THE Deputy Prime Minister and ministers for sport and shipping have written to Education Secretary David Blunkett asking him to save the only academic course in sailing and seamanship.
GCSE nautical studies is one of 30 GCSE titles which could be scrapped under a review of courses for September 2001.
John Prescott, sport minister Kate Hoey and shipping minister Keith Hill have asked Mr Blunkett to reconsider dropping the course.
The Coastguard Agency, the Marine Society and the Chamber of Shipping have also called for GCSE nautical studies to be saved.
The Qualifications and Curriculum Authority wants to axe the course in an overhaul of the GCSE system, which could result in job-related courses stripped of their "academic" status.
The campaigners argue that no suitable vocational equivalent exists. The course aims to foster
a love of the sea and to teach
students how to ensure safety, both in commercial and leisure activities.
Although candidate numbers are low, they are riing: 200 students from nine schools and colleges are due to take the exam this summer, with 266 candidates scheduled to take the 2001 exam.
As well as tackling practical seamanship, the course also teaches the maths and physics needed at sea.
Mr Prescott, a former merchant seaman, wrote: "I understand that the numbers of candidates taking this examination, though modest, are increasing. As you know we are working with the shipping industry to revive British shipping. I share (the) concern that at a time when we are anxious to give every encouragement to young people to embark on a career at sea, withdrawal of GCSE nautical studies is likely to give the wrong signal. I would be grateful if you would reconsider your decision on this matter."
Maurice Storey, chief executive of the Maritime and Coastguard Agency, said:
"In the light of the government shipping initiative to work with the shipping industry to revive British shipping, we are anxious to give every encouragement to young people to embark on a career at sea. The withdrawal of GCSE nautical studies is likely to give the wrong signal."