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Staff and pupils are keen to make it work

Two inspection reports on General National Vocational Qualifications come to a similar conclusion. Students at Finchley Catholic High, a grant-maintained boys' school in suburban north London, like doing GNVQs. Teachers like teaching them and the head, Stephen Szemerenyi, is very much in favour. "I feel strongly that GNVQ is the first vocational qualification that has a chance of success; if we muck it up now we won't have an alternative. We need to make it work. "

He and the school's GNVQ co-ordinator, Jenni Ayres, are concerned about negative criticism although they are well aware of the need for improvements. Ms Ayres said her students saw the item on the inspectors' reports on the news and "they were worried that something they were doing wasn't valued".

The head said:"If you have a multiplicity of awarding bodies, quangos, papers and practices, of course you're going to have teething problems.

"It's no use exhorting youngsters to study and stay on unless the qualifications are patently seen to be of value. We need a coherent message from the Government on equivalence and parity of esteem."

The school has around 920 boys aged 11 to 18 with 175 in the sixth form. Eleven are taking BTEC intermediate GNVQ and 17, level 3 in business. Two years ago BTEC first was piloted, operated by a franchise from the local college. Under the new arrangements last year, a BTEC external verifier visited the school twice to check progress and proved "helpful and positive and suggested we might share ideas tried by other schools", said Ms Ayres. Staff are now being trained as verifiers.

She finds the 12 hours a week spent on the courses adequate, but would like less paperwork and clearer instructions from the awarding body. "They could take simple steps to make them user-friendly."

GNVQs mean a lot of work for teachers, said Mr Szemerenyi. "It's not like A-levels where you can take a book off the shelf and teach," said the co-ordinator. "I enjoy my GNVQ teaching much more. You need to believe in it then your enthusiasm gets the kids motivated. They have to work hard - more so than doing a skimped A-level essay."

But they tended to think the end of year tests "a nonsense", she said, as they already had the evidence in their portfolios. "I can understand how some people won't feel it has credibility unless you have end of course tests," added the head.

The intermediates were working on an employment assignment which meant visits to Gloucester, Docklands, Safeway and Ford. The advanced students were surveying the fast food market as part of a study in personnel work which involved visits to restaurants, marketing their own products in the school canteen, conducting job interviews and making a video presentation. All of which used core skills as an integral part of their course.

They were all enthusiastic: "It gives you confidence." "I like the freedom. " "Once we've done a part of the course,we don't have to do it again." "I work well in class, but not in exams." "If you do A-levels at the end of two years it all depends how you do on the day. We work through the year and learn as we go along." "It's not so theory-based, we learn more about actual jobs."

But business links are not easy to forge. "We have to keep hammering on their doors," said Ms Ayres. "I sent 50 letters and got four replies."

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