe-trotting friend this week that the Italians have found an interesting solution to the teachers and money conundrum. Put them on the notes. The thousand-lira note features a teacher leaning over a small boy bent over his books, with an inspiring portrait of Maria Montessori, queen of primary pedagogy, on the reverse. The note is part of a series featuring such international luminaries as Marconi and it's worth, oh, all of about 50p. Well, it's the thought that counts.

Meanwhile, QCA staff are certainly getting into the Guy Fawkes mood this week.

A special pull-out inside the journalists' trade rag tries to explain what on earth Dr Nick Tate and his minions are intending to do with all their power and influence over the nation's learning.

Their solution: a rather natty Catherine Wheel diagram showing national curriculum tests spinning in the middle with A-levels, GNVQs and other vocational qualifications wheeling around the outside. Full marks to the graphic designers. But seeing that there are more than 16,000 vocational qualifications - which so far defy regulation - perhaps QCA should have used a vast shapeless splat as the best way of showing them off.

Distressing evidence of "dumbing-down" in education comes courtesy of the leather-jacketed members of NATFHE, the lecturers' union. Packs went out this week - coincidentally, the week of the massive Association of Colleges' conference in leafy Harrogate - urging staff in further education colleges to lobby for extra cash to bail out their cash-strapped employers.

Sadly for their case, the regally purple cardboard folder containing all this publicity material contains references to "lecturerers" and "futher" education in glorious, large, horribly clear, lime-green lettering - emphasising the union's commitment to key skills such as literacy.

NATFHE wants Pounds 200 million for the colleges. But as every schoolboy knows, it's best to spell your pay claim correctly. The phrase "zero tolerance" springs to mind.

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