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Not to be scoffed at

The time is ripe to tuck in to vocational subjects, writes Martin Whittaker

Parents of students at Lymm High school will soon dine out on their children's achievements. The school recently opened Chapters, a new training restaurant. Three days a week staff can tuck into a gourmet meal created by Year 12 catering students. Next year it opens to the public and the students will run it as a going concern.

As the new specialised diplomas loom, Lymm is dishing up a menu of vocational options - unusual in such an academically successful school.

Last year 94 per cent of pupils gained five or more top-grade GCSEs (67 per cent if you include English and maths). It is also mixing work-related subjects such as hospitality, travel and tourism, and health studies with languages qualifications, and offering work experience placements in France, Spain and Germany.

It aims to offer students as broad a choice of academic and vocational options at key stages 4 and 5 as the timetable will allow, says head teacher Roger Lounds.

"I was conscious that GCSE wasn't for everybody," he said. "If you're sympathetic to what your children need, you start to look beyond the parallel lines of GCSE to include in their choices things that are a bit different. It's made us a better school."

Lymm, in Cheshire, is a large voluntary controlled school and specialist language college with 1,964 pupils. Ofsted declared it outstanding in November 2005. Six years ago it began offering vocational subjects to encourage the less academic to stay on.

Today it offers a mixed economy of academic and vocational - 40 per cent of students take at least one vocational subject at levels 2 and 3. Lymm has also bid to run some of the first new diplomas in partnership with Warrington college from 2008.

Selling vocational subjects to parents was challenging, admits Mr Lounds.

Another hurdle was timetabling, especially the larger blocks of time needed for practical subjects. The school allows students to mix and match GCSEs and A-levels with Btecs.

But where Lymm has been particularly innovative is in using languages.

Every sixth former taking a vocational subject also takes a certificate in business language competence: French, German or Spanish are mixed in with their Btec course. Catering has been rebranded international cuisine.

Students learn working French as it applies to menus and utensils. Next September, sixth formers will spend a month honing both kitchen and language skills at a hotel in Carcassonne in the south of France.

Btec sport students will soon do work experience and brush up on their Spanish at the La Manga Club sporting resort in south eastern Spain. And in health studies, students learn German and consolidate it with work experience in nursing homes and hospitals in Bavaria.

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