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Hands up for hands-on

Andrew Webber reports on a vocational course designed to give practical experience of media skills. The all-new GNVQ in media: communication and production is currently being piloted in about 50 centres throughout the country. This is introducing a vocational qualification for the ever-increasing numbers of students in schools and further education colleges wanting to work in the media or study the subject at higher education or who simply find the subject relevant to their own knowledge and interests.

Over the next few years it is quite possible that this General National Vocational Qualification will become as popular as the traditional A-level media studies.

If this is to be the case, then media teachers, especially those, like myself, who have previously worked on theoretical media courses, need to be made aware of the different philosophical and practical approaches to delivering the subject as a GNVQ.

Based on modular units, with a strong practical and coursework element and no end-of-year exams, its approach is a far cry from the more academic approach of the traditional media studies A level.

This in turn provides challenges for both teaching and assessing the subject.The structure of the qualification follows the GNVQ pattern of "intermediate" and "advanced" levels, now accepted as equivalent to five GCSEs and two A levels respectively.

The courses are divided into mandatory and optional units, with the accrediting exam boards, the RSA, BTEC and City and Guilds, sharing the same mandatory areas but offering their own list of options.

At present the mandatory subjects for intermediate level include investigating media products; planning and producing print and graphics products; planning and producing an audio-visual product and investigating local, regional and national media.

At advanced level there are eight mandatory units, in areas that include investigating the content of media products, producing work in a printed and audio-visual form, looking at how the media industries operate and marketing.

What this will mean in practice is that every GNVQ media student will have to have produced a piece of work in video, audio and print before completing the course.

Without essay-based exams, the GNVQ places its emphasis on a system of assessment of practical work. In order to achieve a pass grade, all of the mandatory units and the selected option units must be completed and a portfolio of evidence, including examples from the various media disciplines, must be compiled, providing evidence that all the requirements included in the scheme of work have been met.

The student's portfolio will be internally assessed by course teachers, whose work is then verified by a selected member of staff.

Trained external verifiers, the representatives of the Vocational Awarding Bodies, will then visit centres at least twice during an academic year to sample and verify portfolios. Their work is, in turn, monitored by the chief verifier for the subject who has an overall responsibility for maintaining quality, and the training of external verifiers.

To help teachers understand the methodology of this "competence-based assessment", all GNVQ teachers are required to undertake their own training, in the first year of the course, in the form of specified training and development and assessor qualifications. Internal verifiers must have a separate verification qualification.

In addition to compiling a portfolio of work, including testimonials from media professionals that students work alongside in the course of their projects, candidates must achieve at least 70 per cent in a series of multiple-choice tests which they take during the course, designed to examine formally their knowledge of the mandatory units.

But if this level is not reached at the first attempt, the exam can be retaken within the period of the course until a 70 per cent level is achieved.

Students wishing to achieve merit or distinction must show that in at least a third of their portfolio the planning, evaluation, use of resources and the outcome are of a high standard.

As an underlying principle of the course is to give students experiece of producing their own work, schools and colleges that offer GNVQ will need to have the necessary equipment and support.

The minimum requirements for centres teaching GNVQ media include desktop publishing, 35mm cameras and developing facilities, video cameras, lighting and editing equipment, tape recorders and access to printing.

Any new centres will be granted an approval visit before the course begins, which will alert them to any of the major hurdles they will need to overcome before the course actually starts.

I look forward to seeing the subject grow.

Andrew Webber teaches GNVQ and A-level media studies at Chatham Grammar School for Girls, Kent

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