Teenagers Gillian Smith and Mark McCaughey elected to enrol on the advanced GNVQ course in health and social care at Gateshead college because they believed it would help them into higher education and the world of work.
With 20 GCSEs between them, they could have followed the traditional academic route. Instead their two-year vocational course has eight compulsory and four optional units including interpersonal interaction; structure and practices in health and social care; access; equal opportunities and client rights.
"I didn't expect there would be so much work involved," says Mark. "I chose to go on the course because there were no exams which I find quite stressful, but it is still a lot of work."
Eighteen-year-old Mark opted for the vocational pathway hoping it would help him get into the police or the probation service, while Gillian, 17, wanted to go into social work.
Though both aimed to go into higher education, they were concerned at the GNVQ's current low profile among local employers and in the education marketplace, and hoped that awareness of their qualification would be widespread by the time they graduated.
But as Chris Moore, operations manager for full-time programmes at the college - where about 600 out of 3,000 full-time equivalent students follow GNVQs - acknowledges, the battle to have vocational courses recognised as viable alternatives to traditional study has been a lengthy one.
Unlike many teachers who have found GNVQ courses difficult to define, staff at the college were experienced in BTEC - the GNVQ predecessor.
One of their main difficulties was the management of change, she says. A significant challenge was to design a course with standards which straddled the academic and vocational divide when the nearest benchmark available was the BTEC national diplomas - particularly since they wanted to avoid duplication.
She acknowledges there is room for criticism about the external testing of the qualification.
"Obviously there were precedents. But even after the pilots we were not able to get hold of any examples. We were told things were changing so radically it was not worth getting hold of the old ones."
Marilyn Williams, health and social care course co-ordinator, says the college has had no problems attracting students on to GNVQ courses.
"But there may be for the next year in the wake of the recent publicity. I have a sense of anxiety about what may happen from next September.
"I think the new grading criteria should help to allay any fears the students may have when they show the higher education institutions their portfolio with the content of their course and the way they have been assessed."