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Intensive care in east Kent

Stacey Cox has some unusual skills for a 15-year-old. She could, for example, assist with blood tests and x-rays, should the need arise. She's also a dab hand at washing-up, which arguably is equally rare in a teenager.

Stacey, a Year 11 student at Castle Community School in Deal, east Kent, picked up her medical knowledge last summer when she spent two weeks at Buckland Hospital in nearby Dover. She was there as part of a joint scheme between school and hospital under which pupils shadow doctors, nurses and ancillary staff to gain knowledge for their GNVQs.

Stacey was pleased by the amount of responsibility she was given. "I worked on a ward with elderly people, " she says. "Sometimes I washed them and helped them get dressed. It's much better to experience things for yourself than just read a book." This year Stacey hopes to complete her GNVQ part one in health and social care, along with seven GCSEs.

Castle Community School, which has more than 500 pupils, runs part one GNVQs in art and design, business, and health and social care. It also offers GNVQs in its small sixth form. Earlier this year, it was placed under special measures following an inspection, and staff see vocational qualifications as a way of boosting standards. Last year 40 per cent of Year 11 students gained a C grade or above in their part one GNVQ, compared with 31 per cent gaining five A-C grades across all subjects, including GCSE and GNVQ scores.

Marion Emptage, the school's GNVQ co-ordinator, believes that getting young people out of the classroom and into the workplace is crucial to the success of GNVQs. As well as Buckland Hospital, the school has links with East Kent National Health Service Trust, local playgroups and companies such as PO Ferries and Avo Electronics. Employers help either by providing work experience or by sending an employee to meet students.

"I prefer to ring them up and get to know a named person, whom I can then contact again," says Ms Emptage. "It only takes three minutes for them to talk on the phone, whereas it would take much longer to respond to loads of letters from students."

And, as she points out, it is not only Castle School that stands to gain from links with industry. "To gain the Investors in People award, employers need to prove that they are working with the local community," she says. "I normally suggest that we, the school, can be their local community."

Neil Merrick

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