Difficult to credit
Alone in a classroom, 18-year-old Becky Wilson looks wistfully out of a window and talks about her schooldays. "I found it boring, and I was always getting into trouble," she confesses. Since taking a GNVQ advanced-level course in leisure and tourism, however, she has seen the light. "Whereas your GCSEs at school make you follow an academic pattern, you can take the GNVQ at your own pace, and you can do as much work as you like."
It sounds a doddle and, if the profile of Becky in the third episode of GNVQ - Is It For You? is anything to go by, it certainly is one. Becky's ambition is to work as an entertainer on a Caribbean cruise liner, a role for which she prepares by practising Latin American dancing. She seems to have almost as good a time working in the college travel office. So her overall assessment of the course comes as something of a surprise. "It's the equivalent of two A-levels, " she says, "and I'm really, really chuffed with myself for passing, because I found it really difficult."
This will puzzle some viewers. "Difficult?" they will ask. "She's danced, she's answered the phone and been nice to customers. What's so 'difficult' about that?" Then again, those who watch this series from the beginning may ask such questions much sooner. Five programmes, each of which focuses on three students following specific GNVQ programme areas, all concentrate on the students' work experience to the exclusion of virtually everything else. We hear often enough about the academic rigour of GNVQ - "You've got to work hard, probably more in GNVQ than at A-levels" is typical - but not once do we see a student in a library, or actually being taught.
Insufficiently television-friendly scenes, perhaps. Not, however, those which show students on some very exciting work experience placements. The second programme, "Health Care", is a case in point. Matt, a 17-year-old GNVQ intermediate student, complains forcefully about the amount of paperwork he has to get through; his words, though, are undercut by pictures of him racing off in an ambulance to a mock accident.
And the first programme, "Business" shows Dave, an aspiring rock musician studying GNVQ business at foundation level, having a marvellous time in a musical equipment shop.
There are some plus points about the series. It is good to hear mature students, some of whom confess to being utter failures at school, testify to the attractions of courses that are less desk-bound than most.
But this cannot make up for the fact that, despite some evidence to the contrary, GNVQ is made to look a bit of a jaunt. Nowhere is reference made to the often impossible task of finding a suitable work placement for every student, and nowhere do we learn of students who, for reasons both good and bad, hated their time in the workplace.
Most important of all is the fact that GNVQ programmes involve no statutory commitment to work experience placements on the part of course providers. While it is true that most institutions do arrange placements, in many cases these are only for two or three weeks' duration over the whole course. Again, the series ignores this.