A conference attended by 40 teachers, advisers and inspectors from across the country was held in Wolverhampton last weekend to look at what part history staff can play in teaching towards general national vocational qualifications.
Keith Farley, an advisory teacher at the Jennie Lee Professional Centre, Wolverhampton, who organised the conference, sees diversification into vocational areas as an important step to prevent history jobs being lost after the subject goes optional. "We must take these opportunities to ensure teachers do not lose their posts. History is going optional for Years 10 and 11 at a time when the introduction of more vocational education will squeeze the space left for the options," he says. "So it requires history as a subject area to see how, if possible, it can play a part in vocational education."
But above all he stresses that it is a waste for history to be left out of vocational courses when it has a positive contribution to make. For instance the teaching of the type of skills learned in history, such as investigation, research, analysis and use of evidence, are transferrable to vocational projects and there is scope for GNVQ units to be placed in an historical context.
GNVQs are geared to broad vo-cational areas rather than specific occupations and students have to present a portfolio of project work and undergo a one-hour knowledge test for each unit. Eight subject areas are available at three levels post 16: foundation is equivalent to four GCSEs below C grade, intermediate to five GCSEs at grades A to C, and advanced to two A-levels.
Two weeks ago Education Minister Eric Forth announced that new vocational qualifications, part 1 GNVQs, were being piloted for 14 to 16-year-olds. As these latest are not yet being introduced in areas related to history, the biggest vocational opportunity comes with post-16s, which may prove useful compensation for any knock-on effects from the loss of key stage 4 on future numbers taking A-level.
The Wolverhampton conference identified three GNVQ areas in which history can contribute to the course content: leisure and tourism, art and design - which are two of the most popular GNVQs after business studies - and the built environment.
According to Sue Jones, City and Guilds GNVQ regional co-ordinator for Wales and West Midlands, a surprising amount of history can be worked into leisure and tourism. She gave two examples.
A student studying for AS-level history alongside advanced level leisure and tourism for GNVQ has been using her social history work to look at changes in the recent past to leisure time and work patterns and how it has improved travel in Britain from the steamship in the 1900s to flying by Concorde today. Social history can be brought into 60 to 70 per cent of the work.
At intermediate level Sue Jones has developed a sample activity unit for leisure and tourism services and products about the provision of tourist facilities. Students are asked to compare two facilities such as Speke Hall, an Elizabethan stately home near Liverpool, and Camelot, a commercial historical theme park in Lancashire. They look at what each has to offer, what type of customer they attract and health and safety aspects.
However, Sue Jones warns against thinking history teachers can take over GNVQ work altogether. "Delivering GNVQ has to be a team approach. There are certain elements that are best led by a history teacher but it should be a combination. "
In art and design the units that relate to cultural and historical contexts are open to history input. Barry Brookes, chief verifier in art and design at the RSA Examinations Board, says some of the most stimulating developments in art have been brought about by technological and historical change.
"For instance, out of the First World War came the precise development of Futurism in Italy, which celebrated war and destruction. There was a reaction to that in France with the Cubists and post Cubists who go into a more philosophical area. After that war we also had the nihilistic forms of Dadaism, which sowed the seeds of surrealism. And that's not taking into account the historic role of painting in war.
"History has a crucial role to play in GNVQs," he says."You can't go into an area without going into the history of that area and its context. A historian could talk about people's attitudes and cultural developments. It's down to history departments to move from the role of teaching a set syllabus to assisting and providing contexts for broad provision - whether it's the history of medicine in health and social care, or the effects of the coming of railways in leisure and tourism."
An advantage of GNVQs is that each unit is certificated and work done for another area of study can be put forward for assessment as long as it meets the performance criteria. This means, for instance, that students taking A-level who might not have time to do a full art and design GNVQ could study the unit relating to historical and cultural developments and come away with a certificate. Or they could give their qualifications a stronger vocational edge by doing two or three complementary GNVQ units instead of general studies.
The intermediate GNVQ in built environment has a unit which considers how the built environment has developed over time.
In all these subject areas it is possible to do work in a historical context. For instance, in leisure and tourism, the central London Training and Enterprise Council is doing a unit on customer care at the Mu-seum of Transport, and in Wolverhampton students working for a unit designed by Keith Farley will research and plan an event in Cosford Aerospace museum.
Laurie Taylor, chairman of the 16-19s subgroup of the Historical Association's education committee, warns that. despite recent criticism of assessment standards, it would be wrong to think of vocational courses as easy options for the less able. He says GNVQs are meeting the needs of a growing number of pupils, especially those who respond to a more flexible, participatory form of learning. And he is concerned that so far history has yet to find a central role in vocational qualifications - despite the fact that heritage is a significant area of employment.
"History has to agitate for a GNVQ which has a direct relevance. The possibility is there to have one in heritage studies. Museums, galleries, sites and historic houses - there are a lot of people employed in that area and the numbers are growing as we become more of a floating museum. It won't come immediately, but there is a prospect."
The problem, he says, is that there is no industry lead body in heritage to work with an award body to produce GNVQs. The History Association's 16-19 conference in London on January 28 will be looking at what can be done. In the meantime it was decided at Wolverhampton to set up a national network to exchange information on history and GNVQs, using Keith Farley as the focal point.
Laurie Taylor warns that even if the case for a heritage-related qualification is accepted, it would take up to two years to get it off the ground. He is concerned that while in other subjects assessors have been trained and qualified, history teachers have been left scratching around trying to find a role. "For history teachers it is quite serious," he says. "We don't want to lose out on what we see as a professional opportunity."
o Keith Farley is contactable on 0902 315261. For details of the conference on history in the 16-19 curriculum, call the Historical Association, tel: 071 735 3901