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Just let go and there's no stopping them;Subject of the week;Economics and business

Tim Fisher finds key stage 4 students gain confidence and responsibility with GNVQ

The announcement from the Department for Education and Employment that Part 1 GNVQ's will "go live" for both pre and post-16 students from September is welcome news for schools and further educ ation colleges.

In a profession renowned for its conservatism, the Part 1 GNVQ has been viewed with some suspicion. Indeed, many appear to regard the qualification as being suitable for the less academic student, the more able being guided through the traditional GCSE route. This could not be further from the truth.

If the success of GNVQ were to be measured by the viewpoints of the majority of students who enrol, it would be considered a resounding success: "It's been great, I've enjoyed the course and learned a lot. More importantly I've developed my skills and confidence, which will benefit me throughout my life." (Jonathan Moore, Year 11 student 1998, Full Award, Distinction.) At Thomas Mills High School we were fortunate to be included in the 1996 second phase of the original pilot and were able to offer Part 1 business and manufacturing. Twenty per cent of the timetable was provided for these courses with one lesson a week on a key skills workshop of information and communication technology and application of number on a carousel.

With a tradition of successful vocational education in our sixth form, a move to key stage 4 seemed a logical step. However, despite this positive experience in the sixth form, nothing prepared us for the effect this change in culture would have on the students.

The phrase "letting go" is one that deliverers of GNVQ recognise instantly. Year 10 students finding themselves in a somewhat alien teaching environment take a short time to adjust to their new responsibilities and freedom. After which there is no stopping them. On reflection, never have I have derived such pleasure as when watching these young people develop their skills to a degree that belies their years.

The school has developed some exceptional industry links. One being the Ipswich amp; Norwich Co-operative Society, who never cease to be amazed at the quality and professionalism of presentations made by our students.

GNVQ provides significant opportunities for all students to raise their level of achievement. One student, Kate Barham, a previous recipient of learning support, was able to achieve a merit grade in her manufacturing course.

The modular nature of GNVQ means students are able to build the Part 1 qualification into a full award which is equivalent to four GCSEs. This flexibility allows some students to complete this award in the first year of their lower sixth education, then proceed either to the world of work, A-levels, or an Advanced GNVQ course. However, it also means that for the more confident students differentiation can take place in Year 11 allowing them to achieve the full award in addition to their GCSEs.

Changes scheduled to take place next year mean students undertaking a GNVQ will have more transferable skills which ultimately could result in an increased level of points in respect of their UCAS applications, aiding their route to "lifelong learning".

Admirers of GNVQ will recognise I am yet another devotee of this particular qualification. Given the success it can provide for the young people of today, it is imperative they are equipped with the means to succeed by way of a qualification such as this.

Tim Fisher teaches at Thomas Mills High School, Framlington, Suffolk

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