Maintaining appeal amid some fierce competition

5th January 1996 at 00:00
Mike Callan has been head of Newbury College's leisure and tourism department for the past six years and came to the job with extensive industry experience that included a spell as manager at a north London leisure centre.

The department's expansion reflected that of Britain's booming leisure and tourism industry; there were six students when he joined and now there are 120, all taking intermediate and advanced level BTEC GNVQs which replaced the old national diploma.

"There are a lot of improvements in this new GNVQ," he said. "For example there is much greater emphasis on teaching health and safety and customer service. The intermediate level is for students who come to us without GCSEs but the whole course is equivalent to two A-levels."

Like the old national diploma, the GNVQ is streamed by subject options and half the students are able to specialise in leisure management which means they could, with further qualifications, go on to manage leisure and sports centres or hotels while the other half - tomorrow's tour operators and travel agents - specialise in travel and tourism which includes language options and cultural studies.

In each year, students spend three weeks on work experience - usually in local sports and leisure halls. And as many are now being managed by ex-Newbury students, Mr Callan claims there is never any shortage of goodwill or offers of placements.

Newbury's GNVQ appeals to a wide age range - the oldest student on the course is 26 - and the college has a fair sprinkling of students who have dropped out of A-levels. But most are between 16 and 19 and come straight from local secondary schools.

Since the schools started offering GNVQs themselves, the college has found itself in competition with nearby Kennet School which offers a similar course and there is no shortage of similar provision in neighbouring colleges either.

Mr Callan tries to differentiate his course from others by giving students plenty of practical work-based assignments to get their teeth into.

In the past year Newbury students have joined local volunteers coppicing a woodland for the British Trust for Conservation. But coming assignments are more glamorous and include a visit to the USA to make a study of leisure facilities for Britain's team in next summer's Olympics in Atlanta.

About 70 per cent of Newbury students go on to higher education - applying to universities or colleges that offer specialist degree courses.

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