Vocational A-Levels: Assemble a Rewarding Career ; Courses in Manufacturing Provide a Solid Foundation for Students Interested in a Job in Industry

By Pyke, Nicholas | The Independent (London, England), July 25, 2002 | Go to article overview
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Vocational A-Levels: Assemble a Rewarding Career ; Courses in Manufacturing Provide a Solid Foundation for Students Interested in a Job in Industry


Pyke, Nicholas, The Independent (London, England)


The recent history of schoolroom studies in manufacturing is no more successful than the recent history of manufacturing itself. It entered the sixth-form curriculum in 1995 in the form of an advanced GNVQ - and immediately failed to attract many takers. So last year, while 22,700 final-year students in England and Wales were taking the advanced GNVQ in business studies, and nearly 11,000 studied health and social care, the GNVQ in manufacturing attracted only 154.

Now, thanks to Curriculum 2000 and the introduction of vocational A-levels (formally known as Advanced Vocational Certificates in Education, or AVCEs) the subject has a chance to make a fresh start. And the first small cohort of students, believed to be around 200, is waiting for its results.

The course attempts to introduce sixth formers to the basic organisations and production systems used by industry. Two thirds of the marks are based on a portfolio of work, so the course can be altered to suit local patterns of manufacturing - a key development from the GNVQ - and could, for example, be based almost entirely on the production of textiles, plastics or ceramics.

Thomas Alleyne's High School in Uttoxeter is one of a handful of schools and colleges that has put the new exam to the test, with 11 students now awaiting their final marks. Alleyne's, which serves a huge area of rural mid-Staffordshire, has technology college status and a strong manufacturing department, with more than 300 pupils doing GCSE design and technology - a course which leads smoothly into the new vocational A-level.

Although it is better known for its race course and cattle market, Uttoxeter also has a small industrial base. In particular it has the giant JCB digger plant, which grew out of Uttoxeter's agricultural roots, on its doorstep.

The school has persuaded a variety of firms, including JCB, the breweries from nearby Burton, the town's Elkes biscuit factory and the Palgrave Brown building firm to help the A-level students with topics such as quality control, quality assurance, manufacturing structure, manufacturing economics and computer-aided design.

The portfolio section of the students' work was based on a mini- industry project, manufacturing and selling the sale of wooden toys, furniture and wine racks, in collaboration with the school's business students.

The course, offered by all three of the main examination boards, is likely to appeal to schools and colleges with a history of involvement with industry, according to Alan Mansfield, the chief examiner in manufacturing for the Assessment and Qualifications Alliance. But it is unlikely to attract the most able candidates in maths and physics, and is largely aimed at a non-academic constituency.

"The students who take it will choose manufacturing as opposed to business studies, say, because they perhaps have more affinity with works management, which they may see as preferable to a business career in an office context," says Mansfield. "It is also likely to appeal to candidates who have had problems with conventional learning. Maybe they don't like the formality of examinations. The best maths and physics students are probably not going to be doing vocational A-levels.

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