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In at the deep end

Teaching vocational tourism and leisure courses can be a challenge for geographers, says Bob Holland

For those not directly involved, this may all take a little time to digest.

There is no doubt that, pre-16, a significant number of schools are looking at the introduction of the GCSE leisure and tourism course as a means of offering an alternative approach to learning, and at post-16 level the possibility of "dipping a toe into the water" of a three-unit AS will be far more attractive than the present situation, where students have to commit themselves to a two-year, six-unit AVCE. Both these courses are classified as vocational, but aim to provide a broad introduction to an industry sector rather than prepare students for particular jobs.

In many schools geography teachers have taken on the delivery of leisure, travel and tourism courses, and it is a testament to their adaptability and flexibility that such courses have been delivered successfully in many centres. There are schools where geographers have seen the introduction of tourism courses as an opportunity to diversify, teach new concepts, adopt a different teaching style and develop strong links with the business community in their local area and further afield.

Students are motivated by opportunities to create extended pieces of work based on real destinations and organisations they have visited and to increase their understanding of the part that leisure and tourism play in the world of work. They also enjoy gaining practical experience and finding out what the people who work in the industry actually do. It enables them to develop their ability to work independently and the best assignments are of an exceptionally high quality.

However, as Ofsted has highlighted in two recent reports, the situation is far from satisfactory in all schools. Having been involved in professional training to support leisure, travel and tourism courses for more than 11 years, I have been faced with too many teachers who protest: "I've been told I'm teaching this course from September and this is the only day I've been allowed to attend for training."

There is no doubt that some teachers are put in a difficult position by managers who expect them to deliver these courses with little support or training. The recent Ofsted report into the first two years of Vocational A levels (AVCE) highlighted the lack of opportunities for sharing good practice, particularly to support new teachers who have no experience of teaching on a vocational qualification. Teachers in this position may well feel unsure of themselves and it is unlikely there will be a more experienced colleague to whom they can turn.

According to Ofsted, the lack of recent industrial experience is an issue for some teachers delivering AVCE courses. A good number of these teachers have no vocational experience whatsoever. What is really important is that they have the opportunity to learn about the industry and how it works.

Many practitioners have recognised over the years what they know and do not know about the tourism industry and have developed their skills and knowledge accordingly, but this requires the full support of the school.

Some components of the present AVCE in travel and tourism and the expected ASA2 specification are familiar to geographers. Destination studies, the location of tourist attractions and the appeal of different types of destinations to different types of tourist, issues related to the impact of tourism and sustainability are all familiar territory.

However, management of customer service and monitoring standards is outside the experience of many geographers, and very few of them have been trained to teach marketing at advanced level.

Schools with Year 11 students who are coming to the end of their GCSE leisure and tourism course are beginning to realise the importance of meaningful links with relevant local businesses and the value of well-structured visits. In order to develop the required portfolio evidence, a detailed investigation into customer service and marketing practices in selected organisations needs to be undertaken - a brief visit is unlikely to suffice. To deliver the work-related dimension of these courses without students having the opportunity to go behind the scenes in appropriate organisations must be extremely difficult.

Geographers embarking on the teaching of tourism for the first time this September should expect to meet a steep learning curve. However, many teachers on these courses enjoy new challenges, learn a great deal about the industries involved and have seen many students achieve more than they would have done by continuing with traditional academic studies.

Bob Holland is an education consultant specialising in tourism education. He is senior examiner for AVCE travel and tourismGNVQ leisure and tourism, has been involved in developing the leisure and tourism GCSE and is writing units for the new travel and tourism ASA2. He can be contacted through his website:

For more information on leisure, travel and tourism courses contact the awarding bodies or look at the vocational learning website operated by the LSDA

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