TELEVISION dramas about the darker side of police work such as Cracker and Silent Witness have boosted a college's pioneering criminal investigation courses.
Arnold and Carlton College in Nottingham became the first FE college in the UK to run an evening class in forensic science three years ago. Since then the college has developed a range of crime study options, and its courses have brought enquiries from other further education colleges.
Police officers now enrol on the evening course to hone their forensic skills, said curriculum manager Gill Barker.
She said: "We seem to have a lot of police officers or those intending to become police officers on the course. The police have also been in touch with us looking at parts of our course for their training."
Ms Barker developed an interest in forensics while studying for her law degree. "It was the only lecture everybody turned up to," she said.
When teaching law, she discovered that there were no forensic science courses in FE. "I couldn't understand why there wasn't anything at all.
"People who want to go into forensic science tend to do a science degree at university and then they'll work in a lab, or they'll take the medical route - they'll become doctors and progress to being pathologists."
So she designed a 12-week course and advertised it. The college was inundated with inquiries. From there sprang a whole wealth of related courses. These include a national vocational qualification in crime-scene investigation, an expert witness evening class, and BTEC diplomas in forensic science and related studies.
Evidence gathering, crime scene investigation, presentation in court, criminal psychology and pathology are studied.
"Unashamedly we rode on the back of television programmes like Cracker and Silent Witness. That's the reason it's so popular," said Ms Barker.
"And every time a new crime series comes on, it bolsters our figures. People are interested - it's real life, you see. And death, of course. People are as fascinated with death as they are with life."
She said that for some elements of the course students need a strong stomach. "We always warn students at interview that they will have to watch post-mortem examinations. We use real crime scene photographs - we don't use mock-ups. We managed to get one placement in a morgue last year."
How does the rest of the college regard these courses? "We attract a lot of interest because of the practicals that we do," she said. "We bring body parts into college and that sort of thing. Some people think we're a bit peculiar, but to be honest I think our students quite enjoy being different."
The college calls on experts, including Home Office pathologist Professor Stephen Jones and accident investigator Mike Herbert. And there is an emphasis on the practical side. In the morning the HNC students might learn how to use a microscope. In the afternoon, they would help reconstruct a police drug search of a car.
Jonathan Stanger-Moore, 18, said: "I came to the college to do an art and design course. But I saw this and all the modules you could do and I thought it sounded really interesting. You can really branch out to just about anything. I've applied to carry on with computers and psychology."
The students say the only downside is that they can no longer watch TV crime programmes with an uncritical eye.
"You just can't watch anything and enjoy it any more because you're constantly picking at it," said Gemma Dixon, 17. "You know how it's all done."