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Up and away at the GNVQ check-out

Twelve leading companies are to sponsor a new scheme offering practical work experience to students taking General National Vocational Qualifications.

The GNVQ Scholarship Scheme is designed to provide a stepping stone between school and the world of work. Despite the title, the support that students receive from companies is not of the financial variety, but will include work experience or "themes and contexts for project work".

J Sainsbury, Vidal Sassoon, Laing and American Express are among the companies which have agreed to participate in the scheme, at intermediate and advanced level, across the range of GNVQ subject areas, most of which are due to begin in January 1995.

Selection procedures and the actual format of the programmes vary widely according to company. Although the number of students taking GNVQs is expected to reach 250,000 this year, not all of them will benefit directly from the scholarships.

Vidal Sassoon plans to take on one GNVQ art and design student at each of its six London hairdressing salons during the pilot year, with awards of up to Pounds 500 to be spent in the salons and offers of employment to the best of them. The GNVQ supported by American Express by contrast, is potentially open to more than 5,000 leisure and tourism students, and will make 13 regional awards and give a travel bursary to the student producing the best project work on leisure and tourism in the local economy.

Sainsbury is offering 27 regional core skills scholarships to all registered GNVQ students currently employed part-time by the company, with the chance of bursaries for those progressing to higher education.

"We must ensure that GNVQs carry the same status as other qualifications, " said David Sainsbury, chief executive of the supermarket chain. "Better communication skills are essential if we are to improve our service to customers."

Building group Laing has promised awards to students achieving merit or distinction in GNVQ advanced construction and the built environment. "We already run retraining centres for the long term unemployed, so it seemed like a natural thing to co-operate. It will be open to all students and not just those who have had work experience with us," said group director John Farrow. The scheme will be administered jointly with the Construction Industry Training Board.

The other sponsoring companies are Hilton National (hospitality and catering), Girobank, Peugeot and McDonald's (business). Details of schemes involving United Biscuits, the Post Office and the NHS Training Directorate are being finalised.

Speaking at the London launch of the scheme, on board HMS Belfast, further and higher education minister Tim Boswell admitted that there had been "teething troubles" with GNVQs but stressed the need to secure parity of esteem for the new qualification.

"Significant progress has been made during the past few months," he said. "We must keep up the momentum. The history of vocational education contains a number of examples of initiatives which never quite fulfilled their potential. That must not happen with GNVQs." Students will be hoping that, unlike the 2,000 balloons released to mark the occasion, his words contain more than hot air.

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